Still “Insecure”

September 14, 2018

HBO’s “Insecure” is one of the many shows right now riding the line between “comedy” and “drama.” Traditionally, shows that have half-hour episodes are considered comedies, while anything longer has to be a “drama.” But lately, as television has been growing and evolving, we’ve seen a crop of shows push back within the thirty-minute space. The best example would probably be FX’s “Atlanta,” Donald Glover’s stunning and surreal experience, and “Insecure” is yet another show that’s not content being “just” a comedy.

Airing Sunday nights, and now three seasons deep, what is “Insecure?” The evolution of creator and star Issa Rae’s web series “Awkward Black Girl,” the show centers on Issa, an L.A. woman at the end of her twenties working at the non-profit “We Got Y’all,” and her best friend Molly, a successful lawyer. “Insecure” has never been quirky fluff: The first season was a thoughtful meditation on cheating, as Issa (Rae’s character is also named Issa, a choice Rae has said she regrets) navigated her dissatisfaction with her relationship with Lawrence, her longtime boyfriend.

It’s not much of a spoiler to say that by season three Issa, and the show at large, is trying to move past Lawrence (although the end of the most recent episode, “High-Like,” makes it clear that there is more Lawrence to come). Issa is still doing her best, having left her home-base apartment and now working as a part-time Lyft driver; she’s trying more than ever to take charge of her life. Meanwhile, Molly is dealing with similar shifts, starting a new position at an all-black law firm (and discovering this may not solve all her problems).

I’m not in a position to judge season three as a whole (as there are three more episodes yet to air), but by this point it seems that Rae and her writers room has solved one of the central problems of season two. This show enthusiastically delves into big, complicated concepts, like cheating, closure, microaggressions, gentrification (more on that later) and the notion of non-monogamous relationships. But at only eight episodes a season, “Insecure” has sometimes struggled to address these ideas with the right level of depth before the finale. Don’t get me wrong, season two was great, but by the last episode it definitely felt like the show had bitten off a little more than it could chew.

It’s an issue of scale. Luckily, season three doesn’t seem to be suffering from this problem. Obviously, I can’t say for sure until the season actually concludes, but it looks like the dramatic questions “Insecure” is trying to work out this year are big enough to feel engaging but small enough to have reasonable resolutions over this set of episodes.

“Insecure” has also established its own distinctive visual language. The show has a real fixation on negative space, and the shots are generally well constructed. And speaking of gentrification, it feels as though Rae and the show are doing everything they can to preserve parts of L.A. at risk of falling to the yuppies. Episode four of season three featured a long tour of the city that was equal parts down-to-earth and enjoyable. This isn’t “La La Land,” it’s a place where real people live. In a similar vein, there’s always a personal touch on this show that really comes through to the viewers, usually in terms of the music. Rae always uploads a Spotify of the songs used in each episode; every episode of season one had a Drake reference and every episode of season two had a little Frank Ocean easter egg (I haven’t caught a recurring artist this season, but I’m sure this trend remains).

On an episode-by-episode basis, “Insecure” certainly delivers, taking a slice-of-life approach to Issa and Molly’s lives. Issa is the only employee of color at “We Got Y’all,” a setting rife with hilarious interactions between Issa and her “woke” white co-workers. That said, things never get too flippant, as there’s also a lot of heart in Issa’s relationship with her collegue Frieda. On the whole, we get a good sense of Issa and Molly’s lives, as they balance their jobs (both majority white spaces, at least before this season), relationships, money and their social circles. None of it is particularly weird or hard to believe; rather, “Insecure” is about what matters in the day-to-day.

Finally, there’s Rae, who is especially awesome as Issa. She’s hilarious in every episode, and fully paints Issa as a three-dimensional person. The rest of the rotating cast (Issa and Molly are the only characters who appear in every episode) are also quite interesting and funny. In fact, it’s not that “Insecure” isn’t a comedy. It’s just so much more.  

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