Insecure as F%*k
I’ve been anticipating an Issa Rae TV series for at least four years, ever since I became obsessed with Awkward Black Girl. The award winning YouTube series serves as inspiration for Rae’s new show on HBO, Insecure. At that time (2011), her voice felt fresh and new, heralding a change in the types of stories -and storytellers- that get a platform. Now, the show feels like it’s right on time and maybe even a little late to the party.
In many ways, Insecure is on-brand for HBO. Socially awkward twenty-something protagonist (Issa Rae) with a burgeoning identity crisis as she approaches a socially reinforced milestone (30th birthday!) Check. Uncomfortable interactions with coworkers, yes (but not enough). Stagnant and emotionally unfulfilling relationship that causes a wandering eye...very much so. And, of course, in other ways this is a major departure. A black female lead who talks about privilege and race, especially in the context of good-intentioned white people. The soundtrack! A show set in LA that isn’t about Hollywood...we’re breaking a lot of new territory here.
The loss of the voice-over narration was an expected change from the web series to cable adaptation, but a sad one. Without access to Issa’s inner monologue, it’s a lot harder to understand the way she views the world, and especially how she perceives awkward interactions with her coworkers and best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji). Interestingly, the show doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. I hope we learn about why and how Molly and Issa became friends. Because Issa seems like a terrible friend; she’s self centered, not that supportive, and unsympathetic. That being said, the scene in which Issa tries on different shades of lipstick and psyches herself up to meet an ex-boyfriend caused me to laugh out loud. Girl can pull off any color. Relatedly, the costuming on the show is delightful. I want all of Issa’s ensembles.
The direction helps fill in some of the gaps by sprinkling in surreal bits throughout the episode, like when Issa decides to get up on stage to free style at open mic night. Melina Matsoukas, the mastermind behind Beyonce's Formation music video (and the only solo female director to win a Grammy award) directed the first episode and is also credited as an executive producer. Her visual hand is apparent in the wonderful lighting of the Ethiopian restaurant, the club, and the car ride home that was the setting for the episode's big fight and climax. While the show doesn't have an immediate distinct visual style, it could develop fairly easily.
Pilots, even those on cable, are hard to judge a show by. I would remiss if I didn’t consider my high expectations and how they affected my reception of Insecure. I’m excited to see the direction Rae and co-creator Larry Wilmore decide to take the show and at the very least, I’m glad it exists. I will definitely keep watching. So should you.
Insecure airs on HBO Sunday nights