'Insecure' Season 2: TV Review
HBO's gem of a comedy about two young African-American women navigating work, friendship and love in L.A. returns for a second season, and deserves much more attention than it gets.
Issa Rae, who created, executive produces and stars in HBO's superb Insecure, knows how to stand in front of a mirror and invent — also vent — and make that familiar conceit look like the most original thing a TV series has ever done. That takes some talent. You watch her and it's impossible not to think she's one of the brightest comedic actresses on television. Her work makes you wish there were more episodes — and that the spotlight on the show had more wattage.
Perhaps that's why any fan of the show must have shaken his or her head sadly side to side after the Emmy nominations were announced and Rae, her co-stars and the series weren't a part of the fun (in fairness, these days there are so many fantastic series and astonishing performances that "snub" no longer seems particularly accurate).
Nevertheless, Insecure, which returns Sunday for its second season premiere, is the kind of show working on a level that shouldn't be under the radar, that shouldn't be the kind of thing that draws blanks from people when you say the title. But in a year when Atlanta and Master of None got their due in Emmy nominations for best series, and creators Donald Glover and Aziz Ansari got theirs for writing and acting (Glover also got a directing nomination), it does feel like the balance of recognition remains tilted toward men — even with Pamela Adlon getting her richly deserved lead actress nod for her series Better Things.
For now, Rae and Insecure will have to look forward to what should be a breakout second season that won't allow anything left to chance. The series — which you should binge your way through if you haven't yet discovered it — had a very consistent eight-episode first season and will have eight this season as well (HBO pushed it up to so that it could perhaps get some shine from Game of Thrones and Ballers, which also air on Sundays). Those might not be ideal companions but any chance at more eyeballs is worthwhile.
Rae, who gained fame from her YouTube series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (and the New York Times bestseller of the same name), proved in the first season of Insecure that she could make the traits that partly define her — black, female, awkward — translate into a TV series if she packaged them in a funny and insightful but also universal way.
More than anything, it helps that Rae can write and act — she does both with infinitely more capacity than she gives herself credit for and maybe receives from the outside. But the series would likely struggle if it were just Rae as the planet everything revolves around — few great series work without a strong supporting cast playing layered characters, a solid producing group, etc. (and tons of credit should go to director Melina Matsoukas who not only does fresh, wide-scope wonders for Los Angeles, but also astutely captures Rae's multitude of facial expressions that are so central to magnifying the jokes and the drama).
Rae plays Issa Dee, who in season one was struggling along in a good but not perfect relationship with Lawrence (Jay Ellis), while confiding those struggles, and those from her day job at a low-paying educational advocacy group, to best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji). They drank a lot of wine with fellow girlfriend Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) while navigating relationships, careers, happiness and expectations and relentlessly tinkering with and tweaking stereotypes of all stripes.
Insecure was immediately funny in season one — Rae interacting and riffing with friends and dates was often spot-on, and acting out scenarios in front of her mirror was and is priceless. Where the series surprised was in its ability to expand the surrounding characters (particularly Molly and Lawrence) and make them meaningful — something season two immediately tops, with aplomb, through the first four episodes. Insecure was particularly keen at finding actors who popped in small parts — in particular Neil Brown Jr. as Lawrence's friend and Langston Kerman and Y'lan Noel as dates.
In season two, Insecure picks up its ongoing story of life and seems almost immediately stronger in its ability to tell those stories — no doubt because the ensemble has more resonance. So Issa and Lawrence work on their damaged relationship, Molly struggles with finding happiness without a partner (and not being paid equally by the partners at her law firm).
As the two women walk and talk about their current life, there's no dancing around the emptiness both feel at the moment: "Dick on E. Bank account on E. Life on E."
But one of the many threads in Insecure is the confidence that things will get better tomorrow with a little help from your friends (and some wine). Same holds true, one would hope, for Rae and Insecure.
Cast: Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji, Jay Ellis, Natasha Rothwell, Neil Brown Jr., Dominique Perry, Amanda Seales, Lisa Joyce, Catherine Curtin
Directed by: Melina Matsoukas
Sundays, 10:30 p.m., HBO