Insecure Series Premiere Plot Summary:
Issa Dee (Issa Rae) contemplates making big changes to her life after turning 29 while her friend Molly (Yvonne Orji) has trouble finding success in her love life.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: whether it’s drama or comedy, specificity is key. When a character’s actions feel like they are a result of their own experiences and point of view, rather than broad caricatures and clichés, their jokes will land better and their struggles will hit us harder. Not that it’s easy to imbue characters with this kind of specificity, of course. Most shows will struggle to define exactly what makes their characters tick, let alone how to successfully leverage that information. That’s why it’s always a delight to see a show like Insecure burst onto the scene with all those internal workings figured out already.
In a lot of ways, Insecure‘s Issa is a character we’ve seen plenty of times before: a twentysomething with a loose grasp on adulthood, vaguely dissatisfied but unsure of what to do about it, with a relationship and a job that she likes well enough but aren’t her dream. But from the very first scene, this information is conveyed to us in a way that feels fresh. We get the cliffnotes on her life as she struggles to connect with a class of inner city kids who choose to grill her about her personal life rather than pay attention to her. Her job at a nonprofit features a plethora of well-meaning but misguided white coworkers who often unwittingly alienate her. It’s familiar and relatable, but filtered through a prism of Issa’s experiences (both the character and actress/co-creator, one imagines) that makes it far more compelling.
It’s not just the details and presentation that are new, though. While Insecure may be focusing on many of the same problems and struggles of twentysomethings that other shows have, it’s not as interested in the same solutions. Issa’s opening monologue may despair at ever matching her friend Molly’s confidence and career success, but it wastes no time shattering this perception of perfection. In the very next scene, we see Molly’s confidence slip as her love life once again collapses, as (we soon learn) it has many times before. And unlike the many shows that have started with a break-up, Insecure has Issa step back from the brink of drastic action and instead reflect on her relationship with unmotivated boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis) and her mounting dissatisfaction. It’s a decision that is true to both the indecisiveness at the core of Issa’s character and to the hard, gradual work of effecting change in your life.
And the best way the show’s specificity comes across is just how much Issa and Molly feel like the old friends they’re supposed to be. Their banter is both delightful and natural; even when confiding in each other about their fears and anxieties, the two are obnoxious (and really funny) in their constant needling of the other. And later, when they have a huge fight over Issa engineering a night out to go meet an old crush, it feels vicious and personal in the way any fight with your best friend is. In other words, their friendship (which forms the core of the episode) feels so natural and real that it’s impossible not to enjoy watching them interact.
It must be said that part of the specificity and freshness that makes Insecure so good comes from its commitment to an honest portrayal of the lives of black people. Star and co-creator Issa Rae has made clear in interviews that there is no singular “black experience,” and similarly the show is not seeking to dig deep into weighty questions of what it means to be black. Instead, it just shows the lives of its characters, certainly shaded by their experiences, but ultimately not any different from the same problems that any other twentysomething might be having. That this kind of portrayal is so rare in our media is, frankly, an embarrassment, but perhaps Insecure represents a much-needed pushback against that shameful lack.
We’ll probably never tire of watching the problems of people in their 20’s and 30’s living in a city. There’s something about that premise that just speaks to so many of us while providing endless opportunities to entertain. And it certainly can’t hurt if we keep getting shows along those lines that are as good as Insecure. If you’re not tired of the concept yet (or even if you are), then this one is definitely worth a watch.
RATING: 9 OUT OF 10
Insecure Airs Sundays at 10:30 PM on HBO