As the first scripted, premium-cable series created by and starring a black woman, “Insecure” represents another key step for television, already far ahead of the film world in creating strong roles (“Scandal,” “Empire”) for black women.
“Insecure” distinguishes itself further by going from 0 to ache in eight episodes. An extension of Rae’s Web series “Awkward Black Girl,” “Insecure” starts out broadly comedic, with lead character Issa rapping her thoughts into a mirror. By episode 8, a shaken Issa looks in the mirror but cannot bring herself to speak.
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Rae, a charisma- and intelligence-exuding beauty with a relatable T-shirt-and-Converse style, and co-stars Yvonne Orji (as Issa’s best friend, Molly) and Jay Ellis (as Issa’s boyfriend, Lawrence) handle this journey with great skill.
That Issa would grow during the series was a given, as the lead character. Molly’s and Lawrence’s emotional arcs were less expected when considering how barely three-dimensional they are in the pilot. Attorney Molly seems fun but status-obsessed, and the unemployed Lawrence (he’s working on his app) as if he should be more concerned with status.
But Rae and co-creator Larry Wilmore (his Comedy Central “Nightly Show” fizzled, but he is flourishing as a producer of this series, and ABC’s “blackish”) prove generous with meaty roles. Orji is especially good as she slowly reveals Molly’s insecurities. Though Molly’s career is on track, she’s a head case in her personal life.
Issa is less insecure than indecisive at series’ start. Her job with a nonprofit for disadvantaged youth does not satisfy her, but she’s not doing anything to get a new one. Nor has she summoned the nerve to leave Lawrence.
But she’s working on becoming committed to work, even though her non-black colleagues turn to her with all black-people-related questions (Rae’s blank expression and shrugs at these moments are priceless). And the real-life appearance of old pal and music producer Daniel (Y’Ian Noel), longtime romantic escape hatch of Issa’s imagination, forces movement on that front.
“Insecure” resembles FX’s “Atlanta” and HBO’s “Girls” in sexual frankness and millennial milieu. But its characters have it more together than characters on those shows – their troubles spill out the sides of structured lives rather than consuming them whole.
Available through HBO Go and (for HBO subscribers) cable on demand.