There is a trend of semi-autobiographical comedies on television. These are self-deprecating stories that raise questions about identity, careers, love or relationships, friendship and the eventual “What is it all about?” Some of the more successful ones include Louis CK’s Louie, Pamela Adlon’s Better Things, Lena Dunham’s Girls, and Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. Issa Rae’s television series Insecure is semi-autobiographical too, but it is different. It is also inspiring, brilliant and honestly, essential.
Issa Rae started to make YouTube videos in college in 2007. One video led to another and she created the popular web series The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl in 2011. The series was followed by a memoir by the same name and now finally, a premium network show.
Co-created for HBO by Larry Wilmore, Insecure chronicles the awkward experiences of a modern-day black woman. The show follows two friends, Issa and Molly, living in South Los Angeles and trying to get the best deal in love, life, and career.
The format isn’t a laugh-a-minute, and the humour is subtle. But it is incisive, and makes fresh observations about popular subjects such as sexuality, racism, career, relationships, and friendship. Insecure is not an extension of the YouTube videos, but an independent and more profound conversation taking place through comedy.
Issa (played by Rae) works at a non-profit (unfortunately named We Got Y’all) for inner-city kids. As the only black woman in a room full of white people, she agonises over with how little they understand and how much they assume. She lives with her longtime slacker boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis) and is dissatisfied in her relationship, both emotionally and physically.
The opening scene of the first episode finds her at the receiving end of some very incisive questions posed by a group of adolescents. They go from “Why you talk like a white person?” “Are you single?” “What’s up with your hair?” to, importantly, “Why aren’t you married?”
A teenager bluntly tells Issa, “My dad says ain’t nobody checking for bitter-assed black women anymore.” Issa earnestly replies that black women aren’t bitter, they are just tired of being expected to settle for less. Through this short hilarious sequence, Rae highlights the struggles Issa is dealing with and trying to break away from. She has a list of what ifs she processes through internal monologues. Or more accurately that she raps about – notebook in hand, performing for herself in front of the mirror.
Her best friend, Molly (Yvonne Orji), is managing a set of completely different problems. She is a successful legal associate at a mostly white firm, and knows how to adapt to the crowd she is with. Everybody loves her. But she is still expected to be the translator whena summer intern’s loud and aggressive demeanor starts to make the partners uncomfortable. Her love life is not as much of a success though. An expert in dating apps, she finds herself single as she gets clingy as soon as three dates later.
Insecure is in complete contrast with the other Golden Globe winning comedy on the HBO network. Girls is crowded with white millennials consistently failing at life. Issa and Molly have proper jobs, proper apartments, and sane working relationships for the most part. They are confident women who are hoping for and working towards the best to happen. They may not always know how to get there, but they aren’t slacking.
Unlike Shonda Rhime’s overachieving, powerful, flawless superwomen in shows like Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, Insecure dares to depict real, raw and honest women living the basic life. Insecure is about women with identities as diverse and ever-changing as make-up – depicted in a beautifully shot sequence in which Issa tries on a whole spectrum of lipsticks when getting ready for a night out. With each new shade, she acts out different personas in front of her trusty mirror. In the end, she steps out with clear lip balm on her lips.