Four episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
If there was a major flaw in Insecure‘s freshman season, it’s that it ended. The first eight episodes of Issa Rae’s astute series about the lives of a group of late-twenty-something black women on the outskirts of Los Angeles was surprisingly clever, even though the stories being told (of love triangles and dating apps and drama-filled weekend trips to Malibu) were themselves never overtly surprising.
But that didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter in Insecure‘s sophomore season. The show is still a straightforward send-up of quarter-life crisis angst, but it feels different and special because it is different and special. There’s an embrace and celebration of black culture that permeates every scene, but Rae doesn’t rest on her laurels for a second in Insecure. The show works because she’s created a group of characters – including her own distressingly relatable lead – who fail and succeed and fail again in ways that are believable and easy to relate to, no matter the color of your skin.
The failing begins out of the gate, when the show picks up pretty soon after the break-up fallout from the season 1 finale, where Issa’s boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis) decided to leave their one bedroom Inglewood apartment, and presumably their relationship, behind for good. Issa understands Lawrence’s reasoning, since she cheated on him with flame-from-the-past Daniel (Y’lan Noel), but she also has absolutely know idea where to go from here.
So, naturally, she turns to dating apps, failed one-night stands, and relying on truth-teller BFF Molly (Yvonne Orji) to keep her afloat after the break-up. Of course, Molly is barely keeping it together herself after she decides to take a sabbatical from guys (“One day I woke up and my dick meter was on ‘E'”), and maybe even try to give therapy a shot after defensively mocking it last season. Similar to season 1, Orji takes the brunt of some of Insecure‘s most meaty subplots, this time around facing head-on a male dominated workplace where she has to maneuver through bro-down after-work sessions and wage gap issues just to be seen as a soundly equipped lawyer at her firm.
The core of Insecure, this friendship, still unearths an electric honesty that fuels much of the show’s heart and humor, particularly when it’s just Rae and Orji on screen shooting the shit and freely, debaucherously admitting their deepest secrets to one another with the trusting grace of a hell-and-back friendship. Of course, when free-wheeling Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) and put-together Tiffany (Amanda Seales) show up, the quartet is just as kinetic and entertaining. When one episode opens with the group, sans Tiffany, day drinking and hurriedly ushering Molly out of the door for a giant dating bacchanal in Los Angeles, the digs fly fast and hit hard, and the episode never lets up.
That’s maybe the most satisfying thing about Insecure season 2: these episodes prove Rae’s confidence in writing and continuing a story with none of the dips into sophomore slump territory that a lesser creator might have output. A few moments of unreality also help spice up the otherwise played-straight narrative, particularly when Issa’s daydreams make you second guess whether a hook-up or a bitch slap actually happened or not, if only for a few vertiginous seconds. Issa, the character, is still as enjoyably awkward as ever, but her diverse personality continues to be a well spring from which Insecure finds a never-ending source of captivating comedic and dramatic content.
Rae understands that insecurity and introverted personalities are rarely the dominant traits of a singular individual, and her fictional self continues to represent one of the most intriguing personalities on modern TV. Issa is a mess, and sometimes shy, and all-the-times confused, but — mostly among friends — she’s also lively, and opinionated, and expertly experienced in false confidence. When she raps to the camera in the show’s ongoing, hilarious fourth wall-breaking device, she becomes her own one-woman greek chorus, highlighting the highs and lows in her life at the moment while simultaneously hoping to uncover, perhaps on purpose, perhaps on accident, some modicum of self-respect and courage.
For anyone who’s ever experienced self-doubt, worthlessness, or have lived inside their own heads so long that the rest of the world appears alien, Issa on Insecure feels like a better modern superhero than Captain America. She isn’t awe-inspiring because she wrangles her problems to the ground with the confident might of a fully-functioning adult, but because she simply tries. The show kicked off with a coming-out-of-the-insecure-closet scene where Issa embraced her affinity for rap in a space that was decidedly not private, and Insecure‘s finesse has been in showing that just because Issa has the capacity to appear confident doesn’t mean that she is.
That’s a somewhat fresh and original backbone for a series to build on, and build Insecure does in its second year. The side characters feel more fully fleshed out than last year, particularly the laugh-a-minute Rothwell who plays the obnoxious party girl role with a rollicking swagger and has more chances to shine in the first half of the season, as well as a few fun and surprising cameos. Rae’s leading role is indescribably great and nuanced to a ridiculous level; likewise, Orji’s expanded subplots are dutifully earned thanks to a brilliant, edgy presence that’s never a sidekick compromise to Rae’s lead.
Their friendship is endearing and honestly portrayed, and although the show can feel a bit unsurprising (besides a few very HBO sex scenes), their banter and savage deconstruction of the world around them makes Rae’s show pulsate with a giddy energy. That energy swells with tricky, topical realities of racism and sexism, but Insecure never feels like an exclusionary experience. The fundamental themes of bonds and sisterhood and friendship are too strong for the show to so blatantly wall off a segment of its audience. Issa and Molly are both in this together, and the simple beauty of Insecure is that it feels like you are too.
Much like season 1, Insecure season 2 is a low-key delight filled with wonderfully realized characters, but the show's true exceptionalism falls directly on creator/star Issa Rae's brilliant-to-watch lead performance.