Insecure review: An urban reality and a daydream escape
Issa Rae’s show grows more confident even as its heroine does not
Issa Rae in Insecure: ‘Her wry expressions and disarming smile can make even the slightest joke work’
It takes a winning kind of confidence to play awkwardness so well. When Insecure (Sky Atlantic, Thursday, 10.35pm) began, based on Issa Rae’s web series Awkward Black Girl, we first found her alter-ego, a bright-eyed, school charity worker also called Issa, handling an eruptive inquisition from a middle-school class into her hair style, age, career and relationship.
It looked like an anxiety dream borne with stoic good humour. It also established a well-poised comic tone, defined by Melina Matsoukas, a music video maven, that gave the show an appealing house style. It slips between urban reality and daydream escapes with a deft pace, a great soundtrack, and a camera that loves Rae, whose wry expressions and disarming smile can make even the slightest joke work.
With its second series, Insecure has grown more confident, even if Issa has not. At the top of the first episode, we find her in another kind of waking nightmare, sitting through the indistinguishable patter of several Tinder dates mashed into one. She begins rapping an imagined retort, tapping the beat with her cutlery: “I’m so dead inside n****r, I cry everyday. You should get the check, and here’s the tip – run away.”
Created by Rae and Larry Wilmore, Insecure is a comedy of embarrassment, where the fragile divisions between private and public life are knocked down with a light touch. Issa shares the show, and her confidences, with Molly (Yvonne Orji), a lawyer who is professionally together and personally at sea. The writing delights in their gabbing, whether fun, supportive, thoughtless, barbed, or all of the above, peppered with a regular epithet. “Bitch, of course I want my man back,” says Issa, when an elaborate plan to ensnare her ex-boyfriend goes up in flames.
Like Atlanta, Blackish or Dear White People, the humour is widely accessible with some references to black culture aimed squarely at a clued-in audience. “She looks like she’s working at the Pyramid tonight,” goes one catty assessment of her ex’s new beau, which is music to the ears of Frank Ocean fans.
In a similarly knowing gesture, Insecure’s characters shout back at a Shonda Rhimes-style TV show about an interracial romance during slavery: “Oh bitch,” someone remonstrates when a maid’s book is confiscated, “let the bitch read.”
If Insecure ever prompts its own admonishments, it’s because the formula demands Issa’s continual humiliations, big and small, but it’s smart enough to let Issa succeed too. Her comic progression may be one step forward to two steps back, but the show’s footing is attractively assured.