Whenever we look at a particular form of entertainment, be it music, television of film, we bring our baggage to the table. Our views, our culture, our upbringing, our gender perspectives and our life experiences. Couple these factors with our knowledge of quality television, whether novice or expert, and that’s how we determine what’s good television, what’s great, and what’s bad.
First off, every group and subgroup of people in the world enjoys seeing themselves on television. Petty ideas about what aesthetics make a person’s face more appealing than another aside, everyone also has their own ideas of what makes a thing appealing.
When it comes to good, “black” television, myself and others have had to wade through a lifetime of poorly marketed, stereotypical and downright horrible programming that was tabbed “black”. But that has all changed in 2016. And “Insecure” was part of that vanguard.
I recall attending a screening of the first episode at the Urbanworld Film Festival in the fall of 2016, and afterwards I could see that many in the African American moral “authority” were going to be clutching their pearls, and brothers from all over the world were going to be in their feelings about the details of the relationship between Issa and Lawrence, as well as the sexual exploits of Issa and Molly, and their contemporary view of womanhood.
“I think it’s a combination of identifying with not being strong at times,” she told reporters in New York City last year. “I identify with the narrative of being flawless and fierce, and the narrative of black girl magic. That’s a great narrative, but I don’t feel that way all of the time. There’s a journey there and that’s the part I’m more interested in. I feel like I’m in a constant struggle and these characters are as well and I felt like that as a beautiful journey.”
From the very first episode, the audience could see what the conflicts were going to be. Issa was not satisfied with her relationship nor her job. Conflict is what moves stories forward. So, from that perspective, I was expecting as much. There have been many television shows and films that explored the sexuality and mindset of women in mainstream society and, aside from Girlfriends and a few others, Black women were an afterthought or a sidebar to the main characters.
That is part of what made Insecure so appealing to me. It showed young black women as complicated, messy and at their most vulnerable. The characters weren’t victims, but sole controllers of their personal and professional lives. But it is the inherent imperfection of these women characters that guides the conflict in the series. Additionally, it wasn’t the male characters dictating terms and acting a fool, but the women. That’s far closer to reality than just about any woman lead comedy I have ever seen.
Sexier and smarter than “Sex in the City”, naughtier than “Girlfriends” and messier than a toddler’s finger paint party, “Insecure” is helmed by Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji and Jay Ellis. Aside from the beautiful faces and great dialogue, the unforced cultural references were also a joy to hear throughout the length of the eight-episode first season.
From Issa’s frustration working with inept and clueless co-workers at a nonprofit dedicated to bettering the lives of inner city children, to Molly’s cultural balancing act between down-ass chick from Compton and lawyer at a big time Los Angeles firm, and Lawrence’s frustration being an educated yet unfulfilled black male, Issa, co-creator Mike Wilmore and lead writer Prentice Penny went all in on the comedic negritude and really didn’t seem to care if a single white person understood. It was definitely on some for us, by us type ish.
However, while not trying to cater to the mainstream, the sheer genius of the offering won accolades anyway when Issa was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy TV Series, joining Tracee Ellis Ross (Blackish) as the first Black women nominated in the category since Debbie Allen for her role in Fame back in 1983.
“Insecure” is unapologetically black without having to scream how black it is every damn episode. It’s definitely one of my favorite new half-hour comedy shows in years.