The second season of Insecure opens with another example of what is rapidly solidifying into a millennial sitcom trademark: the dating-app montage. A smattering of awkward, forced encounters — same questions, same rehearsed answers, slightly different stylish bar — are spliced together into a single piece of cringe-comedy gold. But then the show follows this newly minted cliché with an Insecure hallmark: 30 seconds of cocreator and star Issa Rae exposition-rapping straight into the camera. “I’m so dead inside, I cry every day / You should get the check, and here’s a tip: run away!”
Those back-to-back bits encapsulate everything that makes HBO’s Golden Globe–nominated, Emmy-snubbed breakout such an enjoyable presence in contemporary TV. In its second season even more than it did in its first, Insecure embraces its membership of a beloved, instantly recognizable club: the story of a group of mostly single friends trying and failing to figure their lives out in the big city. But Rae and her collaborators do so while using that premise as a vehicle for their specific point of view: an unlucky-in-love klutz, yes, but one who fantasizes about punching her ex’s new girlfriend in the face while screaming, “You got jalapeno popped, bitch!” Without the tragically inevitable implosion of a five-year relationship hanging over its head, Insecure’s second season is more purely comic and episodic than its first, pushing it ever further into its chosen genre.
The good news is that doesn’t make the show any more predictable, or any less remarkable.
There’s the obvious fact that every lead character on Insecure is black, an unfortunately-still-remarkable circumstance in premium cable. But beyond that, the show distinguishes itself in myriad specific and delightful ways: the involvement of creative heavyweights like Solange, who curates the soundtrack, and Melina Matsoukas, who directed two of the new season’s first four episodes; the gorgeous photography of Los Angeles locations that aren’t a three-block stretch of Silver Lake; and the web-series honed sensibility of Rae herself, of which the rapping is a telltale signature. Rae’s character, also named Issa, is messed up in a different way than the badly behaved disasters we’ve come to expect from our high-brow comedies. (Insecure will be inheriting Veep’s time slot on the HBO lineup when it shifts to its summer incarnation this Sunday.) It’s not that Issa doesn’t make poor decisions — last season culminated in her cheating on longtime boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis) with longtime crush Daniel (Y’lan Noel), thereby hitting self-destruct on her stagnating relationship. It’s that most of the time, Issa is almost debilitatingly passive and repressed, unable to express her true feelings except in mirror raps, fantasy sequences, and the rash actions that result when those feelings rip through to the surface.
With Issa and Lawrence officially done, lawyer and best friend Molly’s “dick meter on E,” and side characters Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) and Tiffany (Amanda Seales) promoted to series regulars, Insecure has transformed itself into the straightforward reincarnation of Sex and the City, Girlfriends, or similar friends-go-out-on-the-town show it’s always been poised to become. Liberated from commitment anxiety (Issa) and relentless pursuit of marriage material (Molly), the duo — now more of a quartet — engage in classic young professional group-bonding activities like swanky gallery openings and ticketed parties. Meanwhile, the breakup has rendered Lawrence something of an outlier isolated on a show of his own, but he, too, dives into the thrills and humiliations of single life, attending tech mixers with his startup coworkers and wrestling with his obligations to rebound fling Tasha (Dominique Perry).
We’re primed to enjoy Issa and Molly’s latest adventures because we understand the emotional baggage they’re bringing along and oh-so-slowly starting to address. (Molly’s started therapy after a near-friendship-ending fight with Issa over the mere possibility, but balks and breaks it off when her therapist hits a little too close to home. Fits and starts!) And it’s especially rewarding to see more of Rothwell in particular because she made such an impression in her brief appearances last season — “Do you listen to yourself?” “All the time. I have a podcast,” a Rothwell ad lib, has my vote for most quotable line on the show. Sidelining Lawrence and Molly’s dating life (without completely eliminating either) frees up space for two fascinating subplots involving each woman’s professional life. Insecure is building on an already solid foundation to become a slightly sleeker, slightly better-oiled version of what it already was: two women living life, in all its facets. It’s the kind of slow-but-steady trajectory that makes you excited for Seasons 3 and 4 and 5.
Above all, Insecure is what so much of must-watch TV forgets or doesn’t even try to be: a quality hang with charismatic people. Maybe that’s why the show feels so much better suited to its new summer schedule, guiding us from one form of fantastical escapism (Game of Thrones) to another (Ballers). Insecure is more grounded than the rest of its lineup, but equally enjoyable (and equally populated by almost unfeasibly attractive human beings). The stakes here aren’t life or death. They’re just life, and when life is this fun to tag along with, it’s more than enough.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.