Love and Stability Prove Fleeting in Season 3 of HBO’s ‘Insecure’
Season 3 of HBO’s sharp and funny “Insecure” is a refreshing drama of lives in motion. It is also one of the best shows on television capturing the African American experience at a time when social ascendancy is treasured, yet issues of race continue to play out in all facets of life. Every episode shines because of its ability to craft personalities that feel true and story developments that engage through how down to earth they can be.
As the season begins Issa (Issa Rae) is dealing with finding a place to live, staying steady at work and a most complicated love life. For now she’s staying with old flame Daniel (Y’lan Noel), who doesn’t mind bringing nightly hook ups to the apartment. But Issa deals with it because right now her credit rating and salary make it hard to find anything in super expensive Los Angeles. Daniel himself is hoping to finally break through with his music career, composing a special new beat he hopes to play for a major rapper performing in town. Life is also getting complicated for Issa’s best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji), who has recently switched over to a mainly black law firm. Molly has been sleeping with Dro (Sarunas J. Jackson), convincing herself she can be detached about the whole situation. But soon Dro starts hinting that he wants to elevate the relationship to something other than just sex. This sets off alarm bells in Molly. Meanwhile Issa is also dealing with the weird racial politics at the after school organization she works at, where the minorities are beginning to clash with the bosses over how to project their image.
“Insecure” remains fresh and vital going into a third season because it is never gimmicky. As creator and writer, Issa Rae has managed to keep the show focused on magnifying the small details of daily life. We enjoy following these characters because many of their trials are our own, and at the same time they capture African American life in a specific moment in modern America. The episodes capture lives where personal developments go hand and in hand with the state of the economy. In the first three episodes Issa must deal simultaneously with finding a place while only finding a couch to crash on at Daniel’s, with whom the history is complicated. Missing from the picture is Lawrence (Jay Ellis). Fans have been struck at the sudden absence of Issa’s ex in this season, with the showrunners apparently shifting the focus to her relationship with Daniel. In terms of the narrative it isn’t too jarring, only because now that the relationship is over, it is hard to imagine Issa keeping a tight connection with her ex.Time will tell if Lawrence makes a reappearance.
Rae and her team of writers beautifully capture the stress of dealing with life as it tumbles down on you. Scenes begin as sudden developments and are then revealed as stressed out daydreams, like a moment in bed where it seems like Issa and Daniel finally give in to carnal urges. In another scene Issa sits at a staff meeting where a clueless white boss doesn’t understand the minority staffers’ objections to an ad design (starting with the brand new, “We Got Y’All”). Issa snaps and says, “Oh, now you want to know what I think when I’ve been an alarm clock since day one?” Alas it was just her imagination. As usually happens in real life she offers a more tame answer. Because Rae is a black woman who has known all too well the hassles and trials on the road to success, the writing has a piercing authenticity. When Molly settles into her new firm, she is astounded to discover that even though it is primarily African American, the competitiveness and office meanness is just the same as anywhere else. Issa drives a Lyft to make extra money and starts using it as an escape valve for the pressures of trying to find a place while dealing with the sexual tension with Daniel. We don’t melodramatic plots in this show, because it understands that modern life in an expensive metropolis is already stressful and dramatic.
This is a show with a keen insight as well into how we relate to each other in this high-speed society. For Molly it’s almost a threat to hear Dro start trying to be loving, or to see him start trying to behave like a regular boyfriend. In a time where success means everything to most people, casual relationships simply feel safer. And then there’s Daniel, who clearly likes Issa with a deeper passion than just physical attraction, but he too is distracted in part by his own frustrations with seeking a road into the music industry. But instead of being over the top, we get see these relationships develop and flow like real friendships and connections. There’s a great moment where Issa helps Daniel get into a nightclub to try and make contact with a big time rapper. Even with their history, deep down these are still good friends willing to help each other out. Molly also can’t find it in herself to be completely cruel to Dro. Rae is also excellent at crafting great side characters, especially Issa’s co-workers, who have interesting discussions about representing black, Latino and gay communities at their workplace. But none of it feels like speechifying, instead the dialogue has the tone of how people really do discuss these issues in real life, with a bit of cynicism and zest.
Insightful and funny, “Insecure” has the kind of characters we could watch for hours live, love and try to figure it all out. Will Issa and Molly find love and fulfillment? They are just as lost and exploring as we. Some shows work as mere escape, helping us to tune out, this one is special because it knows how to tune in.
“Insecure” season three premieres Aug. 12 and airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO.