‘Insecure’ triumphs, proves Issa Rae is a force to be reckoned with

Insecure_John P. Fleenor.HBO
John P. Fleenor/HBO/Courtesy

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If you’re awkward and you know it, clap your hands! Sticking to her “Awkward Black Girl” YouTube series roots, Issa Rae delivers plenty of awkwardness, passive aggression and humor in her acclaimed, scripted half-hour HBO comedy “Insecure.”

Centering on the insecurities of an educated woman trying to find herself in South Los Angeles, “Insecure” highlights the everyday experiences of Black women — from respectability politics and microaggressions to romantic relationships and career success. What makes “Insecure” stand out as an unfettered representation of African-Americans in mainstream television is the normalcy it gives its characters.

“We’re just portraying Black people as human people living life in a way where they’re not burdened by race or they’re not ‘woe is me,’ ” said Rae in an interview with The Daily Californian. “In the same way that your friends or your brothers and sisters or your cousins are living — this is what we wanted to depict, a slice of life of regular Blackness.”

Serving as youth liaison for “We Got Y’all,” a nonprofit youth development program, Issa Rae stars as Issa Dee, an unmarried, 29-year-old Black woman who enjoys venting her feelings and frustrations by spitting flows that would sweep her favorite rapper, Drake, off his feet. Unhappily coupled with her lazy, dispirited boyfriend of five years, Issa finds herself on the brink of ending her loveless relationship to pursue an old crush she stalked on Facebook — because who doesn’t use social media to check out future husbands? Aside from the awkward charm of the show’s protagonist, one can’t deny the breakout performance of romantically challenged Molly Carter, played by the beautifully talented Yvonne Orji.

Deemed the “Will Smith of corporate” by her best friend Issa, Molly is a successful career woman with everything going for her, except love. In the series pilot, Molly finds herself heartbroken and afraid that God has conspired against her to be unmarried and forever single. Thinking of her failed relationships as a direct result of her actions, Molly typifies the hopeless romantic we can all fairly resonate with. Without question, Issa and Molly electrify the small screen as a dynamic duo seeking happiness and love while refusing to settle for anything less.

Set in the diverse South L.A. region of Los Angeles County, “Insecure” delivers remarkable character and dimension to the vibrant city. Adding to its overall culture, the HBO comedy dedicates 20 seconds of its premiere to multiple camera shots of the city and well-known establishments. From two wide shots of Randy’s Donuts and Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken & Chinese Food, to a low-angle shot of L.A.’s Vision Theatre, South Los Angeles is stunningly deep-rooted in the fabric of the show. Even the popular Merkato Ethiopian Restaurant & Market is given a respectable, eight-second spotlight before the camera cuts to Molly treating Issa to a birthday dinner.

Another prominent character in “Insecure” is the show’s soundtrack. With music by notable R&B singer Raphael Saadiq and music consulting by the unconquerable Solange Knowles, the series delivers songs from famed and up-and-coming artists that speak wholeheartedly to Issa’s life and the atmosphere of South L.A. Accompanying Issa’s unparalleled rap skills are featured recordings from Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Kelis and TT the Artist, just to name a few.

Working alongside “Insecure” co-creator and former host of Comedy Central’s “Nightly Show” Larry Wilmore, Issa Rae brings an unapologetically Black flair to HBO that is worth the investment. With more Black-centered shows at the forefront of television this fall, including Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” and Ava DuVernay’s “Queen Sugar,” representation is seeing a positive transition in conventional programming.

“I think there is a renaissance happening,” said Rae. “Nothing is going to change unless there is change behind the scenes. That’s one of my missions — to change things behind the scenes. I’m optimistic. It’s a great time.”

Contact Jordan Joyner at [email protected].