In one scene of the new HBO comedy Insecure, Issa Rae, its star and cocreator, tries on multiple shades of bold lipstick in the mirror, taking on a different persona with each color, before settling on a layer of Carmex. The situation reflects what the series focuses on: Rae feels like she needs to explore all her options, when often the simplest decision is the best one.
In the first episode Rae takes on a new role in her job, ends a relationship, and performs her private "diary" raps in a room full of people. These big moves are spurred by a visit to a high school classroom. Rae works for a nonprofit called We Got Y'all that attempts to reach kids in impoverished neighborhoods in Los Angeles—though she points out that no one she works with is actually from the hood, and that she's the only black employee. While talking to a group of students about what the organization does, Rae is taken aback by questions about her boyfriend, her hair, and why she "talks like a white girl." She's not just another twentysomething questioning her direction in life—she's trying to find herself while combatting stigmas and stereotypes about what is and what isn't possible for a black woman to achieve, both personally and professionally.
Insecure is partially based on Rae's four-minute-episode webseries, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, which explored the discomfort of workplace interactions, dating white guys, dealing with parents, and more. For the HBO show, Rae takes those ideas and expands them into a half-hour format, allowing more room for subtlety and deeper character exploration. In the first episode alone Rae is vulnerable while talking with high school kids, confident while freestyle rapping about a "broken pussy" at an open mike, and selfish, ignoring her best friend's problems so she can hook up with an old flame.
The central relationship on Insecure is between Rae and said best friend, Molly (Yvonne Orji). She's the perfect foil for Rae: a high-powered lawyer who's seemingly able to keep men wrapped around her finger. She's confident and popular—"white people love her AND black people love her," says Rae—but no one in this show is one-dimensional. Insecurity takes many shapes, and even though Molly approaches her own obstacles in a different way, she feels as unsure about where her life is heading as Rae does.
The story of finding yourself as a young adult isn't by any means a new one, but with Insecure Rae manages to zero in on her personal experience as a young black woman in a way that's rarely explored on television. The result is a story that's thought-provoking, hilarious, and relatable.
Insecure Sundays at 9:30 PM on HBO