Sunday, October 9, 2016

REVIEW: 'Insecure' - Issa's Birthday Forces Her to Think About Her Future in 'Insecure as F**k'

HBO's Insecure - Episode 1.01 "Insecure as F**k"

In the wake of her 29th birthday, Issa Dee reconsiders her dead-end relationship with Lawrence, her live-in boyfriend. Issa's best friend, Molly, mourns her singledom and the state of her "lady parts." Issa uses an open-mic night as an excuse to reconnect with an ex.

This is such a strong opening episode for Insecure. It has a wonderful grasp of tone and style in this premiere. This show knows exactly what it wants to be and has some phenomenal execution of that concept. Issa and Molly may be so unsure and insecure about their lives but the show doesn't suffer from those same problems. There have been so many shows over the years that have analyzed post-college life. The 20s are a deciding decade for everyone. Those are the years where one commits to a life. It's a complicated period. It can still be excusable to make mistakes and not know all of the answers. But it's also the time where one has to take responsibility for one's own actions. Insecure has a very distinct take on this familiar concept. It starts its story near the end of this journey. This is Issa's last year as a twenty-something. She has the job and the boyfriend. But now, she is faced with the pressure that this could be what the rest of her life looks like. It's a fascinating way to start the series while showing that things can still get very complicated for Issa.

Issa is a modern black woman. She went to college and has a solid job and a live-in boyfriend of five years. This isn't a story about her struggling to survive or make her way out of a poor life. It's instead about her needing to make her own decisions about the future of her life. This is the path she has laid for herself. It's brought her many joys over the years. But this is a very big birthday for her. It's the wake up call that this could be it for her. This could be as exciting as her life is ever going to get. It doesn't seem like she has all that much to brag about. She has importance at her job at a non-profit. And yet, that comes from her being the only African-American at the company trying to pull underprivileged kids out of poverty. Her co-workers look to her for all the answers about the lifestyle of the individuals they are trying to help. Issa doesn't inherently have all of the answers. She knows a lot but she can't just be the liaison into this community for her co-workers so that they can feel better about themselves. It's not as easy as that.

Plus, it's clear that Issa's relationship with her boyfriend, Lawrence, really isn't going anywhere. It's been a stable part of her life for a long time. After college, this was the only serious relationship she has ever been in. She made the choice to be with him. It has been good. But now, she's questioning what else is out there. He doesn't excite her in the same way he did before. In fact, this premiere only highlights how lame and boring he is. He's been trying to get his life together for a long time but isn't really doing anything to pull himself together. He doesn't feel the same kind of pressure to get his act together like Issa and Molly do. That shows a key divide along gender lines. Issa and Molly believe they need to be thinking about their futures. They worry about the decisions they make right now being the things that will define their lives to come. Meanwhile, the men of this story are largely comfortable being lazy and not looking for any kind of serious relationship. They don't feel a pressure to lock anything down. It's a key element of this story and it really helps define the core friendship between Issa and Molly.

Molly may be a little too over-the-top and has impossible standards to reach. She has succeeded in the professional world as well. She has a keen ability to impress any group of people simply by acting the way they want her to be. She changes herself to please the people around her. It's ultimately a way for her to get what she wants out of any meeting. But it makes it more difficult when it comes to actually dating. Relationships showcase the true depths of a person. It's a kind of vulnerability that one is able to share with another person who actually understands. Molly isn't sure what she's doing wrong when she's dating. It seems like everything she does is a massive mistake that ends things immediately. She hasn't found the right guy yet. And now, she's at the point in her life where all of her friends and colleagues are getting married. Meanwhile, she's stuck in the same pattern feeling terrible about herself. Issa is her best friend. But her advice doesn't help the situation very much. All she does is suggest that Molly has a broken pussy. That's just a great, comedic phrase throughout this episode that really takes on a huge significance for the final act.

Issa decides to break up with Lawrence because she believes there is something better out there for her. She decides to speak her mind at work in the hopes that it will reward her. When it comes to her job, it actually works. She voices her opinion. The staff listen to all of it and agree. But when it comes to dating, the fantasy is much more enticing than the reality. Issa believes a life with an old boyfriend who messages her Facebook would be better than her current reality with Lawrence. For a moment, it does seem that way. She runs into him at a club with an open-mic night. It's a chance encounter that she orchestrates in the hopes of acting on this fantasy. She brings Molly along. But it's clear this night is all about Issa. She wants a night of excitement with this other guy. He gives that to her by convincing her to get up on stage. It's one thing to watch her rap to her bathroom mirror. Those are some pretty funny sequences throughout the premiere. It's another thing completely to watch Issa on stage performing in front of a crowd. It's a rousing success for her too. The crowd loves her rap about broken pussy. But that comes at great expense to her friendship with Molly while also propping up the fantasy of this new relationship. So everything isn't as great as Issa wanted it to be.

Ultimately, Issa wasn't there for Molly. She isn't sure what Molly needs right now. Yes, she needs to lower her standards a little bit. She doesn't want to do that because she believes she deserves the best. But she still ends up alone with Issa choosing dick over her. That's all that this guy wants too. Issa wanted him to be her future. A great guy who had matured in the years since college. A guy she deserved and could build a happy life with. Instead, he is just like so many other guys who want a hook up but nothing too serious. He doesn't care that he's in his late twenties and should get his life figured out. He loves reconnecting with Issa. But he doesn't understand her struggle. She has these big ambitions for her life but no idea how to actually achieve them. All she has to rely on is her friendship with Molly. So, it's great when she returns to her in the end to mend fences. Issa betrayed Molly. The song came at Molly's expense. Issa made light of Molly's situation in order to advance her own agenda. That wasn't a friendly thing to do. Nor is it a good idea to break up with Lawrence. Yes, he may be a bit of a slacker. But there is a history there with Issa that can't be discarded so easily. This is a complicated moment in time. Issa and Molly know the expectations for the future. They know what they need to do. This show highlights the struggles getting to that point when the clock is counting down. Right now, they have each other. That's enough and makes for a fantastic premiere.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Insecure as F**k" was written by Issa Rae & Larry Wilmore and directed by Melina Matsoukas.
  • That opening scene is really awkward as Issa tries explaining her non-profit's program to a bunch of kids. But it really works when dropping a ton of information about Issa and where she is in her life right now. Plus, it's done in a really funny way with the kids criticizing her life and her appearance.
  • Issa embracing a different personality with a new shade of lipstick is such a hilarious scene. She ultimately decides to go with a nude color that embraces the personality she always shows in public. It's not surprising but it's great to see this different side to her as well.
  • It should be so fascinating to see the show dig deeper into Issa and Molly's workplaces. Issa being the only person of color at her non-profit should inform a ton of story. Plus, it's a different approach to story that hasn't been done to death before. Meanwhile, Molly largely exists away from her co-workers even though she's one of the most successful people there.
  • Issa is staying the night at Molly's place. But she will more than likely return to Lawrence to try and make things work, right? She said they would have to discuss it more. So, it wasn't really a finite breakup.
  • HBO is pairing Insecure with Sarah Jessica Parker's Divorce. The two shows are wildly different in tone. It's not a great matchup. This opening episode is so much fun and exciting. Plus, it embraces a different perspective which is so good for HBO at this moment in time.