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HBO’s Insecure returns for season 2 with charisma to spare

This new season proves that Issa Rae’s show is aces at making old sitcom problems feel new again.

HBO

At first glance, Insecure isn’t about much at all, really. The HBO comedy sticks to the age-old TV tradition of following people who are trying to figure out what to do next with their lives, whether with their jobs, their partners, their friends, or just the spinning recesses of their own neurotic brains.

But give Insecure a few minutes of your time and the show will reward with you so much more than meets your cliché-weary eye.

Returning for its second season on July 23, Insecure has locked into a smoother groove than even its already stellar first season. Though its characters — from drifting Issa (co-creator/writer/star Issa Rae) to her ex-boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis) to her ambitious best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji) — are still decidedly in flux, Insecure season two is more self-assured than ever.

The best thing about Insecure is that none of its characters are solely defined by the problems they’re facing or the bad dates they end up dissecting over drinks. With sharp writing, acting, and some gorgeous directing on their side, everyone on Insecure feels like a fully formed person, making everything the characters do — no matter how seemingly banal — endlessly compelling.

Crafting a show that feels this effortless is a whole lot harder than Insecure makes it look. While TV keeps breaking new ground with surrealism (Atlanta, Twin Peaks) and epic storytelling (Game of Thrones, Preacher), Insecure makes a strong case for the grounded comedy with wit and charisma to spare.

Every old sitcom problem is new again on Insecure

Molly isn’t satisfied with what she’s got — but she’s doing something about it.
HBO

After Issa cheated on Lawrence last season in a moment of scattered dissatisfaction, season two opens with both characters trying to determine what being single looks like for them after being comfortable in their coupled routines for so long. They’re still having trouble letting each other go, and dating in LA is exhausting. But if they were to be honest (a thing that’s been demonstrably hard for both of them since the beginning), they’re also kind of enjoying exploring their options.

That’s about where the similarities between the two begin and end, however. Issa has more trouble than she anticipated launching herself into the world of casual sex, for example, while Lawrence, to his fascination and beefed-up pride, does not. And because Insecure recognizes that they’re different people with different needs, hopes, and concepts of what it means to be happy, it gives both characters room to react and experiment in their own ways.

As for Molly — who dominated last season’s dating stories — Insecure season two lets expand her storyline horizons to her job and mental health. She wants to put her dating life on pause (though she’s now cycling through therapists like she used to do with dating apps) because she wants to focus on her career. She feels like she’s just spinning her wheels at her law firm — a problem that becomes bleaker after she discovers that her white male co-worker is making significantly more money than she is.

As Issa, Molly, and Lawrence navigate their respective spheres, none of their arcs quite go where you might expect. This holds especially true for Lawrence as he grapples with his curiosity to explore sex as a smoking-hot single guy vis-à-vis his increasingly warped perception of what being “a nice guy” actually means. And in the process, the character becomes a true co-lead in season two, versus the supporting player he was before.

Though Insecure’s DNA is rooted in typical half-hour comedies — sending its characters into interpersonal misunderstandings and dating mishaps that we’ve seen a million times before — the show still manages to feel fresh by giving its characters room to be a little messier, a little more selfish, a little more realistic in their flaws than most other comedies would allow. And with an entirely black cast, gorgeous direction, and a penchant for showing a side of Los Angeles that TV rarely explores, Insecure doesn’t look or feel like anything else on television. There are precious few TV shows that depict groups of friends with more than one black woman having fun together onscreen, let alone talking frankly about sex and the infuriating intricacies of daily life.

And to that point, it helps that Insecure’s cast is full of actors who can knock most any challenge they’re faced with out of the park.

And now, a moment of appreciation for Insecure’s actors

Jay Ellis gets more to do this season, which is great news!
HBO

By far the sharpest weapons in Insecure’s arsenal are its actors.

As Molly, Orji is straightforward and discerning; she can convey years of firm but unconditional friendship with Issa with the slightest raise of her eyebrow (though her sporadic, full-throated laugh is a treat).

Ellis slides into Lawrence’s expanded role like it’s a sweater that fits just right, portraying Lawrence’s blossoming confidence and hesitation at plunging into the life of being a true player with equal dexterity. (He does, however, manage to get briefly overshadowed by Dominique Perry as Tasha, a girl Lawrence mistakenly assumes is nothing more than a good time.)

Rae, meanwhile, has played some version of this Issa for years thanks to the Awkward Black Girl web series that first inspired Insecure. But she’s noticeably more comfortable this season, as Issa stumbles around in the dating pool.

And thank god Natasha Rothwell’s role as Issa and Molly’s messiest friend Kelli has been upped in season two, because her bawdy energy steals every scene she dances her way through.

All across the board, Insecure’s cast has settled into their roles with such casual ease that it’s easy to understand where their characters are coming from, even — or maybe especially — when they’re struggling. In season two, Insecure proves it knows better than most that even the seemingly tiniest mistakes and careless moments can nonetheless have life-altering effects.

The second season of Insecure premieres Sunday, July 23, at 10:30 pm on HBO. The first season will also be available to stream that day for free starting at 6 am EST.

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