October 9, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Insecure”


INSECURE:  Sunday 10:30PM on HBO – In the Quene

HBO introduces a promising new voice to TV comedy with Issa Rae’s INSECURE, which she created with Larry Wilmore (who left after pilot to concentrate on The Nightly Show).  Rae’s vision is strongly R-rated (a key word from the Donald Trump tape gets a full workout in Insecure‘s pilot), but on the basis of its opening installment, it fits more conventionally into the TV-sitcom universe than Atlanta or Girls, shows that are committed to following the Louie auteur paradigm.

Rae, like Mary Tyler Moore or Ray Romano in their sitcoms, plays a character named Issa, although her fictional version works for a nonprofit group that advises on inner-city education.  The most important person in her universe is her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji), and although in sitcom terms Issa is more of a Rhoda and Molly is more of a Mary, they obsess about boys and their jobs in a familiar way.  Issa also has a slacker boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis), who can often be found on her couch.

The pilot finds Issa on her 29th birthday, feeling as though she’s in danger of leaving her best days behind without taking any risks, and envying Molly’s law firm success and seeming ease with men.  Before the half-hour is over, Issa has asserted herself at her job, pursued an old friend from the neighborhood whom she’d always lusted after, and performed at an open-mike rap night, to results that range from encouraging to disappointing.  She’s also comforted to realize that Molly is as uncertain as she is, with her own men and job issues.

These are the kind of life lessons that, with adjustments for demo and network standards, could be picked up on CBS (think of it as 2 Not-Quite Broke Girls), and as with any other sitcom star vehicle, what will make Issa distinctive from the shows it resembles is the sharpness and specificity of the writing and Rae’s own charisma.  Both seem to be present, and pilot director Melina Matsoukas wisely plays the dialogue for loose-limbed character exploration rather than for popping easy laughs.

HBO has coupled Insecure with Divorce in its Sunday comedy hour, and although that makes sense on paper, pairing two female-oriented stories (and leading with the one that features the much bigger star), the shows have very different tones and demos.  Insecure, which has a short 8-episode run, may need some time to fully develop its voice beyond its forebears, and one hopes the network won’t be put off if Sarah Jessica Parker fans aren’t immediately enthused.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."