Releasing soon on Blu-ray and Digital HD, the first season of HBO’s new comedy “Insecure” stars comedian Issa Rae as an awkward young black woman just trying to live her life in Los Angeles. The show is created by Rae and Larry Wilmore, of the unfortunately cancelled “Nightly Show” on Comedy Central, and makes a point to tackle the topic of modern female blackness from the lens of an everyday regular person. Issa’s character is not a strong, loud, independent black female stereotype. Instead, she is, as the title of the show might suggest, insecure – in many senses of the term.
The elements mentioned above provide for “Insecure” to be a unique comedic series. Rae’s character, Issa Dee, struggles through the awkwardness of being the only black person at her job, which is a supplementary school program for underprivileged youth at a school in the middle of urban LA. She struggles through a relationship with a man who has been more of a drain than a partner. She struggles through a friendship with her very successful and seemingly confident best friend, who has everything together on the surface, but is, as Issa might put it, a hot mess underneath. This is where the term “insecure” shows its layers: Issa’s job security is questionable because she thinks she has an unearned one-up on her white coworkers due to her black urban upbringing, her relationships with friends and her partner aren’t as secure as she often pretends them to be, and she herself demonstrates a mountain of insecurities about her own abilities, her place in her life, and how she might be perceived.
This first season of the show, at only eight episodes, really only gives a glimpse of Issa’s world, introduces the major players, shows how the main character confronts conflict, and then leaves the viewer waiting for the next season for a few major resolutions. It is disappointing, as a viewing experience, that there isn’t a season-ending conclusion to much of what is going on, but perhaps, like much of the show, it is meant to mirror what real life feels like. We, as people, don’t get satisfactory conclusions, and that is okay. We wait for our next season and roll with what comes to us. The season does a solid job of establishing characters, giving each of them motivations beyond what can commonly just devolve into “be there so the main character can interact with or react to you.” It seems like everyone in the show has a life of their own, that continues when they are off camera.
The comedy, particularly in the first half of the season, is both substantial and excellent. Reactions to the weird not-quite-racist-but-still-kinda-racist stuff white people say to Issa have the most punch and are likely culled from years of experience. The first episode really hits with a good series of these and other jokes that does well to set the comedic tone for the entire season. As the season moves on and the direction of the show shifts to include many more dramatic elements, the comedy stays intact, but becomes less silly and more poignant to highlight the show’s turn. Some of the absolute best moments in the show are the frequent “talking to the mirror” scenes. Often used by Issa to process the events of the day or prepare for the next thing to come, these scenes really pop with hilarity or deep emotion depending on the mood of the scene. While their frequent use could be seen as a gimmick to get inside the character’s head without using voice-over, the flow of the show and the importance of Issa’s self-image to her character make these scenes important to include and something that the viewer can look forward to seeing whenever they appear.
“Insecure” is a good show. It comes at a good time for television shows about people who don’t quite have it all together (See: “Better Things,” “Atlanta,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “You’re The Worst,” “Flaked,” “Bojack Horseman,” “Lady Dynamite,” etc.). While it doesn’t reach the heights of the incomparable “Atlanta,” it is good as a small show with a few topics that highlight an often unseen reality of late-20s black women. Or maybe it isn’t necessarily about something bigger and it is just a good dramatic comedy about the fictionalized experiences of its creator. Either way, the first season comes to Blu-ray soon and it is worth a watch.
Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Clarity/Detail: Clear and crisp. Some night scenes are a little dark and difficult to get all the details in, but that doesn’t detract too much.
Depth: Not too deep, but not really meant to be. As the scenes are mostly dialogue between a few people, the lack of depth is never a detriment.
Black Levels: Black levels look solid.
Color Reproduction: Colors look great and the costume design helps to highlight this with vibrancy throughout the season.
Flesh Tones: Fleshy.
Noise/Artifacts: Clean and Noiseless, with no noticeable artifacting.
Audio Formats: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French DTS 5.1, Spanish DTS 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Latin Spanish
Dynamics: Not incredibly dynamic. Sounds are mostly dialogue and music, so dynamism isn’t the goal with this release.
Low Frequency Extension: Music during transitions or club scenes tends to be bass-heavy and gives the subwoofer a nice kick, but that is really all that is here to go low.
Surround Sound Presentation: Almost no surround sound can be found on this release. This should not be seen as a knock against the show, since the majority of the scenes are based around dialogue.
Dialogue Reproduction: The dialogue is crisp and well-mastered. Characters can be heard clearly, even in club scenes and driving scenes.
(This release includes an Ultraviolet Digital HD version of the season)
–Insecure: In the Room (HD, 4 mins) – A short discussion with Issa Rae and two of the show’s writers talking about the fun they had working on the show. This is cool to highlight the uniqueness of the types of voices they had to pull from to create the show, but it isn’t very long and doesn’t have enough time to really go in depth about the process.
–Conjugal Visits (HD, 5 mins) – An extended version of the clips from this crazy prison reality show parody that the characters on “Insecure” frequently enjoy whenever they need to veg-out. This is pretty funny and over-the-top. A nice short bonus.
–On the “Insecure” Set with Issa Rae (HD, 4 mins) – A short video blog following Issa on a day of shooting the show. She talks about various elements of production and shows how playful the actors and staff are together on the set. This is good for the quick watch, but it isn’t really there to add a lot to the overall experience.
“Insecure” is funny and dramatic with a good heart and a unique perspective. Issa will quickly become a character the viewer wants to see get a win. Her charm, smile, outlook, rapping abilities, and banter with her friends, all portrayed wonderfully, provide a fun viewing experience. At only eight episodes of 30 minutes each, this is a very short season and without much more to offer on the blu-ray, it is difficult to recommend picking up this release. However, if one has other means to check the show out on HBO, it is worth a look.