The debut season of HBO’s “Insecure” was a stunning start, but at times it could feel claustrophobic, intimate to a fault. There was Issa Dee (creator and star Issa Rae) and there was the love triangle consisting of Dee, her boyfriend, Lawrence (Jay Ellis), and Daniel (Y’lan Noel), a childhood friend. The rest — Dee’s career, her circle of friends — was often an afterthought.
Judging from its first four episodes, however, the second season is a tremendous opening-up of this already great series. Deeply refreshing and rewarding, these episodes allow us to see the “Insecure” ensemble fighting the many battles of 20-somethings, not just the romantic ones.
The Season 2 premiere (Episode 9 of the series) is a fitting reintroduction to the series. Since Lawrence has … moved on, Dee finds herself navigating the woeful world of dating apps.
First, there’s a montage of ill-fated dates that’s admittedly a bit tired, but shortly thereafter director Melina Matsoukas (the TV and music-video auteur who also directed the “Master of None” Thanksgiving episode) gives us Issa, standing at her bedroom door, trying on lines she might use to seduce Lawrence when he swings by to collect his jury-duty summons. It’s peak “Insecure”: Rae being awkward and hilarious, imagining and engineering a perfect hand she’s never going to get dealt.
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But, again, what makes Season 2 such a marvel is the expansion of its scope. Best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji) tackles sexism at work while also tackling her resistance to counseling. Meanwhile, Lawrence goes apartment hunting with Chad (Neil Brown Jr.), giving rise to some of the best lines of the series (“You say yes to the tour, brother. That’s just polite.”), and tries to figure out what to do about Tasha (Dominique Perry). Even Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) and Tiffany (Amanda Seales) are given more to do.
The most exciting of these developments is the series’ newfound commitment to Dee’s work, the worst part of Season 1. Dee and co-worker Frieda (Lisa Joyce) are tasked with helping out at an underfunded high school and find that adolescents aren’t as receptive to their efforts as middle schoolers.
Frieda gets to drop some more problematic bombs (she still whispers “black” like it’s an expletive and says she “stress watches” Ava DuVernay’s “13th”), but she also challenges Dee’s willingness to ignore the vice principal’s targeted racism against Latino students. It’s a complex plotline that recalls Season 1’s crown jewel, an inconclusive study of black masculinity and black queerness.
To harp on the series’ topicality, though, would be to miss the point of watching. “Insecure” is, as always, “hella” funny (this season, every episode title contains this distinctly Californian adverb).
Rae’s shocking lack of confidence, paired with her manic energy, gives “Insecure” a naturalistic, improvisational feel. And the writers, including Rae, let characters riff, catering to their distinct strengths. It’s like a great sitcom, except with serial television’s flair for buildup and payoff. An ongoing gag about everyone’s reactions to a soapy, Lifetime-esque slave drama, for instance, is shaping up to be something truly singular.
The same, I might add, can be said for “Insecure.”
☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
9:30 p.m. Sunday