Insecure Roundtable: Where We Fall On Issa Rae’s Big Time Debut

With the first season of Insecure by Issa Rae in the books, the staff circles up to talk characters, motivations, and trends.

William: Where do we even start with Insecure? I guess what was everyone’s expectations? Were you fans of Issa before the HBO series? Did you expect it to play out this way?

Lauren: To be honest, I wasn’t sure after the pilot. I admit I’ve never watched a full episode of Awkward Black Girl, but this felt like a Black Girls. Maybe it’s partly my advanced age *pops a Geritol*, but I’m growing weary of stories that fail the Bechdel test, as limited as it is. Watching these two Black women embarrass themselves made me feel a way.

Oz: I’m a big fan of Issa Bae Rae so I was open to whatever content she had to offer. I tried to go in having as few expectations as possible because since I originally had my doubts about Atlanta (in my defense, Donald Glover was inspired by David Lynch…the guy who directed Dune) and was quickly proven wrong. I definitely didn’t expect Awkward Black Girl Behaving Badly but amazingly enough, it didn’t disappoint me. I recall Lumberjanes writer Noelle Stephenson tweeting about how, yes, there should be women in strong positive roles but they should also be seen being a mess, covering the whole spectrum. And Insecure definitely did that.

Lauren: I’m down with complex characters who aren’t perfect. Unfortunately, I feel like that kind of story about young women is so common these days, particularly when it comes to their romantic lives. But the show totally redeemed itself. I feel like the writing improved over the course of the season, and I ended up liking both Issa and Molly.

William: I’m with Lauren for the most part. I definitely laughed at some moments in the first few episodes, but I was pretty wishy-washy about it for the most part, almost until the first season was over to be honest. I thought the rapping was pretty corny, but I at least like that it played a pivotal part of the plot down the road. Molly I’m still on the fence about…Molly was tough to like, but that might be because she doesn’t inspire the most progressive minded of us.

Izetta: I’ve been #TeamIssaRae for a minute, fam. I will admit that I used to wait on each new Awkward Black Girl episode to drop on YouTube the way folks used to stand in line for iPhones. The first few episodes were slow for me, but I figured we were just getting the background of each character. I’m awkward like Issa, so to see my stumbling goofy ass as a protagonist is great for me. I honestly dig Molly. She’s complex. Molly can code-switch like a mug and I ain’t mad at that. I know she’s got her issues but Molly is that bestie that’s gonna be on your team if you right or wrong….which, I’m sure we’re going to get to that soon enough.

William: Yeah, that was my prevailing thought that for Molly’s sloppiness about handling things, she was at least ride or die for Issa, even when she did or didn’t deserve it.

William: Let’s talk about Issa and her job dynamic. I do think how both Molly and Issa had to navigate their jobs was super real and relatable. Issa fighting against tokenism and Molly in constant codeswitch mode.

Oz: I did find myself relating to Issa in that her coworkers seemed to treat her like the Unofficial Black Consul of the district when they asked her what “on fleek” meant or what “they” refers to Baldwin Hills as. I was in that position a few jobs ago at a certain department store I will only refer to as “The Original Azkaban Prison.” You try not to even engage for fear that they’ll take what you say as gospel and when someone doesn’t like it, they’ll be like, “Well, I got it approved by my district Black representative.” The struggle is real.

Lauren: Yeah, I’m used to being the fucking Highlander at work, too. (There can only be one!) Such an unfortunate dynamic where Molly’s supposed to act like the new chick’s overseer. But familiar. I’m glad to see her resist it — I think that’s when my feelings about her character started to shift.

Izetta: I feel like Molly was in that catch-22 that people of color often find themselves in at work. Like I said before, her code-switch game is on ten. She seems to have been at that firm for some time, so there’s an understanding of the climate and culture there. She tried to share that knowledge (albeit a bit presumed and out of pocket) with the new girl and was read for it. I agree Lauren, I was glad to see her resist, but my heart went out to them both when the new girl got cornered in the conference room. That whole situation was sad and too well known.

William: So on a scale from reasonable to fuckboy, where do we rate Daniel’s behavior throughout?

Oz: I’m in between. A lot of people Sparta-kicked him into the pit when he came up to Issa’s job to clear the air, but let’s keep it a buck. He wasn’t guilty of anything more predatory than Issa stalking him on Facebook and then arranging her girls’ night so she’d “just happen to run into him” in the first place. He really came across as a dude who was probably not comfortable enough in his skin in high school to shoot his shot with Issa and had gained some confidence. They seemed to have a genuine bond from back in the day and he confessed some real feelings before The Incident. I’m not saying I would have behaved the same way in his position. It was forward and invasive. But I can see why he ultimately seemed really put out that Issa went to radio silence and then referred to him as an “itch to scratch” when she did see him again. I’ll give him a 6.5 out of 10…not exactly Robin Thicke behavior but still side-eye worthy.

Lauren: Showing up at the club to see someone is one thing; showing up at their place of work, though? That’s crossing a line — and especially when he rolled up to the fundraiser. I mean, was he invited? The impression I got was he wasn’t really invited but came anyway.

Still, I didn’t dislike Daniel. I think what Oz said is pretty much on-point regarding both the bond he had with Issa from high school and his ability to articulate his current feelings for her. I think being called an itch that needed to be scratched was cold-blooded as hell. I felt for him, even though I would have been hella pissed he was there.

Izetta: Lauren hit the nail on the head for me. Let’s not forget that this isn’t the first time that Daniel has shown up at Issa’s job uninvited. You don’t do that. Did he need and deserve an explanation or a conversation or something along that line from Issa? Yes. Was she hella wrong for calling him that? Hell yeah. I don’t think he was invited by Issa herself. Maybe he knew about it from being a participant that week, but I do believe he should have known that a community/work event was not the place. Yeah, I think a 6.5 is reasonable.

Oz: To speak on the fundraiser real quick, I gave him the benefit of the doubt that since he was such a big hit for Career Day, he either got some obligatory email about it or the kids really did reach out to him like he said. After all, these are some resourceful kids….resourceful enough to have found Issa on YouTube doing the Broken Pussy rap (worth its weight in vibranium) after merely a brief mention from Daniel.

Will: Oz, you breaking vertebrae to contort for that one. Your boy showed up cuz he was getting ignored and he knew for sure Issa would be there. There’s a lot of “could haves” in there, but your boy came for some facetime and no other reason.

Lauren: I guess we need to talk about Lawrence, bless his heart….

William: Whewwww, we really about to talk about Lawrence, huh? [Deep inhale through gritted teeth] Ok, I’m ready. Here’s my initial stance. Lawrence was being carried (we assume, he was cashing unemployment checks) by Issa in some capacity, partially because he was holding out for an ideal job. I don’t know if we are ever given how long he was out of work, but once Issa confronted him about temporarily lowering his standards, he humbled himself and went and got a job, obviously below his qualification level. Now, he absolutely opened the door for the flirtation with Bank Teller with Hot Sauce in her Bag, but he also shut it down when the Wu came in earnest. Basically, he did the same thing (allowing flirtation, connectivity) as Issa did with Daniel accept he didn’t ya know…cheat. Like Issa did…twice. So I know there’s a whole lot of hot takes on the interwebs saying Lawrence wasn’t actually a good guy, or a catch and yada yada, but someone gotta help me out on how dude was the bad guy here?

Lauren: At some point early on, Issa makes a comment about Lawrence having been getting his shit together for four years — and I think they’ve only been together for five — so I could see a lot of frustration and resentment building up here. (And I’ve been in Issa’s position, though not for quite as long, so I get that shit on a visceral level.) And even when he does get the perfect job offer, he almost talks himself out of taking it to work on whatever app he’s been NOT working on while sitting on the couch for years before humbling himself to work at Best Buy.

I am unimpressed with his ability to adult on a really basic level, and unfortunately, this was also one of my sticking points with Earn in Atlanta. Maybe because of my own experiences, I’m just fundamentally bothered that while Black women hustle at shitty jobs and put up with hella racism and misogyny to make sure everyone’s taken care of, dudes sit around in their feelings because they believe themselves too good to work the jobs they can get at the time. Talk about male privilege.

Whew. I think I needed to get that off my chest. Anyway.

I actually like Lawrence. It’s clear he loves Issa, and while I can sympathize with her, our brief experience of dude is him finally getting his shit together if not for her then at least in response to her articulated needs. Unfortunately, timing being what it is….

Izetta: I never disliked Lawrence, but I wasn’t always rocking with him, ya know? I know I spent the first three eps waiting for dude to put on some Bast-damn real-ass clothes. Like, I was mad at the amount of time dude was spending on the couch watching…. What was dude watching? Workout infomercials trying to mentally pump himself up while seeming to put in no work? Hashtag sit up and let’s have a real conversation. Hashtag you are putting a permanent dent in this couch. Hashtag blah.

I will never say that Issa was right for seeking out Daniel and doing what she did. I can see how she was tired and bored, though. There is a big part of me that wishes she had just broken up with Lawrence. Honestly, I really do wish that. It may have been a fire under his pants the way that blow up was that led him to Best Buy, but it also would have kept her from cheating.

Issa got a wake up call at work and stepped her game up. Lawrence got a honest job and a seemingly amazing job offer and seemed like he was about to be right back on that couch. I’m not saying he drove her to cheat… nah, she did that on her own. He just needed to get his shit together in a more timely fashion. Also, leaving and going off to bang the bank teller doesn’t help him earn a medal of innocence from me. I get being hurt, but damn.

Lauren: Right — I think Issa should have ended the relationship if she wasn’t in it anymore. He didn’t drive her to do anything. She made the selfish choice to cheat.

Still, the gut-punch of returning to the apartment to find his shit gone — except for that damned shirt. Ow. That was cold.

Oz: Here’s my thing with Lawrence. Was he perfect? No. But why is there all this focus on what he was and less what he turned out to be? Maybe its because I’ve been unemployed before, but damn. Did y’all see this man go from the couch to a company account? If you ask Every Single Human On The Internet….that counts for nothing for some reason. I guess I’m just confused on how audiences process information. As far as moving on with Chase Bae, Lawrence had the nerve to hook up with an attractive woman who was nice to him. As far as I could tell, before she came to his job in her freakum dress, she just encouraged that man to hold his head up, but the hashtags calling her #ChaseHo would have you think she reached her hand down into his pants in broad daylight.

This might ruffle some feathers but….Who someone sleeps with after they leave you is NONE of your business. Being single means you get to sleep with whoever you want. If you don’t want to be kept up at night asking yourself these hard questions about “Who he’s with and why…”, you have the option of just not cheating. But I could be wrong.

I needed to get that out.

William: Very cold. But relatively speaking, considering the events that led to it. Yeah, either Lawrence is done for real or he’s tilting the scales back before trying to reconcile with Issa, only one of those is a right answer.

William: Anything we haven’t covered that we should address?

Izetta: Not sure if I’m the only Black Greek in the room, but this is one of two shows this year [Luke Cage] that highlighted greekdom post-undergrad and called them out by name. I’m kinda loving it, forrealz. I mean… there were some blatant stereotypes here, but we usually only see greek life in the form of step shows and hazing on television.

William: I noticed that too Izetta. I think its pretty cool as well, as it’s one of those last inside incubations of Black culture that is being woven into a regular narrative, as something that’s part of everyday Black livelihood and not something abstract. That’s where I think these shows that center around Black protagonists and story of late are succeeding the most. Normalizing the activities and cultural aspects in media that we find normal in everyday life.


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