It would be easy to bill Insecure, a new comedy series by Issa Rae debuting tonight on HBO, as the archetypal black millennial story—and that's exactly why you shouldn't do it.
True, the show stars Rae as Issa, a 29-year-old woman who's struggling to navigate her life. At work, she's the only person of color in a sea of well-meaning-but-still-kinda-racist liberals; in her personal life, she's impulsive and awkward and conflicted; at home, she raps to herself in front of her bathroom mirror. Issa (the character) is a black woman living an unremarkable life—and that's what makes Insecure so remarkable.
"Isn't it sad that it's revolutionary?" Rae asked NPR regarding her show's premise. "It's so basic... but we don't get to do that. We don't get to just have a show about regular black people being basic."
It takes a considerable amount of talent to transform mundane experiences into something worth watching—and this isn't Rae's first time doing so. While studying at Stanford in 2007, Rae created Dorm Diaries a satirical, Office-style show about the daily lives of a handful of black students at the mostly-white university. (Stanford's student body is currently 57.4 percent white and just 4.7 percent black).
But she's best known for The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl, her popular web series that ran from 2011 to 2013 and has a similar premise to Insecure. The protagonist, J (portrayed by Rae), is a sometimes-passive-aggressive nerdy black girl who works at a call center and leads a fairly normal life. Like Insecure, the web series wasn't entertaining because of intense drama, but rather because of Rae's talent for dramatizing the mundane.
One of the show's biggest strengths thus far is Rae's deft handling of experiences that black women deal with on a regular basis—code switching, fighting the horrible trope of the "bitter black woman," and how to respond to strangers who treat you like a cultural encyclopedia are all addressed in the pilot episode, 'Insecure As Fuck.' And those moments are mixed in with situations all women can relate to—like trying to figure out how to make yourself seem interested-but-not-in-a-desperate-way and the beautiful shitshow that is female friendships.
Insecure is a hilarious, smart show about being a (black) woman in America today. But don't call it the definitive show about womanhood, black or otherwise—the entire point is to expand our notions of black womanhood, not redefine or limit them. Insecure is hopefully the first of many contemporary shows about basic black women—we shouldn't let it be the last.
Insecure premieres tonight at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.