For Black people, it’s rare that a TV show comes along and truly sees you. Not in a cliché or dramatized way that paints us as superheroes, trauma warriors or sideline characters, but in a beautifully mundane, yet complex way. In a way that shines a light on how gorgeous our flaws can be. Or in a way so triggering that it makes you wonder if the writers read your diary.
It’s not enough to just be shown, but to be seen. “Insecure” has mastered that balance.
So when creator Issa Rae announced Season 5 of the Peabody-winning series would be the final season, fans made their dissatisfaction heard loud and clear. They petitioned Rae to reconsider, or at least make the episodes in the final season an hour. (Spoiler: This really is the end and episodes are still around a half-hour each.)
But can you blame them for trying? For four seasons, viewers watched Issa Dee (Rae), Molly Carter (Yvonne Orji) and Lawrence Walker (Jay Ellis) navigate relationship woes, fall out over drama and figure out this thing called life. Week after week, the HBO hit series set Black Twitter ablaze. Viewers took sides in the divisive #TeamIssa versus #TeamLawrence debate, dragged Molly for her perfectionist nature and called Condola (Christiina Elmore) by everything but her actual name (Canola Oil, Condolences and Consolation deserve special recognition). The final season premieres Sunday, and these last 10 episodes will close a momentous chapter in TV history.
It’s a bittersweet end.
It’s hard to say farewell to a show that pushed regular Black people to the forefront when Hollywood has erased the multifaceted spectrum of our experiences from its stories time and time again.
When “Insecure” premiered on HBO in 2016, it felt like a long time coming. Rae had amassed a loyal following from her hit YouTube series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” and fans waited for years for a follow-up project featuring a Black woman that evoked a similar relatable yet comedic vibe. Television was starved of normal views into Black life. Enter Rae, showrunner Prentice Penny and director Melina Matsoukas’ FUBU approach.
“When I think about an audience, I think about my friends and family and the people that this show was made for,” Rae told HuffPost during a virtual roundtable with journalists ahead of the final season premiere. “To have that approval makes it clear that our stories are worthwhile and are marketable. That’s made me so proud and made me be able to dream to tell more stories, in this vein and beyond.”
In numerous interviews, Rae discussed the damn-near-impossible task of getting these stories told — and the sacrifices she had to make to tell them. HBO took a chance on Rae and Penny, which created a domino effect. They introduced the world to new talent, including Orji, Tristen J. Winger and Jean Elie. They gave new directors like Ellis and Kevin Bray a chance to shine. They made sure Black LA was its own character, represented in a way that Hollywood rarely ever shows it. They put us on to Black designers and businesses, courtesy of costume designers Ayanna James-Kimani and Shiona Turini. They ignited a conversation around artful cinematography and the best ways to use lighting on darker complexions. And they laid a foundation that has opened doors for nonwhite creatives in the industry.
The fictional world of “Insecure” felt like an extension of our own. The conversations “Insecure” sparked after each episode brought a little more depth and clarity to our own realities. Whether it be about open marriages, ho phases or friendship breakups, watching “Insecure” has become a communal bonding experience.
It also brought joy when we needed it the most, like in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing in 2020. When protests broke out and the weight of the world collapsed onto Black America’s shoulders, co-star and writer Natasha Rothwell offered some reprieve with the intimate “Lowkey Happy” episode.
“Feeling seen, understood, and celebrated is medicinal,” she shared in a note on Twitter. “So, tonight, if you find yourself needing to take a break from this nightmare, if you need to be reminded of your humanity, resilience, beauty, and strength, or if you just need to f*cking laugh — we’re here for you. Love you, family.”
We’ve evolved with the characters. Season 1 problems pale in comparison to Season 5 problems. In the words of Kelli, “You know what that is? Growth.” In a lot of ways, the final season focuses on each character’s understanding of who they are and who they want to become, a cyclical theme in life.
Though it’s technically not over just yet, “Insecure” is an undoubtable classic. It stands on the shoulders of heavyweights that came before it, including “Living Single” and “Girlfriends.” But unlike many Black TV classics, Rae and Penny are able to end the show on their own terms. And the people responsible for making the beloved show what it is are able to celebrate their work and receive the flowers they deserve in real time.
“Girlfriends” creator Mara Brock Akil praised “Insecure” because of this.
“How successful they were able to negotiate the HBO deal, they opened something up,” she said. “And even from my perspective, they got to end their story. That’s progress! Even with time in which certainly I didn’t get to end my story. And there were others that didn’t get in the door because there was lack of value [for our stories] for whatever reason.”
Though there’s so much work left to be done to level the playing field on our screens and among creatives in the industry, Hollywood is a better place because of “Insecure.” The impact is undeniable. What the show accomplished was a feat worth more than any award it was denied. This is the kind of show that will be discussed for generations to come.
That’s nothing less than iconic.
“Insecure” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. EST on HBO.