Issa Rae is a bright, innately charming, intelligent black woman with grand dreams and nascent expectations of life.
She is however, like many of us, unsure about it is she goes about making them those shiny visions of the promised land a reality.
Insecure, her Netflix series which winningly documents her day-to-day struggle as Issa Dee to be the person she wants to be, and to craft the life she sees for herself, in the face of a passive boyfriend, under-involved, over-assuming coworkers and a best friend with troubles of her own, does an exemplary job of showing how hard it to make dreams into reality.
Like all of us, Issa is not short on ideas; it’s the execution that leaves her floundering far more than she’d like.
Complicating her aspirations to realise what Oprah would term “your best life” are the many assumptions made about her by people which don’t always accord, in fact they rarely do, with who she actually is.
Take her co-workers at We Got Y’all, a non-profit organisation that works to expand the worldview and opportunities of inner city black school children.
They mean well but in common with many people who belong to the racial, sexual orientation or other homogenous grouping, they assume that the Other in their midts is the flag-bearing, emblematic possessor of all knowledge about her community. Granted she is the sole black employee of an organisation catering to the black community, but as Matthew Gilbert points out in his well-judged and written review of Insecure on The Boston Globe, making that assumption about Issa is as ridiculous as assuming that all gay men know the best restaurants or cutting edge fashion or that all white people live in the suburbs and worship their lawn.
The reality is of course that no one is that uniformly representative of the group to which they belong, and Insecure makes merry in its own quiet, slice-of-life with this idea, making it clear that none of us are copycats of the others in our community.
We’re all individuals; having said that of course, realising and admitting to that does not make the problem go away, nor does it remove the pressure to somehow live up to those expectations, which are as onerous as they are unrealistic.
All Issa can really do is grin and bear it, and throughout this incisive and charming series, developed by Rae and Larry Wilmore, based on Rae’s web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, she struggles to meet those skewed ideas of who she is in a number of all too human ways.
For instance, on the eve of the day of her 29th birthday when she’s out on the town with her bff Molly (Yvonne Orji), she declares that she’s going to dump her inert boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis) who’s unemployed and directionless and strike out boldly on her own.
Molly, who knows Issa better than she knows herself, immediately challenges that with Issa almost immediately agreeing “No, I won’t.”
It’s not that she’s necessarily looking to end her relationship with her live-in boyfriend of five years, not leave her job, or sleep with an old high school sweetheart – she simply wants something, anything to change.
And change quickly.
Of course it doesn’t and can’t because she is, as the title of the show declares Insecure, in common with pretty much every last one of us.
We all enviously eye those greener pastures, convinced that that way lies bliss and happiness, and maybe it does, who knows; but the reality is, and it’s often that Issa confronts in equally funny and straight down the line serious ways, that envisioning where life could take us, and actually getting there in any form, are completely different things.
As she moves between calm resignation, boiling frustration and infectious eagerness, she never quite manages to make the leap from the known to the unknown, one of the few exceptions being the night she takes advantage of an open mike night at a club to freestyle rap, a dream she’s harboured for so long, with no effect, that her friends are surprised she’s actually done it.
Issa, charming and honest with herself, is every last one of us, and her frustrations at her inability to make life bend to her will are grimly authentic but also irrepressibly upbeat, with her down moments quickly countenanced by upbeat recoveries which dare life to deny her.
Life, in the world of Issa dee, and that of Molly, Lawrence and all their friends, is instantly recognisable, and brilliantly and amusingly articulated.
You can relate to Issa because her life issues are everyone’s issues; sure they are influenced and shaped by being a member of her community, in common with everyone else on the planet, but they are also universal and therein lies the truth and charm of the show.
It dares to speak the truths that all of us know about life, and while it doesn’t come up with any easy answers, most likely because there simply aren’t any, it’s exploration of the possibilities, and the constant tension between what is and what could be, are a sobering delight, an insightful, clever, funny and smartly-written reminder that life is confounding for all of us, and that all we can do is stand up, give it a shot and see where it takes you.