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'Insecure' review: Season 3 is better and deeper than ever

Issa Rae's Issa Dee remains utterly, irrepressibly authentic

Issa Rae's Issa Dee remains utterly, irrepressibly authentic in HBO's third season of "Insecure." Photo Credit: HBO/Merie W. Wallace

SERIES "Insecure"

WHEN | WHERE Season 3 premieres Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on HBO 

WHAT IT'S ABOUT By the end of the second season, Issa (Issa Rae) had moved in with friend and music producer Daniel King (Y'Lan Noel) in what has now become (sort of) a purely platonic relationship. She's had her last wistful fantasy about the perfect life with her ex, Lawrence (Jay Ellis), and is trying to figure out what life will bring next, or specifically, how to make enough money to move into her own place. Besides her full-time job, there are options, like her side gig as a Lyft driver, in which she offers a novel twist to customers. Meanwhile, We Got Y'All — the nonprofit where she works and which seems (or is the word "pretends"?) to have a diverse staff in keeping with its mission to help underprivileged children — is becoming an anchor. Y'All's executive director, Joanne (Catherine Curtin), treats her dismissively. At least best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji) — who starts a job at a black-owned law firm — is doing well. Or, umm, is she?

MY SAY Story drift sometimes hits successful series by their second season, the so-called sophomore slump, and if they manage to avoid that pitfall, then the third season might do that trick. Viewers get restless and showrunners, too. That's where the trouble starts.

But if the first four episodes of "Insecure's" third season are any indication — the ones offered for review — that shouldn't be much of a problem.  "Insecure" is as "Insecure" was — only better in some ways, deeper in others. Rae also recently earned an Emmy nod, and the third season is a timely reminder of why. There really is no one else like "Issa Dee" on TV. Whether or not a proxy for Rae herself, Issa remains utterly, irrepressibly authentic. Nothing about this character feels phony or phoned in. She's someone you think you know, but better still, someone you'd like to know.

Superficially, this is and remains a series about love, or about the impossibility and possibility of love, along with the challenge, misery and joy of love. A single woman in Los Angeles navigates the shoals of sex and romance, which until now was mostly in the person of a wounded Lawrence, and comes up empty, repeatedly. This gets old and whether the #LawrenceHive — Ellis' so-named swooning online fan base — cares to admit it or not, that got old by the end of last season.

Time to move on, and "Insecure" does. Ellis doesn't appear in the first four episodes, perhaps confirming the worst fears of #LawrenceHive that he's gone for good. Or perhaps not: Moody Lawrence will probably be back at some point because this is TV and TV doesn't usually have a habit of dropping breakout characters. In the meantime, his absence leaves the door open for other stories, other romances, other vistas and helps to disavow Issa's own bitter self-appraisal: "Anytime I proclaim a new me I end up in the same old [expletive]."

What's so good about this show is the other story that's just beneath the surface, or the one about single black women who must also navigate the white patriarchy, or in the case of We Got Y'All, the white matriarchy. "Insecure" isn't about race in the same way as (say) that other L.A.-based workplace comedy, "black-ish," is, but about how race is threaded through lives, and how those threads become knotted, reducing confidence, opportunities and (to an extent) entire futures.

Issa soldiers on at We Got Y'all much as she soldiered on with Lawrence. But change is coming. There's growth and evolution in the third season, but not too much and based on a glance at the first four episodes, just enough.

BOTTOM LINE The third season breaks away from Lawrence and into new directions — highly entertaining ones.

The third season breaks away into new directions — highly entertaining ones.

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