excellence is not strange.
The Wine-Down – Insecure Season 2
I’ve been hearing from a few TV critic types that they are thankful that Insecure is back for its second season on HBO and that, after watching the season premiere, they realized how much they have missed the show. I can relate. In the age of peak TV, there is always a new show or miniseries to keep pace with, and something always falls by the wayside. Remember Harlots on Hulu? I was so hyped for it, and still haven’t finished the season.
But with Game of Thrones serving as the sole remaining piece of appointment viewing in the TV landscape, HBO has positioned the second season of Insecure to run directly after new episodes of Thrones, in the hopes that it will pull a wider/whiter audience. And it certainly deserves to. It’s incredibly rare for a show to find its voice and its rhythms as immediately as Insecure did, and its writer/star Issa Rae has continued apace, picking up the new season with her character, also called Issa, reeling from her breakup with her boyfriend Lawrence, finding schemes to run into him or lure him back to their once-shared apartment, and quickly burning out on dating. I loved the first date montage in the season opener—in a minute, it compressed so much of what Netflix shows that rhyme with Blaster of Fun can spend entire episodes explicating.
A couple of standout moments in this season’s premiere: Issa solo grinding and practicing conversation starters for when she sees Lawrence again. Last season, some of the best comedy in the show came from these monologue scenes where Issa hypes herself up with her own rapping, and coaches her way to fake confidence. These scenes are fan favorites because they blend vulnerability with silliness and the kind of almost-there swag we all manufacture just to get through the day. There’s a glimpse of it in the season trailer below:
Last week, Hank Steuver at The Washington Post wrote a recap of the first four episodes of this new season and bemoaned the fact that Insecure doesn’t occupy the same water cooler or online recap real estate as whiter shows with similar premises such as Girls or Sex and the City. I share his frustration but I’m optimistic that more people will find the show as its lead-in continues to dominate its time slot, and more and more millennials share their HBO GO passwords with friends who write pop culture columns for websites named for dangerous geologic phenomena.
I Am That Girl – Netflix’s Daughters of Destiny
I’ve been on a staycation with my parents up from Florida for the past five days, and since I didn’t cry nearly as much as I thought I would this week, I decided to assign myself some fun and weepy viewing. Daughters of Destiny is a new documentary series that follows the founders, directors, and students of a residential school in Bangalore, India.
The school’s aim is to break the cycle of generational poverty in the region’s poorest communities through education and social support for 16-17 years. The students, many of whom come from the lowest caste, live at the school and receive this support until they land their first job.
I’m conflicted about whether to discuss this series as a piece of televisual storytelling, or as an argument in favor of some radical approaches to ending poverty. I will say this. I’ve seen glimpses of this kind of radical support structure in America, at the Harlem Children’s Zone, which is a community organization in New York that provides supplemental academic and social support to children from kindergarten through their college and early employment years. It works there, and the Shanti Bhavan model is even more radical because of its residential component. I’m a proponent of taking these kinds of chances on helping young people, and it’s heartening to see the experiment running its course in India.
And as a narrative, this series is beautiful. Come for director Vanessa Roth’s beautifully composed imagery, and stay for Thenmozhi, whom we meet when she is seven years old and a talkative, lively student at Shanti Bhavan. Her eagerness to share what she’s learning and what she plans to achieve endeared her to me straight away, so I find myself in a bit of a panic now that I’m at the end of the first episode, the documentary has advanced two years in time, and nine-year-old Thenmozhi is decidedly less interested in school and must repeat a grade.
These stakes are too damn high. Someone come cancel this account for me.
above image: "girls," nagarjun kandukuru / flickr
 But we are in a weird time. A lot of the shows that dominate their spheres of pop culture are highly escapist in nature: dragons, zombies, miraculous mystery siblings, trustworthy cops, etc. In some ways, the realism of Insecure might cause a little whiplash coming right after Thrones, but then again, there are a ton of jokes in the show (more than your friends could make in real life), and the characters are better-looking than most IRL people. What I’m trying to say is that beautiful black people are dragons. That’s our secret.