[WARNING: Mild spoilers for Season 2 of Insecure ahead.]
When we last left the hot messes of Insecure, BFFs Issa (Issa Rae) and Molly (Yvonne Orji) had made up after a fight, while Issa's boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis) left with everything except his Best Buy shirt, hammering home that — new gig, new chick — his old life with Issa was over.
Season 2 begins months later, with Lawrence gone and not coming back anytime soon. Not to worry though: there's much more dysfunctional relationship stuff happening in Season 2, which is more expansive, ridiculous and sexual than the first. Season 1 was about establishing Issa — both the series' creator and the awkward character based on her — bopping around South Los Angeles with her friends. Season 2 builds Issa's world out more, and finds her putting on a brave face as she struggles with longing and heartbreak.
We learn more about Issa's friends (including Natasha Rothwell, who steals many scenes as Issa and Molly's consistently inappropriate but wise friend Kelli), Issa's family (Issa has a gay brother!) and more about Lawrence, who has most definitely moved on. The through line for all these people, and the other characters introduced over the four episodes sent to critics, is more comedy, and more sex. A LOT more sex. So let's see: we have an HBO comedy about smart, sexy and ambitious women in a big city figuring out what they want from life and love while indulging their libidos. Sound familiar?
Sex and the City was often taken to task for overlooking people of color, despite the fact that Carrie and Co. lived in one of the most multicultural cities in the world. And while Insecure is clearly not an intentional rebuttal — Issa Rae has her own polished identity as a writer, performer and producer and also, any "version" of SATC in 2017 would be corny — Insecure's second season has stumbled into being the Afro-American answer to the question raised nearly two decades ago.
It's not a one to one comparison, though. Sex and the City was fantasy fabulousness, while Insecure makes fabulous use of a more recognizable reality. Issa wears embarrassing nightclothes around her apartment. Both Issa and Molly have to confront prejudice at their jobs. Even more than it did in Season 1, Insecure rewards viewers who understand the lingo, hip music (SZA, Anderson .Paak) and codes that inform characters' choices.
Another of Insecure's appeals is that it depicts not just Los Angeles but a part of Los Angeles we don't often see: working and middle-class neighborhoods full of hidden cultural, sartorial and culinary gems. In that respect, it's as fresh and exciting as SATC was in its early breakout years. But where SATC romanced a New York accessible only to wealthy, good-looking, connected and almost entirely white people, the more grounded Insecure blooms in its environment, where Bloods from the neighborhood can crash a well-intentioned house party and create cringe-worthy comedy.
As specific as these type of references are — one early plotline shows Issa and Molly at Kiss-n-Grind, a party in LA where A-listers like Questlove and Cee Lo hang out — they're not mandatory to enjoying the story. If we could all use context clues to understand why Samantha would want to live in the Meatpacking District or why Carrie never took the subway then surely we can all relate to Issa's world, which now is all about dating. "I'm just tired of this dating s---," Issa tells Molly in the first episode. "I gotta be cute, and careful, and witty, and charming," she laments, something every single person in any developed city gets. Its specificity makes it universal.
Insecure's expanded its world ups the screen time for other characters, whose presences raise stakes and make the show more robust and silly. Queen of these is the uproarious Kelli (Rothwell) whose one-liners ("I haven't been Saturday drunk on a Thursday in like, a week!") will make her your new fave. Competing with Kelli for laughs is Chad (Neil Brown Jr.), Lawrence's rapid-tongued buddy who's encouraging him to sleep around. Issa's white co-worker Freida (Lisa Joyce) increases her stature as Issa's confidant — and in a twist, forces Issa to come to terms with prejudice Issa would rather ignore. We'll learn more about Tasha (Dominique Perry), the loud and not-that-classy bank teller Lawrence began hooking up with last season; even Sterling K. Brown has a storyline.
Again, Insecure doesn't try to replicate SATC's girl squad quad formula — or the alchemy that made it a phenomenon. But both Issa and Carrie are beautiful, awkward, smart, messy women making a go of it in the big city. Through their sex lives, longing and lust, we understand their needs, impulsiveness, confusion, desires and self-sabotage.
Season 2 of Insecure begins Sunday, July 23 at 10:30/9:30c on HBO.