Issa and Molly are in many ways fairly typical sitcom women - in their late twenties, with good jobs and bad men in their lives, outwardly successful yet unfulfilled and trying to figure out why. What's different about
, which recently debuted on SoHo on Thursdays, is that Issa and Molly are African American and their identity impacts every facet of their lives.
Except, Insecure winningly points out, when it doesn't. The first episode introduces us to Issa, the semi-autobiographical showrunner and star Issa Rae, who created the Awkward Black Girl web series before being picked up by HBO. She works at a teaching not-for-profit, meaning her life is filled with painfully earnest white people - one mouths 'racist' at her after she jokes about being in blackface - and bratty kids.
At the end of the day she goes home to her long-term boyfriend Ellis, who wears trackpants a lot and doesn't seem the most motivated of characters. Watching him sleep, Issa flirts with an ex and thinks hungrily of the life Molly - a sainted black executive who lights up every room she goes into - gets to experience.
But scenes with Molly show that behind her glide lurks the titular insecurity and a frustration with the gap between what she wants in a relationship and what the men she sees seem to want.
Broadly it's saying that life is complicated and humdrum and hard for them too. Historically a supporting cast at best on mainstream shows, Insecure seeks to express a nuanced experience of contemporary African American life for women that never buries race - nearly every scene contains some kind of pointed comment on it - but that seeks to show that it's not all Issa and Molly are or experience.
In this crusade it joins the likes of
locally - also a web series - and the terrific
in expressing ethnic identities that are both ever-present but not a prison. Donald Glover's
might be the best new show of the year, though bizarrely it doesn't seem to be airing on New Zealand television at this point, despite an acclaimed airing on the same network as cult smashes
In Atlanta, Glover plays an Ivy League dropout haunted by his breaking of the promise of his prodigious academic career, living halfway in and out of a relationship with the mother of his child, dirt poor but needing the trappings of a middle class life.
His cousin becomes a rising rapper and he becomes his manager - the pair can sense a way out of a poverty which will not easily release them. It's shot through with a surreal humour, but also a biting realism and truly should not be missed.
It's great for the same reasons that
is very good: more visionary and sharply written, but ultimately seeking to show a kind of black life that we didn't see in
Growing up in New Zealand, those were the two dominant African American sitcoms, each groundbreaking in its own way, but all a long way from anything resembling a commonplace reality.
was somewhat different, but still a goonish caricature - something it had in common with the majority of white sitcoms of the era too, to be fair.
But the kind of small, relatable lives which have infected television after the ultimately wearying momentousness of the Golden Age started to fade have taken their time to get around to showing the experiences of people of colour. Thanks to
, each quietly revolutionary, that's finally starting to change.
* Sky TV today announced Atlanta will begin screening here on SoHo from December 22 at 8.30pm.