Issa Rae’s “Insecure” Will Save HBO
Despite the title HBO would hardly seem in need of saving. It is coming off a recent Emmy’s performance where perennial powerhouse Game of Thrones snagged the most awards ever for a series. It is consistently the most highly nominated network and one can argue the most highly regarded in the era of “Peak TV”. AMC, FX, Netflix, Starz and Showtime all aim to attract the same buzzworthy and high brow elements that HBO seems to create so effortlessly. However, if one looks beyond award shows and buzz winter is truly coming and not just for Westeros. HBO’s seemingly iron grip on TV’s throne is in danger of slipping loose. High profile failures of Vinyl, the 2nd season of True Detective combined with the imminent departure (thank god) of Girls and only two more seasons of Game of Thrones are all cause for concern. Of course, there is new fare on the horizon but none, even the all star/balls out Westworld, cast an eye toward a more grounded future than Issa Rae’s “Insecure” which premieres Oct 9th.
That Hollywood specifically and media in general have had issues with diversity is not a secret.
A recent NYT critics discussion highlights the challenges of finding fully formed characters of color even as we have more content choices than ever. The lack of diversity exist in front of the camera, behind the camera and in the boardrooms and bungalows of private financiers. Over the years HBO has created great work with a wide appeal to diverse audiences. HBO Films has released work such as Bessie, Something the Lord Made, Confirmation, A Lesson Before Dying and many others that rival anything major studios have produced. And of course, no conversation on quality TV would be complete without the inclusion of The Wire, arguably the greatest television program ever made. In light of that track record and maybe because of it “Insecure” stands out even more. This is the first time HBO has greenlit a show that will embrace an African-American experience that does not come from either a historical or pathological perspective. Simply put, “Insecure” does not tread the familiar ground that viewers have come to expect when the primary characters are people of color.
Issa Rae has never been shy about sharing her singular vision and painting characters across a wide palette. Her award winning Yotube show “The MisAdventures of Awkward Black Girl” was/is a revelation and tapped into a deeply committed and large online audience. This point can’t be emphasized enough. We live in a time when everyone can create content and post it on Youtube which in turn makes that medium a wasteland. It is accessible to everyone and the quality of shows worth watching are testament to the fact. For Issa Rae to have both produced a high quality show and cultivated a sizeable and enduring audience is no small feat. It is that hustle and drive that HBO are investing in, along with a creative talent capable of telling stories that can appeal beyond the usual HBO offerings. Issa Rae is bringing a community of dedicated fans and viewers that is likely being underestimated but they are just as much a part of this story. When “Insecure” has a strong debut and first season and is picked up for it’s inevitable second season that audience will have played a huge part in the success of the show.
HBO rightfully decided to align itself with a creative talent in Issa Rae with a proven track record of success and the ability to create on her own terms. They have also made a bet on culture whether they realize it or not. HBO has centered itself in an ongoing conversation that will ultimately give their programming a sustained and much needed dose of relevance. Audiences are craving for content that reflects their own varied experiences. The recent success of Master of None, Atlanta, and everything Shondaland related prove out the relevance of tapping into multicultural experiences. Multicultural does not merely mean the characters are diverse in skin hue but that they represent a broad range of experiences and subcultures. The African American experience, Latino experience, Asian-American experience and so on and so on are not one size fits all realities and thus deserve to be mined for unique storytelling in the same way white culture is. Until now the opportunity to flesh out those stories and access the audience that craves them was missing from HBO. Finally HBO is making an attempt to pull up a seat at the culture table and by doing so have picked an exceptional player. Get ready for many more seasons of Issa Rae’s “Insecure” and mark the role it will have played in HBO’s future.