Not much happens in a season of Insecure, but that’s kind of the point. The HBO comedy follows creator and star Issa Rae‘s less successful alter ego Issa Dee, her friends and the men in their lives as they stumble out of their 20s unfulfilled and emotionally paralyzed. When the series began, Issa was frustrated with her job as the only black woman at a nonprofit that works in L.A. public schools. Her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji), an elite lawyer, couldn’t stop dating inappropriate men. And Issa’s boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis) had been out of a job for so long that his unemployment had hijacked their relationship. By the end of the second season, he had a job and they’d broken up, but nothing else had changed. This is what millennial inertia looks like.
The show’s third season, which premieres on Aug. 12, marks Insecure‘s biggest shake-up to date: following last year’s gutting finale, in which he and Issa permanently part ways, Lawrence is out of the picture. Taking his place at the center of the story is Issa’s once and maybe future boyfriend Daniel (Y’lan Noel). Too broke to rent a place of her own, she’s crashing on his couch. When he brings home dates, she drives a Lyft (a gig that provides a few hilarious moments) and waits for him to text that the coast is clear. Issa isn’t sure what she wants out of him, but it isn’t this.
In these new episodes, Daniel finally comes into focus: he’s a hip-hop producer, which sounds glamorous, but in reality he’s struggling as hard as anyone else on the show–for work, for name recognition and simply for respect in a hierarchical industry. (He confesses to Issa that he worries about dying an “unknown SoundCloud producer.”) There’s a disarming earnestness to their ongoing conversations about creativity.
In the absence of an elaborate story, it is Rae’s talent for crafting authentic dialogue and relationships like this one that makes Insecure special. While last season emphasized the show’s ensemble aspects, resulting in too many silly Sex and the City–style scenes of Issa and her girlfriends dissecting their love lives, this new season wisely plays to Rae’s strengths with one-on-one real talk among the leads. Lawrence was a fascinating character–a smart guy stuck in a depressive holding pattern–not to mention the designated heartthrob on a show where the female gaze reigns supreme. But by letting Lawrence go, Insecure allows Issa’s bonds with her friends to flourish, and the show is better for it. These characters may be inert, but the show is anything but.
This appears in the August 20, 2018 issue of TIME.
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