In Season 2, ‘Insecure’ is more sure of itself than ever

Warning: This post contains spoilers from the Season 2 premiere of “Insecure.”

If the second season premiere of HBO’s “Insecure” proved anything, it’s that the show is more secure in what it is.

The comedy series starring Issa Rae returned Sunday night, bringing viewers right back into the ever-tilting world of Issa Dee (Rae) and her friends.

The sophomore season picked up three months after the events of the finale, when longtime boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis) finally moved out of the apartment they once shared, signaling their breakup wasn’t just temporary.

“We picked that [amount of] time because it felt like it was the right amount of time in a breakup or in your life where you’re like, ‘Okay, I should start to be over these things,'” showrunner Prentice Penny told CNN in an interview. “You know? You can’t keep complaining to your friends three months in.”

When viewers first see Issa, she’s dating but finding it hard to move forward. Lawrence is still seeing Tasha (Dominique Perry), but it’s initially unclear whether he’s in rebound mode or truly giving it a go. (By the end of the episode, Lawrence and Issa have spur-of-the-moment wordless couch sex, taking their relationship from complicated to downright perplexing.) And Molly (Yvonne Orji) is working on her emotional growth in therapy but finding it hard to open up.

Penny said the characters’ journeys this season are inspired by the concept of duality — the person we are in public versus the person we are in private.

“We figured out that it’s not just Issa’s journey that’s like that — Molly has a journey like that and Lawrence has a journey like that,” he said. “So, for us, it was, like, what do you do when these things are unresolved and you’re kind of masking things? That’s what we dive in with Lawrence and the different masks he’s wearing with Tasha, and Issa and her life. Again, people not dealing with the core of the pain. Even Molly with the therapy.”

The “Insecure” writers room returned to work the day after the first season’s explosive finale back in November.

Penny said this transition was helpful because it made the stories feel seamless and at that point have a clear view of what made the first season resonate.

“I think we’re not a show that’s like, ‘How do you make us bigger?’ I think the way we become bigger is by getting smaller and getting more specific and getting into the nuance and tinier details of [the characters’] lives,” he said.

Indeed that is what earned “Insecure” critical praise in its first season.

Rae’s character was a modern 30-something unlike any seen on television to date — she had flaws, good friends and freestyling abilities that invited viewers into the most private corners of her mind.

Early in its run, it was notable for being the only current show on television created by and starring a woman of color. But as Prentice explained, they never let the pressure of that drive the show because it’s impossible to be the voice of an entire population, nor do they aim to be.

“For us, we’re trying to show basic life on a Tuesday and not try to be all things to all black people because there’s no way we can be,” he said. “We’re just trying to say, ‘Hey, this is a person and this is what this specific person is going through. If you can relate to those things, that’s great.’ I think the things that Issa and Molly and Lawrence all go through are human.”

In fact, Rae told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin recently she has a very specific audience in mind when writing.

“I have so many amazing female friends, and they’re the ones who I think about when … I’m making comedy,” she said. “‘Cause we’re the ones — like, outside of my family obviously — my friends have crafted my sense of humor.”

‘Insecure” was shut out of this year’s Emmy nominations — much to the surprise of many critics. But many other shows representing diverse voices made the cut — like “Master of None,” “black-ish” and “Atlanta.”

Penny said he’s encouraged seeing those shows break through. But rejects the idea that “Insecure” or any of the aforementioned are part of a Renaissance of black television.

“I said I would hope that it’s not a renaissance only because that implies it can also go away,” said Penny, who once wrote for “Girlfriends” and remembers seeing a flood of television shows about black families and lives come and go. “Nobody says when a white show comes on the air, like ‘Stranger Things,’ ‘Oh, it’s a Renaissance of white shows.” It would be great for us to not be under an umbrella of a Renaissance. We can just be a cool show that exists.”

“Insecure” airs Sundays on HBO.

No more lies as ‘Pretty Little Liars’ comes to a close

— “Pretty Little Liars” — a show that for seven seasons prided itself on engineering implausible yet addicting twists that kept its cult-like following coming back for more — ended its run on Tuesday with the five young women at the center of the series joined in a group hug as one of them prepared to embark on her honeymoon.

“For some reason, it feels like it’s the end of something,” Ali (Sasha Pieterse) tells her friends.

Indeed, it was.

When it debuted in 2010, “Pretty Little Liars” was quick to gain attention for its youth appeal — featuring high school drama, outlandish thrills and powered by the group’s tormenter, a villain known only as “A.”

The constant flow of mystery and intrigue may have been the hook that kept “PLL” — as fans would abbreviate it — at the top of Twitter trending topics. But the life blood of the show was always the young teen girls who may have looked like they’d been plucked straight from the pages of a Teen Vogue, but fought with endless conviction to protect themselves and their friends from harm and danger.

Sure, they would fight amongst themselves at times, but their friendship was always a North Star of hope.

“Pretty Little Liars,” which began with the girls as teens and followed their journeys into young adulthood, made a powerful statement about enduring female bonds. The show pit the girls against a number of almost cartoonishly evil foes, but they were no match for the Rosewood quartet.

Before “Pretty Little Liars,” young teens had the likes of “Gossip Girl” to fill their hunger for fabulous OMG-entertainment. But even that show, which had a female friendship at its core, was rooted in a cattiness that “PLL” mostly tried to avoid.

“I do hope that we showed our fans what friendship looks like: girls supporting girls, women supporting women,” showrunner I. Marlene King told Teen Vogue in May. “I didn’t want the girls to be catty with each other. I wanted them to have mature, healthy relationships.”

While stories about female friends are in larger supply these days thanks to a wave of television created for and about women, there will be a hole where “Pretty Little Liars” once stood.

During Tuesday’s finale, “PLL” network Freeform ran several promos for a series called “Bold Type,” about a trio of young women trying to make it in the magazine world. It’s not a stretch to say those who tuned into “Pretty Little Liars” for its more bombastic qualities will not find their fix in this series, but it was clear that Freeform was trying to make a connection with the younger “PLL” base who wouldn’t necessarily see themselves reflected on a show like “Big Little Lies.”

The jury is out on how TV history will remember “Pretty Little Liars,” but when it comes to teaching young women about the power of having like-minded, murderer-battling badasses at your side, this series undoubtedly gets an “A.”

Common explains why movies like ‘Moonlight’ are more important than ever

— Recording artist, actor and producer Common was pumped to see his friend Mahershala Ali score a SAG Award nomination for his role in “Moonlight” Wednesday morning.

Upon hearing his friend’s name read by fellow nominations announcer Sophia Bush, Common gave a thumbs up and an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

“Moonlight” is a quiet, coming-of-age drama from director Barry Jenkins that follows the story of a man in three different — but important — chapters of his life.

The movie the kind of story Common said he’s happy to see get awards attention.

“Moonlight” scored three SAG Award nominations, six Golden Globe nominations, and was recently named Best Picture by the L.A Film Critics group. It’s also poised to be a major Oscar contender.

“When you look at ‘Moonlight,’ you just see a human being who’s trying to find himself in the world. It’s not a preachy thing,” he said. “You just [have] compassion for what that is.”

As many in the country struggle with feelings of division, Common said films like “Moonlight” are more important than ever.

“[Activist and singer] Paul Robeson said that artists are the gatekeepers of the truth, and right now, a lot of people in our country are looking for answers,” Common said after the nominations announcement.

Ali, who also appeared in the nominated “Hidden Figures,” said in a statement to CNN that he was “truly grateful” for the recognition.

“Hidden Figures” tells the story of three black female NASA employees who were integral to the country’s efforts to win the space race. Ali plays the love interest of Taraji P. Henson’s character.

“I sincerely appreciate the supporting actor nomination, especially coming from a body of my peers, but I’m most proud to have found myself in two films, ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Hidden Figures,’ being recognized for their ensemble work,” Ali said.

Common has seen the call-to-action power art can have first hand this year. He wrote “Letter to the Free,” a song featured in Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary about the history of mass incarceration, “The 13th.”

“The way Ava told the story empowers you to be awakened and say, ‘I want to do something,'” he said. “We created music to try to do that same thing — create that emotion to activate that light in ourselves.”

Common said he always looks to be a part of projects that “move people” and tell “real stories.”

In addition to his work on “The 13th,” Common also executive produced the Epix docuseries “America Divided.”

“We as storytellers, hold a real big key to making this world better,” he said. “As we know, politicians, some are not going to be sincere [and] some of these policies we want changed, it’s going to take time. But if we pick up the camera and pick up the pen and do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be helping the world.”

Common will next start work on “John Wick: Chapter 2,” and he plans to attend Sundance as part of Netflix’s hazing drama “Burning Sands,” for which he’s doing the music.

The SAG Awards will be broadcast live simultaneously on TNT and TBS on January 29.

Oprah to those who don’t ‘like’ Clinton: ‘She’s not coming over to your house’

— Oprah Winfrey has a strong message for undecided voters in a new interview with TV host T.D. Jakes: “There really is no choice, people.”

In a one-hour chat with Jakes on his syndicated talk show, Winfrey, who supports Hilary Clinton, tells the host that she has hesitated to say much about this year’s election because “I didn’t know what to say that could actually pierce through all the noise and the chaos and the disgusting vitriol that’s going on and actually be heard.”

But with voting day just weeks away, she had a message for “all the people sitting around talking about they can’t decide.”

“I hear this all the time, you get into conversations — and there’s not a person in this room who hasn’t been in the same conversation — where people say, ‘I just don’t know if I like her.’ She’s not coming over to your house,” Winfrey said, as the audience erupted in laughter. “You don’t have to like her.”

She went on to tell the audience: “Do you like democracy or do you want a demagogue?”

Winfrey officially endorsed Clinton back in June in an interview with Entertainment Tonight.

She told them at the time: “Regardless of your politics, it’s a seminal moment for women. What this says is, there is no ceiling, that ceiling just went boom! It says anything is possible when you can be leader of the free world.”

Winfrey’s interview airs Thursday, October 27.

President Obama talks opioid epidemic with Macklemore in MTV documentary

— (CNN) — President Barack Obama gets candid with Grammy winner Macklemore in a new MTV documentary about the opioid crisis in America.

“The good news is that awareness is starting to rise,” Obama said in an exclusive clip provided to CNN. “And, I’ll be honest with you, part of what’s starting to change is that the opioids crisis is getting into communities that are suburban, that are relatively well to do, rural communities, white communities, and people’s kids who are being affected are folks who have a voice.”

Obama’s conversation with Macklemore is the centerpiece of the one-hour documentary, titled “Prescription For Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis.”

In the documentary, MTV has said, Obama and Macklemore will talk about their own experiences with substance use and about efforts to end the stigma of addiction.

Thus far, Obama said in the clip, “how we’ve dealt with the reduction of addiction and drugs has been oftentimes counterproductive.”

“We need to shift a lot more resources into treatment but we’re still way short of where we need to be,” he said.

The documentary will also share the journey of three women on the road to recovery from addiction.

Macklemore served as an executive producer on the film, which premiered earlier this week at a special White House screening.

The documentary premieres Tuesday, October 11 on MTV.

‘Ghostbusters’ star Leslie Jones busts Twitter haters, gets love in return

— Leslie Jones ain’t afraid of no Twitter trolls.

The “Ghostbusters” star on Monday fought back against Twitter users sending her racist and hateful comments by not allowing them to hide. Instead, she filled her own timeline with screenshots of their spiteful remarks, and let shame rain down upon them.

Jones tweeted, “You know I’m gonna stop blocking so y’all can go through my feed yourself and see the bs. You won’t believe the evil. It’s f scary.”

The response from the decent people of Twitter was swift, as users flooded Jones with well wishes and compliments, using #LoveForLeslieJ.

“Ghostbusters” director, Paul Feig, tweeted “attacks against her are attacks against us all.”

Jones is far from the first celebrity to put a spotlight on social media bullying. In fact, the list of celebrities who have stated they have taken a break from social media because of online harassment, is lengthy.

The difference, of course, is that many celebrities are often pushed off of Twitter due to backlash from controversial moments, or comments. Jones’ offense was simply being a black woman in a hit film that earned $46 million at the box office during its opening weekend.

How ‘black-ish’ turned ‘Hope’ into Emmy honors

— Emmy voters officially joined America’s ongoing conversation about racism on Thursday by acknowledging “black-ish” — an ABC comedy that has sought to tackle hot-button issues with humor and heart, without sacrificing laughs in the process.

“I think people respect the authenticity which we have for ourselves and the truthfulness in the way we tell our stories,” Anthony Anderson, star of “black-ish,” tells CNN. “I think that resonates with them and that’s what they respond to. They responded to it by giving us this nomination.”

The plaudits for “black-ish” come during a breakout year for the sophomore comedy, which has made a cozy home among other family sitcoms on ABC’s Wednesday night lineup. Like poster-child-for-progress “Modern Family” before it, “black-ish” rose to success in Season 2, in part, by daring to take on cultural lightning rods rarely seen on broadcast TV comedies since the days of producer Norman Lear and shows like “All in the Family.” (Notably, NBC has offered its own topical comedy with an African-American lead, “The Carmichael Show.”)

One of the season’s most compelling episodes, entitled “Hope,” saw the Johnson family inside their living room for a night of tough TV and tougher discussions as they waited to see whether a police officer would face charges for the assault of a black man.

With their kids around them, Dre (Anderson) and Bow (Ross) had to navigate a conversation with more questions than certainties, especially as the couple themselves seemed to agree on little. (“Why must you always advocate for the devil? He doesn’t need help with his legal team,” Dre jokes at one point, as his wife attempts to explain her less radical stance.)

“Hope,” which managed to find many laughs despite its serious subject, stands as an example of the material that got its viewers thinking — and talking.

“It was a show that struck a chord, more so than any other show that we’ve ever done,” Anderson says. “And we look at what’s going on in the country now — with gun violence and police brutality and the senseless deaths that have been happening and the innocent victims that are a part of that and no one being held accountable for it. We’re right on time with what we’re doing. We’re right on point with what we’re doing.”

With showrunner Kenya Barris at the helm, Anderson says the goal is always to “tell the stories of our community and be truthful to ourselves.” For its part, ABC has been “supportive” of the stories “black-ish” wants to tell, says Anderson. That included, a not-easy-to-show-on-broadcast-TV episode about Dre’s youngest son being suspended from school for using the n-word during a talent show.

“It means the world to us to tell (the) stories we’re telling on broadcast television so the world can see them,” says Anderson. “It’s a beautiful time and a beautiful thing to be a part of this rocket ship we’re on right now.”

Writers for “black-ish” are back at work crafting scripts for Season 3, which Anderson says, will build upon the season finale reveal of Bow’s pregnancy.

“We have some great stories … hold on to your hats. That’s all I can say,” he says.

Emmy voters, it seems, will be more than ready-ish.