Sunday’s episode of HBO’s “Insecure” ended with an explosive argument between Lawrence (Jay Ellis) and Condola (Christina Elmore) over co-parenting their new baby while living in different cities. Throughout the episode — appropriately titled “Pressure, Okay?!” — they have massive communication issues, and Lawrence seems to think he deserves a medal just for showing up.
The story came from a “very raw” place, according to “Insecure” writer Jason Lew, who wrote the episode. (He also appears briefly as the baby’s pediatrician, which happened after he read the part at the table read and “it became an inside joke,” he said.)
Several of the show’s writers, including Lew himself, recently became parents, so “there was a lot of anxiety and a lot of rawness around parenting in the room,” he said. Fittingly, as HuffPost spoke to Lew on Monday, his daughter could be heard in the background at several points.
Lew remembers that in initial versions of the script, the big argument was “a bit softer” and sometimes “skewed” toward one character or the other.
“Ultimately, I think we got to ‘Let’s just take the guardrails off and just have this be a really raw fight where you say shit that you really wish you didn’t,’ you know? Which is very real,” Lew said. “Each person brings their shit and their baggage to the table around parenting, and it all comes out, and there’s no way to really prepare for it. Even the most prepared couple that goes to, like, daily couples therapy, it all changes when it goes from hypothetical to real. So I think we did a good job of showing the space between your expectation and reality.”
For instance, Lew included the scene where Derek (Wade Allain-Marcus) explains to Lawrence that having a baby can alter the balance of any relationship, even when it’s mostly strong and stable, like Derek’s own marriage to Tiffany (Amanda Seales).
Lew also wanted to show how Lawrence is “still holding on to this idea of his old self that can have this job and not live in the same place and can still date,” he said. “I think it’s hard when you’re a new parent to come to terms with the fact that everything changes holistically, and you can’t just kind of à la carte it.”
Like “Insecure” fans, the show’s writers have lots of opinions and varying allegiances toward characters, according to Lew. But they try not to let any character off the hook. That comes from creator Issa Rae and showrunner Prentice Penny encouraging the writers to “lean into all the things that made us feel uncomfortable or feel like we were failing to protect our character, which is what they always push us to do, and I think that’s right,” he said. “It’s about giving the audience what they need, not necessarily what they want.”
“They created this environment that really just felt like a celebration.”
– “Insecure” writer Jason Lew on the show’s creator, Issa Rae, and showrunner Prentice Penny
Lew joined the “Insecure” writers’ room at the start of the fourth season, after several seasons as a writer for HBO’s “Ballers.” He started his career as an actor, graduating from New York University and working in New York before moving to Los Angeles and writing and directing a couple of feature films.
HBO connected him with Rae and Penny after several “Insecure” writers had moved on after the first three seasons. (“I think they had lost all their men,” Lew said with a laugh. “They lost all their dudes.”) He credits Rae and Penny with making the writers’ room “a joyful, safe space where everybody felt respected.”
“It was just a very, very beautiful and sadly rare space, even in today’s industry that is making a lot of strides,” he said. “I miss being in a room that’s just so many people of color, and there’s just very little translating that needs to be done when talking around the issues that we face. Nobody felt tokenized. I mean, I was the only Asian American in the room, but I never felt that. In other rooms, I felt that. I felt it. It was like, ‘ooh, OK, I’m The One here.’”
In Season 4, Lew wrote the episode “Lowkey Trippin’,” in which Andrew (Alexander Hodge) and Molly (Yvonne Orji) get into an argument that touches on tensions between Black and Asian American communities. For Lew, working on that episode exemplified the trust among the writers and how they could dig into hard conversations.
“There wasn’t like this, like, weird tiptoeing around issues,” Lew said. “We could just speak about them, and I never felt tokenized or marginalized or fetishized or anything, which is what happens when a room is just organically diverse, and full of people who are used to being empathetic to other people’s experiences.”
The episode also illustrated one of the show’s many strengths: how it explores big issues without being didactic, and how it doesn’t ignore the characters’ racial identities — but also doesn’t make them the sole focus.
“Like the way Andrew was used, it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, every episode is gonna talk about him being Asian Bae.’ My episode was the one time where we really dug into it, and even then, the show kind of likes to ‘play it, not say it,’” Lew said. “Let’s just have this dude be a human being, just like any other character in the show. It doesn’t have to be that his race features heavily in every scene.”
Similarly, Andrew and Molly happened to be an interracial couple; they weren’t defined by that. “Let’s actually just see them have a relationship,” Lew said. “It’s just much more valuable culturally, and just better to watch.”
As “Insecure” wraps up its final season, Lew has a few new projects in development, including a TV series with A24 and a fiction podcast. For a while, he has been trying to develop his next movie ― “a Chinese Western, as a corrective for our exclusion in the genre,” he said.
Whatever he does next, he hopes to approach it with the same “sense of joy and respect and curiosity” that Rae and Penny instilled in the “Insecure” writers’ room.
“Prentice, especially, kind of came up in a different world that was significantly less diverse. There’s this eye toward, like, OK, let’s really nurture each other and take care of each other when you’re a person of color in this industry. And if you’re a person of color in this industry, and you are at all successful, you have shoveled so much shit. You have put up with so much bullshit,” Lew said. “They created this environment that really just felt like a celebration.”