FX’s ‘Atlanta’ is this year’s must-watch TV show
Many people recognize Donald Glover from his five years co-starring on the NBC comedy Community, or from his rap career as Childish Gambino. But in September, Glover’s newest TV show, Atlanta, premiered on FX.
Atlanta, created by Glover, takes place in Atlanta, Georgia — one of the hip-hop capitals of the world — and is about a semi-homeless father named Ernest (Glover) trying to make it big by managing his up-and-coming rapper cousin Paper Boi (Brian Henry). Despite its premise, the show doesn’t center on the music industry itself. Instead, Atlanta focuses on the lives and struggles of the characters, providing commentary on the world they live in.
In an interview with Business Insider, Glover said, “I just knew there was a hunger for Atlanta shit like that, but nobody had really figured out how to sell it. And I was like, I know how to sell. It needs to just feel like you’re black, you know?”
While it might sound odd, Atlanta does just that. It portrays the characters and culture in an honest way, and none of the characters or scenes feel forced — they’re often very relatable, but still set themselves apart from white culture in a way that seems very realistic.
Paper Boi is a hoodlum, but his actions aren’t glorified or condemned; they simply unfold. It’s clear he loves his daughter and wants to care for her, but he often isn’t there. His relationship with his daughter’s mother is strained, often changing from sweet and loving to distant and angry with just a few wrong words.
In a Television Critics Association interview, Glover mentioned Chappelle’s Show as a major influence. This comparison is perfect for Atlanta because Glover portrays black culture in the same hilarious but honest manner as Chappelle did; Atlanta even has an episode with several commercial skits and seems to harken back to early Boondocks with an almost cartoonish vibe to it.
Along with being funny and realistic, Atlanta has a surreal tone. Social commentary seeps into every episode, touching on everything from the prison system to talk shows and Justin Bieber. There is danger in placing controversial commentary on society in television, as it can alienate viewers who might not agree with a writer’s cause. But Atlanta’s commentary is poignant, relatable to everyday life and simply there to add flavor, not steal the show.
While the entire season is worth watching, the beginning of the show is the strongest. The first few episodes have many comedic moments but feel more like a surrealistic drama, depicting Ernest as a man struggling to find footing with family and society in a confusing world. After establishing itself as a funny drama, the middle of the season takes a light turn and starts to feel more like a comedy with dramatic moments. The last two episodes bring the show full circle, depicting Atlanta life in a darker light.
Overall, this show is hard to fully pin down, which is a compliment to Glover and a testament to how well Atlanta represents daily life.
Watch the trailer for Atlanta below:
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