Donald Glover's new FX show combines comedy and drama to shed light on issues affecting young Blacks in urban metropolises.
We all know a brother like Earn: he’s the dude who dropped out of college after fathering a child but is really smart and driven and tries every day to make a better way for himself and his child.
This is the protagonist of the new FX dramedy Atlanta. Written and executive produced by Donald Glover (Community and The Martian), the new series debuts today and wastes no time getting under our skin, through to our brains and into our hearts. Here are five reasons to tune in:
The Cast: Earn offers us entrance into the impoverished and desperate side of an otherwise glamorous southern city. Though he has a dead-end job, he finds hope as the manager of a rapper named Paper Boi (Bryan Tyree Henry, Boardwalk Empire), who also happens to be his cousin. If Earn is a perpetual dreamer, Paper Boi is a perpetual hustler raps from the heart but also sells weed on the side. There’s also Paper Boi’s homeboy Darius (scene-stealer Lakeith Stanfield) and Van (Zazie Beetz), Earn’s on-again, off-again girlfriend and the mother of his child. All four deliver enthralling performances and everyone will be tweeting about Henry’s hilarious facial expressions.
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The Authenticity: A lot of critics have described Atlanta as "surreal," but fail to mention that there are also several very real aspects of the show. For example, the sense of dread that accompanies pumping gas in a shady part of town, encounters with homeless men who double as impromptu parking-lot attendants and Van’s head scarf are just some of the very relatable details included in the first few episodes. A scene dedicated to black male sexual identity in the second episode will make you laugh out loud one minute and fall back into pensive thought the next. Seriously, this show is jam-packed with too many real moments for us to even count.
The Writing: The acting and the vibe of Atlanta would be nothing without the amazing writing. It’s so cerebrally and comically layered that you can watch each episode over and over and catch something new each time. That’s good writing, and with scribes like Glover, his younger brother Stephen Glover, Stefani Robinson (Man Seeking Woman) and Fam Udeorji, it’s no wonder the writing feels so deliberate and personal.
The Directing: Directors Janicza Bravo and Hiro Murai created the show’s cinéma vérité feel by making Atlanta feel like Louis and Master of None, but for Black hipsters. Bravo is best known for her work on short films such as Hard World for Small Things and Murai directed the music video for Kendrick Lamar’s “Never Catch Me.”
The Perspective: When people discuss the “golden age of television,” this is the kind of show they're referring to. TV should portray more disparate experiences, including the struggling young Black experience which is all too familiar for many of us. For a great number of young Black people, the struggle is all too real and it's nice to see our lives reflected on the silver screen.
Atlanta masterfully blends humor, irony and art to capture the desire for something better as well as the sense of defeat and complacency that racism and classism create. This is a series that deserves to be watched and celebrated.
Atlanta debuts on Tuesday September 6, at 10 p.m. ET on FX.