Donald Glover’s semi-autobiographical Atlanta shows huge promise as a thoughtful comic drama
What are the steps you take in order to get people to take your seriously? How do you make people perceive you as a serious person? These are the questions FX’s new Atlanta tackles.
Donald Glover’s Atlanta succeeds by not conforming to one genre. The trailers and commercials indicate this is a show about soul searching and coming into your own, but Glover manages to slide back and forth between comedy and drama with the effortlessness of a more accomplished show creator. Glover has always had a charming and relaxed nature in his standup, but here he does something really different.
Stuck in a dead end job with no real prospects, Glover’s Earn is trying to convince his cousin Alfred (AKA “Paper Boi”) to let him manage his rap career. Earn’s parents, played by Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Myra Lucretia Taylor, won’t even let Earn back in their house (“I can’t afford it,” his father tells him) even though they watch his daughter from time to time. When faced with the notion that he might become quite seriously homeless, Earn manages to get Paper Boi’s song on the radio, but there is a violent confrontation between Earn and Paper Boi with a guy in a parking lot.
The pilot of Atlanta is much lighter than the second episode. Earn has a great bedside chemistry with his girlfriend Vanessa (Zazie Beetz). If there was a short spin off that dealt with the two of them waking up every morning together, I’d definitely tune in.
At the top of the second episode, Paper Boi and his buddy Darius (a seriously funny stoned presence in Keith Stanfield) make bail, but Earn is stuck in prison because he isn’t in the system yet. Paper Boi starts to get recognized on the street by random people and even a guard at the prison takes a picture with him. Meanwhile, Earn witnesses some police brutality against an obviously mental inmate and a short transphobia incident occurs. This episode showcases what Glover might explore in future episodes. Sure, he could make a small show about a wayward guy trying to find his way, but this indicates that larger themes are definitely on the table.
It would not be surprising if Atlanta draws comparisons to Netflix’s Master of None simply because both were created by popular comedians and both shows are autobiographical to a degree. While Master does seem brighter, one is not better than the other. Atlanta is more in touch with presenting a real look at a community, but it’s infused with laughter and lightness. It’s one of the best debuts of the year so far.
Atlanta airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX.