I had a dream I ran Atlanta…” – Childish Gambino (Dream/Southern Hospitality)

The term “Golden Age of Television” has been run into the ground over the last 2 years, but that doesn’t prevent it from being true. There are so many brilliant shows on different platforms that it’s actually impossible to watch all of them (unless, like me, you don’t have a life). There was an amazing run of quality programming on the idiot box this summer from returning favorites like Game of Thrones and Mr. Robot to newcomers like The Night Of and Preacher. And with the increased quantity of television projects, we’ve seen more and more shows that mirror the actual diversity of the world that we live in.

Last year, I wrote a response to a Deadline Hollywood article that complained about how ethnic casting was running amok in Hollywood. It was amazing that we actually got to see shows like Empire, Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat on network television. I also wrote about the 2016 Oscars and their lack of diversity in the nominations. Rather than complain about the lack of nominations, there needed to be more shows and movies created by minorities with roles for minorities acted by minorities. So it was hard to rein in the excitement when the news broke about FX’s new show Atlanta, created by the extremely talented Donald Glover. 

From the first two episodes of the show, it’s kinda clear that Donald Glover and the show’s director, Hiro Murai, have never made television before. It ignores the usual tropes that make us comfortable when we watch TV. In most TV show pilots, we’re introduced to a world we haven’t seen through the eyes of one or more of our fledgling protagonist(s). Like they were just born in the first episode. Think about Meredith Grey or Quinn Perkins or Piper Chapman or Barry Allen. A new secretary in an office or a rookie cop in a new precinct. We learned about these respective worlds and their dynamics along with those characters as other people explained to them how things worked. With Earnest Marks (Donald Glover), however, we have an established character who already has a back story and motivations. It’s different. It works because it adds intrigue to his character and Glover’s likability makes his character even more appealing.

Through Earn and Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), we get an inside look at a subculture that is rarely seen on television. Trap music is one that gets a bad rap for its glorification of drug dealing and misogynistic braggadocio and deservedly so. On the other hand, people overlook the simple message of entrepreneurship and survival that pervades the genre. And this is the message that the show plays with in its first two episodes. A show about three young African-American trying to make it in a world that isn’t kind to people who look like them. Where a misstep leads one way off the path to success and possibly in jail or dead. It’s the show’s unwillingness to run from these realities that makes it more fascinating to me. Even down to the reality that is shown in the smallest gestures. The conversation Earn has with his ex-girlfriend, Vanessa (Zazie Beets) while they lie in bed is an example of this as they interact with each other. Or the scene where Earn runs into a friend and he tells him about how they were popping bottles at Compound the night before but he’s trying to hit $2 Tuesdays the next night. The actors do a great job at selling these very real moments that young people experience and are able to relate to on a daily basis.

This show is special. It gives off the same vibe I felt when I watched Mr. Robot or The Night Of. Both of which are shows that eschewed traditional ways of storytelling on television. This gives the viewer a different sense of anticipation and excitement because these shows give us different perspectives that we’ve never really dealt with on television before. I’m anxious to see where it goes from here but so far Atlanta has been magical and I’m ready for the journey.

Notes:

  • Lakeith Stanfield is already the breakout star of the show, so far. He steals the scene every time he’s on.
  • This show reminds me of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None a lot.
  • I’ve watched the scenes from the police station with the guy and his trans girlfriend about 30 times now in the last 24 hours and it’s still hilarious.
  • Earn tells his ex about his weird dream in which he swam through fingers and a whole bunch of random stuff happened and all she cared about was what the imaginary girl he met in it looked like.
  • “Lemon pepper wet!”