Initially, audiences did not know what to expect from “Atlanta.” The trailers released for the television series were vague. They showed Donald Glover and his fellow castmates, Brian Tyree Henry and Keith Stanfield, walking backward to the hit song by Tame Impala “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” left much to the imagination, in terms of the plot. However, Glover is such an indie star, that having his name attached to the project was enough to draw the attention of viewers to discover more about the show.
Teetering on the line of drama and, somewhat dark comedy, “Atlanta” follows the story of a struggling young protagonist named Earnest ‘Earn’ Marks, played by Glover, and the pursuit of his dreams for success. Earn is stuck in a dead-end job, with no money and nowhere really to stay. His desire to want more comes to fruition when he sees his cousin’s latest single is a viral video. Alfred “Paperboi” Miles, the cousin, is played by Henry. Seeing Paperboi on the rise to stardom, in the music industry, Earn decides to cash-in by becoming his manager.
Considering that Earn has not seen his cousin since his uncle’s funeral, it is no surprise that there were suspicions concerning Earn’s real intentions. Nevertheless, Paperboi receives minimal promotional help from his roommate/best friend, Darius, played by Stanfield, therefore, he could use some help breaking into mainstream music. Earn realizes that his cousin will not be easily swayed by family ties alone. He proves himself by manages to gain radio rotation on the radio for the new single. Eventually, Paperboi decides his cousin deserves a chance, but like any new job, Earn still has a bit of grace period before he is taken seriously.
Though the plot sounds simple enough, the gems of “Atlanta” come in the scenarios that involve the trio. Each episode manages to beautifully bring social awareness to real issues that black Americans face on a daily basis. This is achieved, while still keeping the material light to garner a laugh or several; from poking fun at the crooked and unjust judicial system during Earn’s day in jail (“Streets on Lock”), to keeping the mood light by referencing the awe of wet lemon pepper wings. “Atlanta” does not take itself to seriously.
Glover is a writer, co-director, and producer for the series. He has captured the feelings generated by the real-life struggles that come with trying to make it big, with little-to-no means of support from others. In the episode, “The Streisand Effect,” Earn felt the pressures of supporting his family (baby’s mother and daughter) and put together a plan with Darius to make extra cash. They decide to flip the cash received from pawning his cell phone. Earn purchased a Chinese sword, which he eventually exchanged for a purebred pitbull. Thanks to Darius’ connections, the pitbull would be given to a farmer, who would later reimburse them, once the puppies were sold.
The episodes may seem far-fetched and random but there is a message within these type of scenarios. The message being that there are not any get-rich-quick schemes in life. Finding a way out of the struggle takes time and patience. A message that also reverberates throughout the “Atlanta” series as whole. Coupled with the series’ 30-minute timespan, some could argue that the storytelling is as slow-moving as the protagonist’s progression to procuring a solid career and the mighty dollar. Nonetheless, the series just began to find its niche within a generation of viewers that are more concerned with fast-paced entertainment.
Some episodes have messages that may cut deeper into the viewers’ psyche than others. “Atlanta” still maintains a certain goofy and dry humor that keeps the mood light. Some of the series’ lighter and strongest episodes, such as “Nobody Beats the Biebs” and “The Club,” also draw some of the biggest laughs. In “Nobody Beats the Biebs,” written by Stephen Glover, Earn has a taste of what his life could be like, once he is fully committed to achieving success in a career. At the same time, the episode offers viewers a hilarious impersonation of an obnoxious Justin Bieber, who is played by Austin Crute.
“The Club,” written by Jamal Olori, is a memorable episode because it shed some light on the pointless glorifcation of the club lifestyle in popular black culture. The episode made some valid points about the nightlife scene for both everyday people and the celebrities that host events in nightclubs. It also had little strange, but hilarious, gems of comedy to keep things upbeat. Without giving away any spoilers, the last few minutes of the episode were one the best moments of “Atlanta,” thus far.
Those who are looking for familiar territories and laughs similar to Glover’s previous works, such as “30 Rock” and “Community,” may have to shed preconceived notions and embrace a refreshing take on late-night comedy. “Atlanta” has hidden messages in each episode but the show still invokes a new spin on addressing social movements, without pushing a blatant agenda. Similar to Aaron Mcgruder’s “The Boondocks,” “Atlanta” is more than a story about an underground rapper coping with his new found fame or a struggling protagonist trying to support his family. The show is almost a coming-of-age story that seems so organic, viewers might infer Glover is drawing from his own personal experiences and feelings surrounding stardom.
Opinion by Tyler Cole
Edited by Jeanette Smith
Rotten Tomatoes: Atlanta
FX Network: Atlanta
Images Courtesy of FX Networks, Inc. – Used With Permission