My Take On…ATLANTA on FX
Tonight on FX (10/9c), tune in to watch the first two episodes of Donald Glover’s dark, intriguing, startlingly funny, and surprising comedy* ATLANTA. The show, set in the titular city (a character all its own), follows Glover’s Earn, a Princeton drop out who alternates between living with his parents (they occasionally don’t let him in the house since all he does is ask for money) and his daughter’s mother, while trying to rope people into airline credit cards at the airport. When he learns that his cousin Alfred is trying to make a name for himself as a rapper (that name being Paper Boi, because he’s “all about that paper, boy”), Earn decides to manage Paper Boi’s career, whether Al wants him to or not.
What follows, as they navigate the world between middling radio success and taking the hip hop world by storm, is an emotional look at a guy trying to improve his life, by helping to improve his cousin’s as well; a deep dive into the black experience (something Donald Glover wants to SHOW us, not tell us about in expository moments), straddling the line between comedic moments that made me laugh out loud and dramatic moments that snuck up on me when I least expected it.
Why does it work? Donald Glover’s sarcastic laid-back Earn is relatable, his relationship with his parents is admirable, his fatherly bond with Lottie is adorable, and I want to root for him to make this happen, for him, for Paper Boi, for his family. I loved the rest of the cast so much; through the writing, and the performances, they’re established as unique individuals immediately.
Brian Tyree Henry plays a seamless duality to Alfred/Paper Boi, showing us the signs of a normal guy who just wants to make it in the music industry, and what happens when he has to change a bit to take on the PB persona. Lakeith Stanfield (go watch him in SHORT TERM 12 immediately…) plays what could be your typical stoner sidekick role with a philosophical and protective bend that I wasn’t expecting. And he’s just SO funny. Zazie Beetz as Earn’s best friend Van and mother to their ADORABLE daughter plays torn between wanting to support him and needing to move on. And there is some VERY sly and dry wit coming from Earn’s parents, played by Isaiah Whitlock and Myra Lucretia Taylor.
The direction is gorgeous – realistic, sparse, well done by Hiro Murai. I’ve mentioned the writing already, but it bears repeating – the writing is smart, shocking, realistic, you name it. Glover and his team are sharing their world with us with an honest and refreshing candor.
ATLANTA is without question one of the best new shows for the Fall (with slim pickings on the networks and a STRONG showing from YOU’RE THE WORST last week and BETTER THINGS coming later, FX/FXX is KILLING it so far this season); I think you’d be missing out on something truly unique if you don’t tune in.
*I think we need a new name for these half hours that are comedies (because they are really funny) but are super dark dramas at the same time. Dramedy seems too light a word…thoughts?