This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The show doesn't premiere until a few hours after publish time; we got a screener.
Welcome To Atlanta, Where The Players Play
Are you ready to get down with Donald Glover's homage to A-Town?
What Is This Thing?
Atlanta is a thirty-minute look at black life in the Southeast's mother city, created by and starring Donald Glover as Earnest "Earn" Marks -- a young, smart guy home from Princeton for some unnamed disgrace -- who sees an opportunity to make something happen for himself when his cousin Al's mixtape gets hot. The show is referred to as a comedy, but it's more like a "comedy," and that's a good thing, more on which below.
When Is It On?
Tuesdays at 10 PM on FX.
Why Was It Made Now?
Atlanta has been steady infiltrating wider pop culture for years: Outkast, the "Dirty South," the increasing popularity of the pro sports teams, the boom of music and film production. It's not that these things haven't long existed, but that the last decade or so has boosted the awareness of Atlanta's Southern black culture to where it can now be recognized solidly as the voice of the city -- as, in my opinion, the identity of Atlanta. Donald Glover said during this show's press tour that he wanted to create something that would "show people how it felt to be black. And you can't really write that down. You kind of have to feel it." No better place to set that scene than the ATL, and...I mean, it's just going to sound real jank of me to say that watching Atlanta made me feel what it's like to be black -- when it comes down to it, I'm a forty-three-year-old white lady -- but I do think they've made their vision felt.
What's Its Pedigree?
Glover made the deal for Atlanta in 2013, choosing FX because it was willing to work around the touring schedule for his musical life as the rapper Childish Gambino. The network seems like a great fit for the show. The show is directed by Hiro Murai, heretofore best known for directing a lot of very cool music videos, for Childish G. and others. It is filmed in Atlanta, where I lived for most of my adult life thus far, and on that score it is pitch perfect. Shout out to the lemon pepper wings at J.R. Crickets what WHAT?
Atlanta has been described elsewhere as "abstract," and I get where that's coming from -- the show somehow achieves the intimate sensation that you're watching everything go down from inside Earn's head -- but it's not a completely accurate description. There is a strong gravitational pull going on, grounding the whole thing, sometimes holding Earn in place, sometimes dragging him forward, but the absurdities that occur as he tries to get himself and Al out of stasis are so, so real, it's impossible not to see and feel the painfully poignant humor in his situation. Earn's job, for example, couldn't be more agonizing: he works at the airport, trying to sign people up for miles-earning credit cards, and if you've ever been through the Atlanta airport, you just cringed, I know. There's nothing more abstract than being trapped up in Concourse F.
Genuine comic relief comes in the form of Earn's cousin Al (Brian Tyree Henry), and Al's constant companion, Darius (Keith Stanfield), a rangy philosophical hanger-on the show couldn't live without. The guy is strangely pure even when pulling out a huge gun to clean it after hiding it in a cereal box full of actual cereal, and I deeply love him. Glover, Henry, and Stanfield together made me pause and laugh to the point of tears more than once, and yet I still wouldn't call Atlanta a comedy. The good news: even in its non-comedic moments, I also wouldn't call it bleak. The frustrations are real, but there's hope.
But nothing. I love it. I was going to write something here about how Earn's sometimes supportive, sometimes fractious relationship with Van, the mother of his child, is perhaps the only thing that might make me say "...but," BUT I can't even do that. We need that story, and we need Earn's honesty that he's taking risks in the challenging and dangerous minefield of this particular entertainment industry not only to grab something better for his daughter but for himself. It's not always a good look on him or Van (Zazie Beets, who is going to be a star), but it's necessary. I'm saying: ain't no buts.
Maybe you don't pump bootleg mixtapes rolling through Bankhead; that's okay. Maybe you're a middle-aged white person who has never ridden a city bus to a job that doesn't pay you enough to survive. Even so, you'll still feel Earn's quiet yearning to jumpstart his stunted destiny. You'll still identify with Al's dismay at the pitfalls of success. And you'll likely consider a trip down South to get in on that special wing sauce: trust me that it's worth it, and so is Atlanta.