Welcome To “Atlanta”
Chronologically speaking, when episode one of Atlanta starts with a banging, yet hazy rap beat, the slow-motion camera overlooks the Georgia capital through a bird’s eye view, taking its time to showcase the metropolitan area's landscape and dense vegetation. The director gives the show a dreamscape-like feel; that feel is furthered by the show’s main character first words: "I had a weird dream.”
But Atlanta really starts off with the viewer being in the dark for a second.
Crickets and cars provide the soundtrack, and then BAM! Someone kicks down the left side mirror, music blares from a car not too far, a confrontation begins, someone off camera shouts “WorldStar!”, the confrontation is oddly interrupted by a character getting a deja vu looking for “the dog with the Texas on it.", the confrontation resumes, guns are drawn, no one backs down, the man holding the gun cocks the hammer back, the music from the aforementioned car dies down, the main character softly says,”Wait.”, and the character experiencing the deja vu points out how weird all of this is, drags his eyes to hands to see if what he's experiencing is actually real.
It should be telling that a character gets a deja vu right as guns are drawn. It should also be telling how Atlanta depicts the relationship between its black citizens and law enforcement with our main character revealing that he never got arrested and his cousin scoffing at his claim with a disbelieving,”Yeah”. Through the main character's eyes, as he spends time in holding during system processing, we get a good taste of the homophobia, treatment of mental illness, and the dubious arrests black men face in America. It shouldn’t be a surprise when you hear someone utter variations of, "I hate this place” several times when referring to jail. No one’s supposed to like it.
The oxymoronic nature of the show is also seen through cops fanboying over local celebrities they arrest. They snap pics for the “InstaSluts", and the white radio personalities choosing who to say “nigga” to; he’ll casually say it to a former black Ivy League student aka “a black nerd”, but he wouldn’t dare say it around other intimidating black guys. The main character's parents refuse to take care of him, but are glad to take care of their granddaughter. In that same vein, his baby's mother will have him stay over, but she’ll still date “corny dudes”.
Oddity follows in the forms of inquiries, where a character can ask the protagonist’s father if he can measure his front tree and after being told no, reacts the way a child would after his mother would tell him he couldn’t play outside with his friends. Or when a character would open the door to be asked by a stranger wearing a Batman mask if a popular rapper resided there.
Peculiarity also appears through philosophical probing as our protagonist is approached on the bus by a strange man basically advising him to go with the flow and stop resisting societal pressure as the strange man’s making a Nutella sandwich for the protagonist; it gets even weirder as the man exits the bus and walks into the woods as “the dog with the Texas on it” follows him.
The city is a character as well. With the creator, hailing from suburban Stone Mountain, Georgia, damn near writing a love letter to the ATL; referencing Five Points; having two guys get excited by “Lemon Pepper Wet!” chicken; rap rattling the trunk of cars like tiny, sporadic earthquakes; new words and terms like “mucking” are invented; having a man rocking an orange shirt (a nod to the Peach State) spitting a barely comprehensible drawl that is so Southern that instead of hearing “eleven years", you hear “ ‘lem years”.
The man behind Atlanta has said that we should expect the abstract as there isn’t really a limit to it here. In an interview with New York Magazine, he wanted to show white people how they didn’t know as much as they thought about black culture.
"You follow Hood Vines, and you have your one black friend and you think they teach you everything, I get it that Deshaun said that black people love … nigga, I hate Deshaun.”
But, as layered as this show is, he wanted to make it a comedy still.
"The No. 1 thing we kept coming back to is that it needs to be funny first and foremost. I never wanted this shit to be important. I never wanted this show to be about diversity; all that shit is wack to me."
Donald Glover — NBC’s Community, Magic Mike XXL, The Martian, also known through rap fame as Childish Gambino — and his new critically-acclaimed FX dramedy Atlanta is piquing people’s curiosity, if it hasn’t gotten their attention already. It’s created, executively produced, co-written and stars Glover himself. The show’s directed by Glover’s oft-collaborator Hiro Murai (do yourself a favour and check out their work in the short film Clapping For The Wrong Reasons and their music videos “Sweatpants” and “3005") and in that NYMag piece, Glover shared that he’d asked his director if what they were doing was normal for TV, and Murai replied that he has no idea. And that approach plays a huge part in giving their show this unique, fresh and beautiful quality.
Glover plays Earnest “Earn" Marks, a broke Princeton dropout trying to manage his cousin, Alfred Miles a.k.a Paper Boi (played by Brian Tyree Henry), and his budding rap career as they try to leave Paper Boi's drug dealing ways behind.
Earn not only has that to worry about, but he also has to consider his situation with his friend/baby momma Van (Zazie Beets), their infant daughter, his relationship with his parents, and dealing with Alfred’s lovable and spaced-out right hand man Darius (played by star-in-the-making Lakeith Stansfield, who you may know from Short Term 12, Selma and Straight Outta Compton)
You rarely see a show deviate from the main plot in its second episode and delve into the harrowing experience of being in holding, with said experience reaching its haunting peak when a man gets struck and tackled by security guards as he screams in agony or with blaring sirens and flashing lights that plunge the viewer into a nightmare scenario that looks, unfortunately, all too real. These irregularities and chances that work famously is what’s going to have people come back to FX on Tuesday nights, along with the unexpected pivots and dialogue that help shape the show’s so-far-indecipherable identity.
Even if you don’t have FX, find a way to stream it. In less than an hour’s time, it’s already shown so much that you wonder what else could it possibly say, yet deep down you’re confident it has a lot more to tell, whether it’s funny, scary, weird, deep, sad, heartwarming, enlightening, nihilistic, or southernplayalistic.
written by The W