Atlanta: Donald Glover’s fresh, new show on FX


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Jeff Turner

Donald Glover wears a lot of hats. He started out as that kid on “Community,” eventually became a rapper and followed that with a stand-up album. His stand-up is remarkable by the way, Glover is so quick and punchy and honest. He makes it work for him.

In “Atlanta”, the new TV series on FX, Glover holds creator and primary writer credits as well as acts in the starring role. What he has created is a remarkable piece of work, which manages to have moments of quiet meditation akin to something like “The Wire”, but is at heart a screwball comedy where the lives of its central characters are examined with a down-played, offbeat touch. Glover said this show was going to be like “Twin Peaks, but with rappers,” and that Lynchian influence is hard to miss.

The show follows Earnest “Earn” Marks (Glover), a Princeton dropout who is going nowhere fast and thinks his ticket to not be a burden on everyone is to manage his cousin, Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (newcomer Brian Tyree Henry), who is content to coast on his minimal success.

The first episode culminates with Paper Boi shooting a man due to a disagreement and then they all getting arrested. In the second episode, Paper Boi has been set free while Earn still can’t make bail. Now Paper Boi is getting more attention and his music’s getting more radio play.

Eventually, Earn makes bail and the groundwork is laid.

How much of this show was based off of Glover’s own life, one must wonder? His voice is not adrift here? However, and this is what warranted “The Wire” comparison earlier, oftentimes in Atlanta, it seems like Atlanta itself is the show’s central character. How many Earn’s are on these streets, looking for an opportunity to get rich? How many local rappers such as Paper Boi?

Heavily black-helmed shows are not often seen outside specific channels. Glover has finagled a wonderful platform out of FX, and with it he doesn’t seem to have written many opportunities for black women. This is only the pilot, so there is still time, and it’s not a deal breaker or an accusation. It’s just a show with a primarily black cast has now entered the critical arena, and this would be a good opportunity for black actresses, who still not do not get much work in the media as a whole.

What’s great about Atlanta is that it feels fresh. Glover is taking all of these elements and influences and mashing them together to create something entirely new and wonderful. The fresh feeling is completely indescribable, it just feels visionary.

The most exciting prospect in coming episodes is getting an understanding into the psychology of some of these characters. Why did Earn leave Princeton? What’s his dialogue with his parents like when he’s not asking for favors? What’s his relationship with his daughter’s mother? There’s a lot of material that Glover has assembled, and plenty for one ten-episode season.