On Sept. 6, one of the Renaissance men of modern-era music, Donald Glover (also known by his rap alter-ego/pseudonym, Childish Gambino) made his return to the silver screen for the first time since his role as Troy in the fan favorite comedy series, “Community.”
Glover serves as writer, executive producer, creator and star of the new Hiro Murai-directed FX series simply titled “Atlanta,” a show that he describes as “Twin Peaks with rappers.” In Atlanta, Glover strives to shine a light on hip-hop and African American culture, as well as the many unknown facets of the two cultures within Georgia’s capital city.
The hype-train has been slowly chugging along since the series was first green-lighted by FX in 2015. The momentum recently reached full velocity once the show’s terse and enigmatic trailers began to appear on YouTube and during the NBA Finals throughout the summer. The ads took a more artistic and conceptual approach rather than directly revealing the show’s premise to the audience.
Lead by the Tame Impala track, “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” Glover and his co-stars, Brian Henry and Lakeith Stanfield, walk forward through the city’s streets as everything around them moves backward.
I’m sure the true meaning of the odd commercials is left to the interpretation of the audience, but if you ask me, the people moving backward are the rest of pop-culture, and Glover’s progressive thinking and innovation pushes far beyond any expectations or limitations. Perhaps I’m reading too deep into this; either way, Atlanta is and will be an amazing show to watch – the series premiere was a clear indication of this.
Though TV guides and Wikipedia merely describe Atlanta as a series that follows the main characters, Earnest “Earn” Marks (portrayed by Glover), his cousin Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, (portrayed by Brian Tyree Henry) and his philosophical right-hand man Darius (portrayed by Lakeith Stanfield) attempting to make an impact in the Atlanta rap game, the show’s premise definitely holds more than meets the eye.
The series does indeed follow the journey of Earn, a young, broke, African American man in his 20s with hopes of a better future for himself, his estranged girlfriend, Vanessa/Van (played by Zazie Beetz) and their baby daughter. Upon discovery that his cousin Alfred, known by “Paper Boi” is embarking on a rap career, Earn decides to offer to become Paper Boi’s manager, hoping to achieve success for the both of them. It is what lies between the lines of Atlanta that take it beyond any description.
Similar to that of Aziz Ansari’s critically acclaimed Master of None, Atlanta tackles the difficult subjects and conflicts surrounding love, gun violence, racism and socioeconomic status that millennials commonly face, all while maintaining comedic irony and organic, hilarious wit.
How Atlanta differs from other shows, however, is the much more random, pessimistic, eerie and surreal tone that is evidently felt throughout the two premiere episodes, which would explain why Glover would compare his work to the cult classic crime-drama series Twin Peaks.
It is the funny, confusing and seemingly out of place scenes, such as Earn’s peculiar bus ride in which a man in a suit angrily offers him a Nutella sandwich, contrasted with the intense, serious scenes that target the flaws in the legal system that really keep the show intriguing. Some scenes are out of chronological order as well, which requires the viewer to try and make sense of what they’re watching.
Atlanta most definitely is not a show created to solely entertain. For every time I laughed, I would also ponder. There are plenty of unanswered questions I have about the first 120 minutes of the series, which is a good thing – it means that I’ll surely be tuning in for the next few weeks.