Donald Glover has written for 30 Rock, acted in Community, and performed as a recording artist under the name Childish Gambino. All of these projects have been successful. What Donald Glover will be known for, however, is Atlanta, the new FX series he created. Why? Because it’s that damn good.
If you’ve ever smoked, sank into your couch, and surveyed the world moving slowly around you, you’ll know what it feels like to watch Atlanta. Not only are the characters constantly partaking in said activity, but the show crawls along at about the same pace as the world after you’ve smoked a joint. But don’t let this deter you; there’s beauty in the languidness. The show, as the name would suggest, takes place in Atlanta, but more specifically it takes place in the rougher neighborhoods of Atlanta, where people need money they don’t have but are presented with few avenues to get it. Everyone’s kinda bored but also kinda hustling. Scenes pass slowly in sparse apartments and in dusty yards. Conversations are more like planning meetings. The show makes you feel those minutes dripping by. In a way, it’s kinda relaxing, and you kinda don’t care about a plot developing.
But it’s not like there’s no plot. Hip hop is one of those potential avenues for filling your bank account, and that’s what Atlanta is about: an up-and-coming rapper named Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry). Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, with the help of his cousin-turned-potential-manager, Earn Marks (Donald Glover), gets a single on a local radio station and that propels him to a minor level of fame within the community. The first few episodes are really a study in celebrity, as Paper Boi starts to experience the effects of stardom, albeit on a very small scale. These effects are not always positive, as can see in the first two minutes of the show’s first episode.
The characters are simple to understand. Earn is the Princeton dropout who’s far too smart for his current situation. Paper Boi is the talented one who’s a tad dopey in the ways of the world. Darius, who is Paper Boi’s good friend/business adviser for no reason, is the comedic relief. They’re part of the reason the show is enjoyable to watch, but the overwhelming reason is Atlanta itself. Glover helps paint a vibrant portrait of life in the backstreets of The ATL. There are late nights at shitty grocery stores. There are screen doors slamming on beat up row homes. There’s the hazy heat that makes you think the characters are constantly on the cusp of perspiring. It’s a life that many poor, black citizens in the outskirts of The New South are familiar with, but one that the vast majority of viewers isn’t. It can feel, at times, uncomfortable, which is probably something Glover is really trying to achieve, to really show you a raw, uncensored glimpse into a different world. This is why Atlanta is so great.
The show is already smashing basic cable viewing records. Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t feel anything like a basic cable show at all. The language is HBO-ready. There’s no polish around the edges to make it appeal to every viewer. But it’s a fantastic, groundbreaking show for those who get it—and we think you will.