Atlanta is probably the best new original t.v. show of the fall season. Atlanta is an absurdist comedy that somehow manages to work in a realist Atlanta. The characters might be kooky but the urban nature of the Atlanta life is still there. This brilliant combination allows for Donald Glover to do some great unprecedented commentary of what it means to be black through a heightened vision of reality that is so unique that it invokes an equally abstract response from the viewer.
Its not necessarily surrealist in the same way Buñuel or Carax are, but the show does gather inspiration from films and t.v. shows of this nature and wields it in a way that isn’t overblown and actually makes it easier for the common t.v. viewer to understand. What Donald Glover is essentially doing is utilizing the surreal and weird to help us understand the reality of black life in America. Its something innovative and wonderfully creative that’s an excellent product of an extremely talented comedian analyzing the times of today and what it feels like to live in.
Now, Atlanta’s basic story is that of Earn (Glover), a broke black man who sees a musical opportunity in his cousin’s rap career and instantly jumps on him as his manager. That’s the basic story and though that story slowly evolves as the episodes go along, each episode of Atlanta analyzes a specific issue that is ever-present in the African American community. Both the first and last episode of Atlanta serve more as intros and epilogues, but every episode in between those is a juicy take on current American issues. Not only does Glover create a radical comedic series in Atlanta, but he also manages to address poverty, the criminal system’s treatment of minorities, sexuality, what its like to club in Atlanta, the way media shapes the public perception, and so much more. There is no bad episode of Atlanta, some are great, and all of them are good, most importantly all of them are relevant and funny, fulfilling what Glover was aiming at when creating Atlanta.
As for the cast, I applaud Alexa L. Fogel for assembling such a talented cast together that really brings life to the themes and ideas of Atlanta. Glover is as awesome as he is in everything, giving Atlanta both its comedic edge and relatable main character to drive the series. Zazie Beetz also does an incredible job, presenting us with a strong and relatable female character that brings in one of the most interesting television relationships we’ve seen in a while. Brian Tyree Henry does a really good job as Earn’s cousin, “Paper Boi” who also provides most of the show’s comedy. But among all these guys, you’ve got whom I consider the personal standout, Keith Stanfield. Even though you don’t get much of him, Stanfield is able to replicate the regular joe’s best friend, he’s an easygoing guy with tons of personality and his own set of quirks. Stanfield is great, he portrays pure charisma and plays a perfect Robin to Paperboi’s Batman. Besides its main cast, Atlanta also has its fair share of cameo appearances that are always fun to see pop out as well as bringing out a variety of character actors that play these over-the-top creations of Glover that shouldn’t work yet due because of the world Glover and Murai have molded.
Speaking of Murai, something I haven’t really mentioned at all is this series’s directing. I must say Hiro Murai has always had a great eye for visuals in all his music videos. If we look back at the history of music video directors turned full-blown directors only two names come to mind: Fincher and Gondry, but besides there isn’t a great track record. Maybe the Daniels might be great absurdist directors one day, but that besides the point. Getting back to Murai, I had watched both his video for Chet Faker’s Gold and Childish Gambino’s Telegraph Ave, which are two great music videos, but nothing from them screamed this is the next music director that’s going to become a great director and he’s proved us wrong. Alongside Glover and Janicza Bravo who direct a few episodes, Murai directs the majority of Atlanta and does an exceptional job in fabricating this odd reality Glover has fabricated it. From the pilot you understand where you are and what could happen, character arcs move at a steady pace and as he’s always done, Hir Murai gives Atlanta its own unique and gloomy look that gives it an almost marijuana hazed look that fits perfectly with the series’s hypnotizing vision.
Atlanta is the most intriguing original series the fall season has to offer. Its a radical comedic endeavor from Donald Glover that also manages to address relevant issues occurring in America’s African American community in an intelligent way that doesn’t seem like the show is trying to shove a message down your throat, but rather complements the overall story of our main character. Everyone does a fantastic job with their characters, from Glover as Earnest, a broke black man who sees an opportunity and seizes it, to Stanfield as Darius, a young Nigerian who portrays pure charisma and at times steals the scene from Glover and Henry. The directing is also on par with the acting, with Hiro Murai leading the creative vision that makes Atlanta the hit that its become. Atlanta is truly a gem of this generation, a unique vision about what it feels to be black from a man who clearly understands this and nows how to present on t.v. in a way that never feels cheesy or sappy, but instead presents itself as an intelligent reflective look at the African American community.