Donald Glover’s ‘Atlanta’ Is Still The Best Show on TV, Here’s Why
When Donald Glover's Atlanta premiered on FX, people just didn't know what to expect. Sure, his Community fan base was curious, but a lot of black people wondered exactly what version of Atlanta, a city long known for celebrating and creating black culture, Glover was going to present.
Turns out, all the worry was unwarranted. Atlanta, which debuted in September 2016, was both fresh and honest, real and surreal in its vision and execution, and easily the best show on television. The accolades were plenty. Glover's show won three Emmys (and made history in the process) and picked up two Golden Globes. After the season ended, Glover released a psychedelic funk album, Awaken My Love! (that was nominated for five Grammys), picked up a staring role in the Lion King remake alongside Beyoncé and filmed Star Wars (he plays Lando).
Glover's accomplishments following the breakout success of Atlanta only added to the anticipation of the second season, now subtitled, Robbin' Season.
But any time you create a piece of art that surpasses expectations (and gobbles up awards in the process), there's always the question of if the next project will live up the hype. The trailer for season 2 was just as trippy as it was for season 1. Donald Glover as the lead character, the perpetually downtrodden and often distraught Earn Marks, stands stoically in front of a rotating and flipping background that highlights various well-known landmarks in Atlanta.
The left-of-center vision was still there but would the show live up to its first season? Based on the first three episodes, the answer is: Yep. It sure does.
Glover. his brother Stephen Glover, and Stefani Robinson's dream-like yet incredibly earthy, almost melancholy writing is still etched firmly into the episodes (mostly directed by Hiro Murai). The writing steadies the show, just when it sometimes threatens to float completely away into weed-induced surrealism.
It's generic to say that Atlanta pushes creative boundaries, mostly because there still just isn't anything else like it on television. The show navigates the realities of being broke and black, genius yet stagnated by the realness of systemic oppression, flawlessly. The characters are mostly brilliant if not off-kilter—unafraid to drift off into whatever creative spaces their minds allow, while constantly being reminded of the reality of their existence, and where exactly they exist.
They live in an Atlanta that has two sides (shout out to late rapper Shawty Lo)—a place that has ranked as #1 in income inequality more than once, yet drives new Hollywood as the go-to place to make movies these days. Atlanta is segregated financially, racially and culturally, a rift that's explored in the show. It makes for some great television because Glover isn't afraid to be unflinchingly honest.
That said, it's the moments in Atlanta that make the show so good—those small scenes that sometimes seem to come out of nowhere but make the show connect like an elaborate dot-to-dot sequence.
Last year it was an invisible car. This year, it's an alligator. Last year, it was that jail scene. This year, it's a confrontation with an uncle that's so tangible, you can almost smell the baloney frying in the pan. (Katt Williams' performance just might win him an Emmy too).
All in all, based on the first three episodes, it's safe to say Atlanta is still the best show on television. Here's why.
While Atlanta doesn't present all aspects of the city, it's not supposed to. But the aspect that it does depict is done so with so much detail and integrity, it's virtually impossible for the experience to be one-dimensional. Atlanta is subtly soulful in way that just sticks with you.
Glover talked about his fight with FX to use the word "n-gga" in the show the same way black folks use it in real life in his recent, lengthy interview with The New Yorker. He obviously won, and the result of fights like that one— fights that allow black folks to present their art without considering how white people will feel about it— allows it to be authentic in a way no other series has ever been.
The thing that makes a show that isn't really about much go are the characters and the relationships that they have with one another. Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) and Earn's dynamic is still just as compelling. You have Earn, the Ivy League drop-out essentially depending on his drug dealer cousin for money, direction and approval. Then there's Paper Boi and Darius (Lakeith Stanfield)—perhaps the most impenetrable, if not odd relationship of the bunch (though that's tested a bit this season). And then there's Earn and his love interest/baby's mom, Van (Zazie Beetz), whose relationship is so real and recognizable, it's one of the the anchoring points of the show. “At FX, they didn’t get Earn and Van at all,” Glover told The New Yorker. “I said, ‘This is every one of my aunts—you have a kid with a guy, he’s around, you’re still attracted to him.’ Poor people can’t afford to go to therapy.” As of the first three episodes, their relationship is still basically in the same place, and it'll be interesting to see how it plays out over the course of the season.