TV Review: "Atlanta" - Season One
If you're scrolling through your growing list of streaming sites, then you’ll want to hit that search bar and punch in Atlanta. The award-winning series by the persistently talented Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) follows the life of Earn Marks, hustling for his family and managing his rapper cousin Alfred aka “PaperBoi”; oh, he is also broke, and technically homeless.
Atlanta explores race, gender and many socio-economic themes from an introspective African-American context. Focusing on Atlanta’s contemporary hip-hop scene, the show provides us with an insight to the industry, a peek into the relationships that evolve between artists, managers, promoters and fans - all of which are presented as inundated with surface-level friendships and exploitative business practices; possibly Glover’s reflection of the music industry at large.
The characters in Atlanta are interesting, and ‘cool’ if you will: Their defiance of social norms is presented as a necessity of who they are, rather than a crude rebellion. They consistently feel very natural and believable, which is evident through their grounded dialogue and reactions in many zany, out-of-this-world scenarios. We're given a balanced display of the cast with dedicated episodes surrounding different main characters – Both of my favourite episodes (Ep6 “Value”, and Ep7 “B.A.N.”) were central to Vanessa (Earn's ex-girlfriend and mother to his child - Zazie Beetz) and PaperBoi (Brian Tyree Henry) respectively. The latter episode being a satirical take on late night talk shows, complete with targeted market advertisements that have been twisted to represent the harsh realities (and un-realities) of stereotyping and fake news (to name just a few of the themes)
Glover’s brand of humour is expressive in the synthesis of these character-centric scenarios, the surreal nature of the situations and characters often contrasted with the firmness of Atlanta’s urban environment and infrastructure. From harsh reality-checks to the loose-handed attitudes of its characters, the show undercuts its heavy themes with sharp comedy, and even anti-climactic resolutions. A good example of this can be found in Episode 2, “Streets on Lock”, notably, the police station scenes, where themes of police brutality and African-American incarceration are at play but juxtaposed by the comedic nature of the detainees in the police station.
As you might expect, the soundtrack is superb for this show. With Glover at the helm of its curation, every moment is met with an appropriate track to add (or remove) weight to the scene. I can easily imagine Glover and the music department going through every episode and brainstorming the ‘right’ song for every scene. The entire score is comprised of a rich selection of Black musicians spanning the Hip-Hop, Rap, Blues, Soul, RnB and Psychedelic Rock genres, which gave the show the added depth and style that Glover is known for. The more avid fans of Childish Gambino will appreciate the inclusion of his own songs and tracks by Funkadelic, which, of course, stand as one of his major musical influences.
One thing I found to be a bit of setback was the apparent lack of backstory introduced during the character development. At the start of the series, we are introduced to the characters in a very limited capacity and while we see their characters become more complex "in the now", we don't learn much about how and why they’ve ended up where they are. I suspect that more will be revealed in the second season (Which FX has ordered) when we have become more invested in them. I trust in Glover.
Overall, the series is fantastic and definitely worth the time; I’ve already gone through it twice. I found it to be a powerful and relevant device for cultural expression complimenting the Black Lives Matter movement, but also thoroughly entertaining and light-hearted in the way it deals with some of these aspects. All the little nuances and nods to the insider experience of African-American life, gives the series the same voice of authenticity that can be found in any of Donald Glover’s other endeavours.