FX’s new hit show Atlanta, created by Donald Glover, continues to succeed following its seventh episode on Tuesday night. In the unfortunate event that you’re not familiar with Atlanta, here is your chance to catch up.
Atlanta is the latest in a stable of truly unique FX shows. In an era where there is more television programming than ever before thanks to hundreds of cable networks and streaming services, FX has embraced bizarre, creative shows that stick out from the pack. Like fellow FX creations Louie and Baskets, Atlanta’s creators have been given massive amounts of freedom, making a product that is unfamiliar but welcomed by a mainstream audience.
The distinctive style of Atlanta is shown in its plot, cinematography, characters, dialogue, subject matter, and general lack of popular television themes and traditions. Atlanta lacking popular television motifs is in large part due to the makeup of its writing and directing staff. Donald Glover has credits in Atlanta as the creator, executive producer, actor, writer, and, in two episodes, director. While Glover does have experience in television, his writing staff is filled with Atlanta natives who do not have any experience writing for TV. Hiro Murai and Donald Glover also make their directorial debuts on Atlanta.
Atlanta follows the journeys of Earnest “Earn” Marks, played by Glover, and Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, an up-and-coming rapper played by Brian Tyree Henry. Earn, a credit card salesmen who perpetually has no money in his pocket and is technically homeless, spends time crashing at his parents’ house, Paper Boi’s apartment, and his ex-girlfriend Van’s apartment. Van, played by Zazie Beets, also is the mother of Earns infant child, who they both care for.
Early in Atlanta, Paper Boi has a song from his mixtape that goes viral, enticing Earn to try and become Paper Boi’s manager so they can both take off to stardom. Initially skeptical, Paper Boi and his right-hand man Darius, played by Kieth Stanfield, allow Earn to become manager after Earn gets Paper Boi’s single played on an Atlanta radio station.
Atlanta does not use its main plot to tell the classic rags-to-riches story as you might expect. Instead, Atlanta uses its plot to slowly meander through everyday life in Atlanta via the viewpoints of different characters in the show. Truly not defined by a genre or traditional Hollywood narratives, Atlanta can be funny, dramatic, bizarre, surreal, tragic, and uplifting all at the same time, allowing a true freedom where anything can happen and the viewer will still be on board.
Sometimes feeling like a series of vignettes rather than a tradition television series, Atlanta is able to touch on a variety of different topics. Those topics include anything from a weird day in the life episode with Earn and Atlanta’s most peculiar character Darius to polarizing issues like police brutality, mental illness, and transphobia.
Even with Glover and company creating a world in which anything can happen without the viewer being surprised, Atlanta still succeeds in authenticity and realism. At no point does Atlanta feel disingenuous. The mix of professional and nonprofessional writers on Atlanta are able to write dialogue on current issues that sound like they could be heard on any street in any city in the country. Atlanta’s focus on the everyday life of low- to working-class citizens, shot on site in Atlanta, can at times feel like a modern-day version of Italian Neo-Realism. The characters in Atlanta are given realness by subtle performances that exemplify their depth and complicity.
Perhaps the greatest example of authenticity in Atlanta is Paper Boi’s hit single. If Paper Boi’s single was hastily made by people not in the music industry, the audience would have been able to tell, and most would have written this element of the show off as cheesy or campy. Instead, Paper Boi’s song, written and performed by Stephen Glover, younger brother of Donald, sounds like an actual hip-hop song that could go viral in the YouTube age — think “Bando” by Migos or “Panda” by Desiinger.
In the past two episodes of Atlanta, Glover has made an unmistakable stamp as director. In Episode 6, Glover’s directorial debut on Atlanta, the audience follows Van, up to this point only a supporting character around Atlanta, rather than Earn and Paper Boi. Showcasing Van for an entire episode rather than Earn or Paper Boi gives the audience an entirely different point of view of the universe these characters are living in.
In Episode 6, titled “Value,” Glover is able to give a depth to Van that the audience was unaware of before this point. The audience sees that Van has her own goals, emotions, and thoughts separate from just experiencing Earn. Glover is able to switch viewpoints in Atlanta seamlessly by sticking to stylistic choices consistent with the show and because of the already established vignette feel for some of the episodes.
Episode 7 of Atlanta, also directed by Glover, is completely satirical, making fun of everything from social issues to commercials to Black Entertainment Television. Episode 7, “B.A.N.,” is a show within a show that features Paper Boi on a talk show called Montague discussing LGBT culture and race. This sets aside the goals and viewpoints of all of its characters up until this point, instead feeling like a sketch comedy show, with humorous but biting discussion of LGBT culture and race on Monatgue as well as fake commercials that make fun of African-American and consumer culture.
Episode 8 of Atlanta will air October 18. FX has also announced that Atlanta has been picked up for another season.
[Featured Image by Richard Shotwell/Invision/Ap Images]