This is a show that had been on my radar ever since it first aired back in 2016. It has received universal acclaim among critics and social circles alike. Donald Glover in particular has been vaulted into super-stardom in the time since the show’s initial release two years ago. It is a show that airs weekly on FX and has been a rare “water cooler” prestige TV show in an era that elicits fear of their extinction due to the modern streaming culture.
With that, Atlanta sets itself apart. All of its episode exist to tell a quick 20-30 minute story, while also advancing a larger narrative following the lives of our four main characters and their hustle. Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, and Zazie Beetz all bring an exceptional amount of charisma and energy to the series, playing incredibly well-written characters. The backdrop of Atlanta can certainly be felt, and director Hiro Murai does an amazing job of capturing the flair of the city.
All of the characters bring something unique and interesting to the table, and they are written in a way that leads to the viewer feeling an incredible amount of empathy for them. Earnest (Glover) is a broke yet motivated young man trying to make it as a music manager. He manages for Paperboi (Henry, who just recently won an Emmy for his role in the second season), one of his best friends who just had his first big hit single. Their third friend is Darius (Stanfield), who has since starred in the impactful Sorry to Bother You. These three men are exceptional actors and insanely likeable in their roles. Rounding out the cast is Earnest’s baby mama Van (Beetz). Like Stanfield, since the airing of the show she has also had a big break in Hollywood with playing the tremendously badass Domino in Deadpool 2. The relationship between Van and Earnest is played out over the course of the season in very realistically uncertain fashion.
Atlanta‘s episodes are all very unique and memorable, bringing several ideas to the forefront and exploring them with our characters. In a lot of ways, this show reminds me of Seinfeld, and I think that is an apt comparison to make. This show feels a lot like what Seinfeld in 2018 would be. Of course, Atlanta has a much stronger and more central drama to its season long arc, and that is to its benefit. Along with that, each individual episode carries its own identity and leaves a lasting impact that will be found embedded in our culture for years to come. “The Club,” for example, is a devastating yet hilarious look inside the guys’ trip to a club one night to promote Paperboi’s single. Both Paperboi and Earnest are in search of a boost in confidence and reputation, and both sink into a puddle of self pity before rebuilding themselves by the end of the night. It is the bottled up nature of the episode that works so well and makes it memorable.
The direction on the show, executed by Murai, is nothing short of sensational. Murai also helmed Glover’s music video for “This is America,” which received universal acclaim and was an instant sensation online. The writer-director relationship between Murai and Glover appears to be something of a match made in heaven. It will be interesting to see how long they are able to keep this partnership going and what direction each of them goes on their own. Here’s to hoping their work on Atlanta doesn’t end any time soon.
Using themes of gender and racial inequality, commenting on the country’s class structure, and inhabiting the daily tribulations of the American dream, Atlanta accomplishes a hell of a lot in its first season. It is a show that manages to stand out as being wholly essential to our culture in a time where peak TV is so bountiful that it is hard to call anything prestigious anymore. Atlanta is just that, the closest we have to a water cooler series this side of Game of Thrones. Glover and Murai have our attention, and our trust. Following such a masterful delivery of a first season of television like the introduction to Atlanta, we are here for whatever story Glover & Co. wish to tell.
The first season of Atlanta is currently available for streaming on Hulu