Donald Glover's 'Atlanta' Gets an A

Donald Glover has a hit on his hands and it’s not coming from his hip-hop alter ego Childish Gambino. After only four episodes, Glover’s comedy-drama “Atlanta” has been renewed by FX for a second season featuring 10 episodes. The news was reported by Variety today.

“Atlanta” is the show that Glover was born to make. He broke into comedy writing at the age of 21 with his work on “30 Rock,” and starred in the off-beat NBC series “Community,” all while making a name for himself in hip-hop as Childish Gambino. “Atlanta” is the culmination of all of those experiences.

“Atlanta” follows Glover’s character Earn – a down-and-out former Princeton student struggling to come up with money to support his daughter and on-and-off girlfriend. His job slinging credit cards isn’t paying off, but managing his cousin Alfred’s career as the rapper Paper Boi (Bryan Tyree Henry) just might. The first three episodes set the table for the series by introducing the audience to a cast of quirky characters – like Darius (Keith Stanfield), Paper Boi’s perpetually stoned sidekick who gets to mumble the best lines of the show –  and the themes of staying true to yourself and relevant in the current hip-hop and social media culture while trying to make ends meet and race issues. The debut episode opened with a mysterious murder that will loom over the first season.

Last night’s episode (The Streisand Effect) finds the show hitting a groove. Glover and his writing staff do an excellent job of balancing the struggles of young black men looking to break out of bad situations with superb moments of understated comedy. The episode features Earn and Darius hustling to cash in a sort of paper clip for a house scenario, arguing about whether black people know who Steve McQueen is, and becoming friends.

Subtle bits of humor are employed throughout “Atlanta,” but nothing was understated about the introduction of Zan (Freddie Kuguru) –  an annoyingly adept child of the Instagram and Vine age and who plans to escape the drudgery of his life as a pizza delivery boy by going viral. Earn, Alfred and Darius bump into Zan in the early part of the episode and brush him off, only to have to confront him again later after he unleashes a barrage of memes aimed at Alfred’s Paper Boi persona.

Another standout part of “Atlanta” is the music selections. Obviously, a show about hip-hop in Atlanta is bound to feature rappers from the “A” and other points in the deep south, and it does (Waka Flocka Flame, Migos, Kodak Black) but also mixes in soul sounds and acoustic guitar ballads like last night’s episode closer “Home Again” by Michael Kiwanuka. Glover has never shied away from exploring all genres of music, he raps that he’s “the only black kid at a Sufjan concert” in his Childish Gambino song “Fire Fly.”

Straddling the line between comedic moments and poignant, serious moments is not easy to accomplish, although FX seems to have a knack for finding artistic shows that break the typical TV comedy mold like “Louie,” and “Altanta” rides that same line and is already attracting a big audience.

“Atlanta” airs on FX at 10 p.m. on Tuesday. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the first four episodes this weekend and tune in next Tuesday.


 

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Mike Andrelczyk is a features editor for Fly Magazine. He is a graduate of Penn State University and currently lives with his wife Stacey in Strasburg. Interests include tennis, playing bad guitar, poetry (poems have appeared in Modern Haiku, The Inquisitive Eater and other journals) and oneirology – the study of dreams – mostly in the form of afternoon naps. His name appears in the title screen of Major League 2.

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