Donald Glover's 'Atlanta': 4 Reasons You Need to Be Watching the Rapper's Incredible New Show
By Alex Ungerman
It's not often a television show comes out of the gate this strong.
The first two episodes of Atlanta, the new series created by and starring Donald Glover (otherwise known as rapper Childish Gambino), premiered on FX on Tuesday night -- the first can be watched directly via YouTube below -- to widespread praise from fans, critics, and the hip hop community alike.
The series opener finds Glover as "Earnest 'Earn' Marks," a college dropout who reconnects with his cousin, Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) -- alongside his best friend Darius, delightfully played by Short Term 12 star Keith Stanfield -- whose self-titled new single is beginning to make waves in the Atlanta rap community.
Atlanta, which has been in development since 2013, gets a lot done in its first two episodes, and here are four reasons why you need to make it a point not to miss what is starting to feel like 2016's breakout fall TV success.
**Note: There will be some SPOILERS from Atlanta's Tuesday night premiere.**
What's really great about our introduction to these characters is that it never feels clunky like so many "pilot" episodes do, and we feel so immediately connected to their motivations and understanding of each other.
There was clearly a lot of investment into making sure the cast played their roles as honestly and real as possible.
Alfred could easily be an undynamic stand-in for an up-and-coming rapper, but from the get-go, you feel the dichotomy between his "Paper Boi" persona and who he really is: he's a little scared, unsure, and apparently hates the song that is currently rocketing his public exposure.
Likewise, Glover's Earnest may be a sort of an "Everyman" archetype, but he hardly comes across as a passive observer.
We see Earnest interact with his daughter and Van, Earnest's friend/ex/mother of his child, whom he is crashing with for the time being -- and see there's clearly a complicated relationship there -- as well as with his parents, who obviously care for their son, but know better than to let him into their home, for fear he will ask for more money. (Side note: Van is played by Zazie Beetz, who you should also be keeping an eye on as a potential rising star from the show.)
Earnest is melancholy and at times pessimistic, but deeply driven, and is one of the many examples of Atlanta treating its residents like well-rounded real people as opposed to expositional stereotypes.
2. The perspective feels very authentic.
Atlanta accomplishes so much without ever feeling like it's trying to do anything more than give us an unfiltered look at black lives -- in the hip hop community, in the criminal justice system, and in the South.
One thing that might make Glover's new series feel so unlike anything we've ever seen is probably due to its behind-the-scenes creative team that is very different from a typical Hollywood production. The writing staff for the show is entirely black, most of whom have never been in a writers' room before -- save for Glover, who got his start on 30 Rock, and Man Seeking Woman's Stefani Robinson.
"I wanted to show white people, you don't know everything about black culture," Glover told Vulture in a recent interview, and Atlanta doesn't shy away from that disconnect.
From a white radio DJ freely using the "N-word" with Earnest, to the horrifying (yet somehow colloquial) treatment of a black, mentally handicapped incoming prison inmate, this show deals with race in an honest way that seems almost entirely unexplored on network television.
Atlanta is in no way a "laughs-per-page" show, and probably falls more on the dramatic side of the comedy-drama spectrum.
Still, it's kind of amazing how easily the show draws laughter when it's going for it.
In the second episode, while Paper Boi is dealing with the anxiety over his newfound notoriety (as well as events that take place in the first scene of the show), Darius, while admiring an internet headline about his friend's success, reads, "'Is Paper Boi Atlanta's Tupac?' ... They say no."
"But apparently John Boyega is the new Magic Johnson," Darius adds.
In another scene, Glover's character is making baby talk with his child after Van tells him she is going out on a date that night, prompting him to tell his daughter in a pretend conversation, "No, this is a great environment for you!"
There is a ton of really smart writing on this show that never appears forced, a credit to the writing staff for creating real, grounded dialogue, and brilliant execution on the part of the cast.
4. The show has caught everyone's attention -- from Chance the Rapper to Gabrielle Union.
Besides the positive critical response, Atlanta has gotten people on Twitter very excited, including Chicago artist Chance the Rapper -- who has his own label-bucking success story -- who tweeted Tuesday, "Thank you Donald Glover."
Glover's longtime friend, comedian Hannibal Buress, also sent out a tweet promoting the first episode, and Bring It On star Gabrielle Union tweeted, "Now watching #AtlantaFX ... let's go @donaldglover #support."
Glover also found love from fellow Community alum Yvette Nicole Brown, who posted to Instagram on Wednesday, writing, "I am SO proud of my buddy @ChildishGambino #DonaldGlover He is EVERYTHING. Simply everything."