Appreciation: Donald Glover’s surreal ‘Atlanta’ was one of the most real things on TV – | Episode Movies

LaKeith Stanfield (left) as Darius and Donald Glover as Earnest Marks on Atlanta. (Guy D’Alema/FX)

Photo: “Guy D’Alema/FX”, HO / TNS

Opening the final season of “Atlanta,” the main cast navigated various scenarios that played out like mini horror movies: Earn (Donald Glover) and his co-parent/former girlfriend Van (Zazie Beetz) reunite at a popular open to former lovers -air mall where they are stuck after errands in purgatory. Earn’s cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), aka Paper Boi, learns that Blueblood, one of his favorite rappers, has died and embarks on a scavenger hunt that leads him to the artist’s meticulously planned funeral. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) is confronted by a Karen who stalks him threateningly throughout the episode, believing he stole an air fryer which he is attempting to return to Target.

The title of the episode, “The Most Atlanta,” could easily be changed to “The Most ‘Atlanta'” as it captures the balance of absurdity and striking reality that made Donald Glover’s dreamy dramedy a show like no other. In the first few episodes of the FX show, Earn, who left Princeton University without a degree, struggles, back home in Atlanta, to convince his cousin Alfred to let him lead his burgeoning rap career. By the end of season one, Alfred is on the verge of fame beyond Atlanta’s thriving hip-hop scene. Earn, motivated in part by his responsibilities to Van and their young daughter Lottie, is on the verge of financial independence but still has problems: the final shot – reinforced by the Outkast classic “Elevators” – shows him sleeping in a storage room .

Although “Atlanta” stretched into surrealism, the series was always based on the reality of its main characters and their life experiences – as black men, as millennials, as a rapper (Paper Boi), as a college dropout (Earn), as a well-connected madman ( Darius) – and in Van’s case as a black woman and mother. The first season set the show’s murky tone, punctuated by the wildest moments: an invisible car hits a crowd coming out of a nightclub; a man with a ribbon offers Earn unsolicited advice and a Nutella sandwich on a bus; Paper Boi appears in a panel show that gets out of hand, peppered with commercials parodying certain black culture staples without explaining the inside jokes behind “pre-disposed” Swisher Sweets, a man who owns nothing but his Dodge Charger and utter confusion has left the advertised tax on iced tea costing 99 cents. (A Trix cereal spoof that ended with a cop threatening to shoot sugar-addicted kids was less subtle.)

Atlanta is an epicenter of black culture, and Glover’s series places the city of Georgia at the center of its universe. Being black can sometimes feel like living in the future (that “new” slang the kids on TikTok use has been part of the lexicon in black communities for decades), and “Atlanta” felt similarly ahead of its time. The series featured Migos amid the Atlanta trio’s rising fame in a hilarious cameo in the first season. Another part of season one basically predicted the title of an album Justin Bieber might release, say, after a national racial reckoning: “Justice.” In a classic “Atlanta” twist, the Bieber as portrayed on the show was black, and the series subtly referenced the impact dimensional variations may have had on the pop star’s troubled teenage years.

Few black TV shows — that is, shows by black creators with black leads — have been quite as surreal, in large part due to systemic barriers faced by black writers and producers in the industry. This enhanced reality was even rarer outside of sketch comedy (“In Living Colour,” “Chapelle’s Show,” “Key and Peele”), adult animation (“The Boondocks,” “Black Jesus”), and intermittent sitcom interludes (see: “Everybody Hates Chris”, “The Bernie Mac Show”, “Blackish”). Glover was aware of this when presenting his series, leading him to obfuscate the show’s central themes. “I was Trojaner-FX,” he told the New Yorker in 2018. “If I had told them what I really wanted to do, it wouldn’t have been done.”

“Teddy Perkins,” season two’s oddball, was a meditation on fame and childhood trauma centered around a reclusive Michael Jackson-like musician. The episode, which feels like a short film, was directed by Glover’s longtime collaborator Hiro Murai, who, while never working in television before, directed the majority of the “Atlanta” episodes and helped set the show’s cinematic tone shape. Other episodes were directed by Janizca Bravo (“Zola”), Amy Seimetz (“The Girlfriend Experience”) and Glover, who made his directorial debut with the sixth episode of the series. Glover was the first black director to win an Emmy for a comedy for his work on “BAN,” the season one episode that starred the parody panel show and commercials.

Across the show’s four seasons, Glover and his staff — in a mostly black writers’ room run by the creator’s brother Stephen Glover — worked on subtle comments about being black in the entertainment industry (or any industry, for that matter). A season four episode features a heavily made-up Glover as a Tyler Perry-like character exercising godlike control over his sprawling studio; Another part of the final season is a mockumentary promoting The Goofy Movie as a film about black fatherhood (a popular theory is that Goofy is black) with outspoken cameos from journalist Jenna Wortham, comedian Sinbad and R&B -Singer Brian McKnight dissected. The Goof Who Sat By the Door follows a fictional black animator who unknowingly becomes Disney’s CEO and goes insane while attempting to make the 1995 Goof Troop-inspired comedy the “blackest movie ever made.” White media conglomerate.

“Atlanta” mastered the art of the bottle episode, with some standalone episodes featuring the main cast and others focusing on characters who were never part of the main story. Season three was criticized for taking Earn and crew outside of Atlanta, as Paper Boi went on a European arena tour and focused on white families in several segments. But these episodes — which dealt with cultural appropriation and white privilege — didn’t detract from “Atlanta’s” mission. The series was about Earn, Paper Boi, Darius and Van as well as how they saw the world and how she saw (or didn’t see) it.


When where: Stream all seasons on Hulu

Like Issa Rae’s “Insecure,” “Atlanta” was a coming-of-age story — a narrative that’s woefully underrepresented in terms of black shows, despite being such a universal experience. In the show’s fourth season, Earn is successful and paid well enough to see a therapist – a black male therapist with whom he has a casual relationship. In a therapy session, we learn why Earn left Princeton so abruptly: he hadn’t dropped out, but was expelled from school after an incident involving a white student and another RA he believed to be his friend. It was this betrayal that motivated Earn to seek success independently from the Ivy League school, where, as he tells his therapist, he was “one of about 12 black kids.” Success looks different for Alfred, who ponders fame and its long-term meaning.

The final season brings a big change in the lives of Earn, who is considering moving to Los Angeles, and Van, who agrees to join him after declaring his love for her and his desire to raise their daughter together. In another series we could see how this fairy tale ending plays out. But on Thursday, “Atlanta” ended its run with an episode aptly titled “It Was All a Dream” — a classic rap reference and a nod to the show’s illusory tone.

The series finale begins with Darius watching television before heading to a sensory deprivation tank for his weekly counseling session. Everything that happens after – a cameo appearance by Cree Summer; a police encounter turned farce; a visit to a lost loved one; a “fat” judge Judy; a harrowing afternoon meal at a black sushi restaurant and Darius saving the day with Popeye’s chicken after curling up in a Pepto-Bismol-colored Maserati — is less clear-cut. did that just happen Has any of this?

If you’ve seen “Atlanta,” it won’t surprise you that we never quite find out, which doesn’t mean the episode is meaningless. “Atlanta” regularly presented nuggets of wisdom through the most ridiculous of situations.

Take “The Goof Who Sat By the Door,” for example. The mockumentary episode unfolds a central theme that could easily be applied to Glover’s innovative and groundbreaking series. The fictional animator’s son references a meme he says reminds him of his late father and his work, which had one goal: “to show black people living their lives, funny, free and real.” are”.

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