Sep 1, 2018

[TV] Atlanta: Season 1 Review

So I wasn't sure if I'd be the sort of person to get into Atlanta as my history with what can be more typically termed as "black entertainment" has been very mixed, largely because of the movies of Tyler Perry or something like that. But I was curious about Donald Glover's post-Community endeavor and see what the fuss was about as critical acclaim for the series was pretty significant.

I finally dove into the show recently and ended up watching the first two seasons as quickly as I could manage. And it's hard to explain what about the show drew me in so quickly but there's something about its narrative flow that can be quite fascinating.

Atlanta is a show with some solid characters and it goes fairly in-depth in immersing us in their lives and thus making it possible to better understand what they're going through both as individuals and members of a minority group in a community that doesn't always do the right thing.

Plus the show is just amazingly clever.

Synopsis: Atlanta is a comedy-drama series created by Donald Glover and airs on FX. As of the time of this blog post the show has already been confirmed for a third season in 2019.

At the core of this story is Earn (Donald Glover), a college dropout largely living with his ex-girlfriend Van (Zazie Beetz), who is also the mother of his child. Technically Earn is homeless and largely jobless apart from occasional one-off gigs but at the start of the show he tries to make himself the manager of his cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), better known as the rapper Paper Boi. He isn't quite famous yet but Earn feels that he's well on his way and this may be his route to finally securing a better future for himself and his daughter.

The pilot episode focuses on Earn trying to prove his value to Alfred by finding a way to get his song played on the radio. It takes a lot of wheeling and dealing that demonstrates Earn's intelligence and savvy but things end in a most unusual manner - a parking altercation that later ends with  gunshot. But this also sets up a larger arc in the show and how this gun incident affects everyone's lives and particularly the reputation of Paper Boi as a rapper.

What I Liked: A lot of thought goes into every episode in terms of the story beats and how it's all put together and that goes a long way towards telling it stories. It's quirky how for the most part the show feels largely "episodic" in how each episode has its own largely contained story but there's no denying that there's a larger narrative arc that makes it a very subtle serialized tale. And that story is largely focused on Earn but we eventually spend time with other characters in the show as well and get more insight into their perspectives.

The styling of the show is very distinct ranging from the unique way the show opens with a unique title card and song every time to the overall visual treatment of the series. Things feel measured and very deliberate and thus all the more you want to pay attention and study each episode for other implications and subtle meaning. And all that happens while you're still entertained with a great blending of comedy and heavier dramatic moments. I cannot fathom how the show was put together.

What Could Have Been Better: It takes a while to get into the particular cadence of the show and the creative team will not hold your hand. It definitely has that feeling of joining the story in the middle of things and there's so much we don't know about everyone that only gets revealed somewhat piecemeal across the episodes. Not everyone may have the patience for that and a lot of times you may end up asking questions like "what who is that?" or "why is he doing that?" and all those fun questions.

And then there's the overall creative structure of the narrative that at times feels almost conflict neutral, which is tricky given how a lot of shows have trained us to expect each episode to have a problem to solve. That is still largely true with this show but things can be presented in a manner that's a lot more subtle than folks may be used to.

TL;DR: Atlanta is an amazing show and I fail to put into words all the great reasons why you should watch it. There's an honesty to the whole show that is refreshing and the way the stories are presented continue to be amazingly creative and often distinct from episode to episode. And thus the first season gets a full 5 ways Earn tries to creatively solve his problems out of a possible 5.


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