It’s not a massive surprise that Donald Glover got his own show. Tina Fey hired him at age 23 as a writer for the comedy series 30 Rock. He later rose to fame as an actor in the television sitcom Community. In addition, he’s starred in several successful films, and he’s a rapper/singer who goes by the stage name Childish Gambino. Since 2016, Glover has created and starred in the FX comedy-drama Atlanta.
Let me start by saying I am very particular about the television I watch. I like a payoff if I spend hours staring at a screen. There needs to be an engaging storyline, an unpredictable plot twist, good writing, and well-developed characters. In my opinion, a lot of television today relies too heavily on one-liners and action scenes to distract from the inherent flaws of underdeveloped characters or a predictable A-B-C plot structure.
I was instantly drawn in by the authenticity of the characters in Atlanta. And this is coming from a white woman in North Carolina with limited knowledge of the rap scene. The show is so creative and funny, with genuine and relatable characters. Atlanta explores the challenges of urban aimlessness, whiteness, and existentialism through the lens of Black American culture. But don’t let the heavy thematic content deter you: grab your remote and find all three seasons streaming on Hulu. The writers effortlessly move through topics like depression, co-parenting, and financial woes, all without a bitter aftertaste.
The collaborative effort between Glover, his brother Stephen (a story editor and writer on the show and rapper “Paper Boi’s” voice on the show’s unofficial theme song), director and producer Hiro Murai, and writers Fam Udeorji and Jamal Olori, who have never worked on scripted television, is seamless. In some cases, inexperience could work against them — but not in this case; instead, it gives them the freedom to make their own rules and break them. The all-Black writer’s room creates relevant content and doesn’t rely on a formula or rapid-fire punch lines. Instead, the dialogue has a natural flow that reflects the characters’ emotional states.
When I think about dramas set in the American South, the two that come to mind are Nashville and Dallas, the kind of television that exudes big city vibes. Although popular, they both fall short of inclusivity and diversity. All people need to have proper representation, because television, like other art forms, influences viewers’ beliefs and attitudes about themselves and other people’s cultural backgrounds.
In Atlanta’s case, we follow Earnst “Earn” Marks (Glover) in Season 1. He’s a college dropout who manages the up-and-coming music career of his rapper cousin, Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry). The story begins three years after Earn dropped out of Princeton University, as he works at a dead-end job at the airport. He has a young daughter Lottie whom he tries to co-parent with his best friend, Van. Is there a plot? Sort of, but it doesn’t need it. The beauty of Atlanta is the characters, their relationships, and how they tackle life’s ups and downs.
I will not dive into Seasons 2 or 3 because you owe it to yourself to watch it. These subsequent seasons comprise a hilarious deep dive into friendship, music, and society. So, make sure you add Atlanta to your must-watch list. The fourth and final season drops this month.
Created by: Donald Glover
Starring: Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz
Airing on FX and streaming on Hulu