October 29th, 2016

“I wanted to show white people, you don’t know everything about black culture.” – Donald Glover on his new show Atlanta

Usually when I start watching a new series I have some information about it beforehand. I try to change that in order to just let the thing wash over me and see if it leaves an impression. With Atlanta I knew exactly two things: That Donald Glover, Childish Gambino, wrote, produced and plays an instrumental part in it and that I loved the trailer. Now that I’ve seen 9 out of 10 episodes, Atlanta, that runs on FX, leaves me impressed, confused, contemplative and confounded. Atlanta is the show that shows you a real city, as real as Donald Glover experienced it and still does, and a show about being black.

“The thesis with this show was to show people what it’s like to be black, and you can’t write that down. You have to feel it,” Donald Glover to critics at [FX’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour](

And there it begins, it’s also a visually enthralling piece of narration, with no real thread of narration. The broader storyline focuses on Earn(est) Marks, a Princeton dropout for reasons unknown and unfocused on, trying to find a footing in everyday life and going from broke to – not broke. He finds out that his cousin Alfred is underground (as in un-signed) rapper Paperboi and pays him a visit with the offer to manage him. We follow Earn trying to get Paperboi to the top of the charts while navigating his own life, taking care of his baby daughter he has with his ex-girlfriend Van, partly relying on his parents to babysit, and working on a $5.15/hour job at the airport, trying to make poor travelers fall into the trap of applying for a credit card (I’ve been there, trust me, it’s a trap). There’s Darius, who’s close to Earn’s cousin and is involved in Paperboi’s real-life money-making profession – selling drugs; there’s a black Justin Bieber, visits to the club, the county lockup, guns and violence, the hustle of making money by trading up one’s possessions, a Juneteenth celebration and so much more. The episodes run 20ish minutes long and I wish there were more. As do the viewers apparently – reading comments on Atlanta’s Facebook site, on YouTube clips, on tumblr made me grasp the level of appreciation viewers show for the show. Also the ratings suggest high approval.

Surreal, so real, too real

While the viewer is thrown into the broader storyline of Earn trying to make a career for his cousin, we also dive into the protagonists’ day to day (and also unusual) experiences. Director Hiro Murai, who collaborated with Donald Glover before for music videos for Childish Gambino, captures those situations intriguingly. The colour palette plays with muted hues, and the setting creates an atmosphere that fleshes out a (part of the) city that feels real.

“He compares Atlanta to a wool jacket that you need to put on to realize that you don’t hate wool jackets. “I actually kind of like this,” he says, as he mimes putting it on. “I guess it is a little itchy, but I like the way it fits.” Donald Glover to critics at [FX’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour](

The atmosphere is furthermore elevated by visual and storytelling aspects that make you question what you just saw. This is not a dark and messy show, it’s fun and really laugh out loud funny sometimes, but in the juxtaposition between hilarious situations, pieces of dialogue or plain visual gags and the (sometimes harsh) reality that comes with them, exactly that reality is highlighted. There’s a strange person uttering philosophical truths while making a nutella sandwich on the bus Earn takes, there are invisible getaway cars, special needs incarcerated inmates that dance in the holding cell – but in a matter of seconds the nice guy with the sandwich becomes a threat, the getaway car runs over a couple of people and the inmate that made everyone laugh, get’s beaten to a pulp by the guards in the holding cell.

“People may watch and say ‘I don’t get this guy — I don’t understand him,’ and I think that’s good.” [Donald Glover](

Looking into the lives of the protagonists

Earn sort of stumbles through his life. He doesn’t seem to be his parents absolute dream boy, he hasn’t seen his cousin in a while who then confides in Earn’s parents that he „doesn’t trust him“, he’s broke, for whatever reason left Princeton University, shares a daughter, bed and apartment with his (ex)girlfriend Van, but only if he pays rent. But Earn, whose name is both in short- as in longform so telling, wanders through life with a good heart, the right intentions, open (wondrous) eyes and the charme Donald Glover brings to life seemingly so easily. He tries to make it in the rap scene, for which he’s not tough enough – while trying to get the money for an appearance Paperboi had in a club he tells his cousin, „I just don’t scare people like you, man. Like, Niggas know I drink juice.“ He is too broke to make an investment with the little money he has, has to make ends meet while showing Van that he can make the effort to provide for his baby daughter (which involves spending money, taking her out for a nice meal).