Thoughtful, quirky and sometimes quiet, I’m guessing Atlanta won’t be for some who might be expecting something a bit more overtly "wacky" from Donald Glover, but I’m hopeful others will find it to be the very intriguing and well-crafted comedy I do.
Glover created Atlanta, which he also executive produces and stars in, and this truly feels like a labor of love for the writer, comedic actor and rapper. Glover plays Earnest "Earn" Marks, a decidedly down on his luck young man living in, you guessed it, Atlanta. In a bad financial situation, Earn is trying to support the child he has with Van (Zazie Beeetz) and barely getting by. When he discovers his cousin, Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles, is a rising local rapper, Earn – who has a tiny bit of “previously went nowhere” connections to the local music scene – convinces a reluctant Alfred to take him on as his manager, hoping to better both their lives in the process.
Atlanta feels right at home on FX, the home of shows like Louie. While it has a very different feel from that Louis C.K. series, it’s emboldened by a similar comfort – which also pops up in HBO and Showtime comedies – to constantly walk the line between drama and comedy and sometimes spend a considerable amount of time on the drama side. Atlanta has some heightened and even weird moments, but it often feels tremendously grounded, with Earn and his life portrayed in a straightforward manner that comes off as impressively genuine.
From Earn’s parents chastising him for stopping by their house when they’re out just to use their bathroom, to the tricky dynamic between Earn and Van (are they friends who share a kid? Ex-lovers with a kid? Or something in-between?), this is a fully realized world Glover has created that gives the audience a fly on the wall perspective.
Oh, and Atlanta is funny, to be sure, including moments like Earn bemoaning a grandmotherly-type he shares a job with who can use tactics he can’t, to Earn and Alfred’s relationship, not to mention Alfred's offbeat roommate and fellow drug dealer, Darius (Lakeith Stanfield). But ultimately, it’s the more subtle aspects that really stick out and stay with you, even as the show also includes an overtly strange side that begins to expand, as we get to know some of the unusual people, places and events that surround Earn.
Atlanta is something of a comedic slow burn, but it’s one worth the investment. Glover is playing a character miles from Community’s Troy -- he's much more the straight man here -- but one with his own distinct wit and powers of observation, even as he is reaching a moment of truth as far as where his life is going. Having seen the first four episodes, I’m impressed by how the show manages to weave some very slice of life storylines with the more showy aspects that go along with the music industry Earn and Paper Boi are trying to be involved in - along with some of the shadier characters and situations they get mixed up with.
Atlanta premieres Tuesday, September 6th on FX with two back-to-back episodes.