By Olivia Granaiola
Courtesy: Hollywood News Source
The harsh reality of Donald Glover’s dramedy brainchild expertly encapsulates the ever-closing gap between reckless youth and the right time to grow up, which is probably the reason for its explosive success.
Whether you’re familiar with his rap persona (Childish Gambino) or you know him as an actor, the name Donald Glover has become synonymous with the modern entertainment industry. Though I am a huge fan of Glover, I was skeptical about Atlanta. Sure, he graduated from NYU with a degree in dramatic writing, but besides some credits for 30 Rock straight out of college plus his stand-up, the 33 year old has done little to establish himself as a writer. And a series on FX can go one of two ways- smash hit (AHS, Nip-Tuck) or complete travesty. A ten-o’clock time slot on a Tuesday night didn’t seem promising, but I gave it a whirl, thinking, “Eh, I can just turn it off if I don’t like it and live in the era of Camp forever.”
But Atlanta is no Camp. If Camp is becoming prom queen, Atlanta is missing graduation. It’s real. It’s raw. It’s revolutionary. When you turn on the TV, you expect to be entranced into a pixelated utopia where even “big problems” become minor in the grand scheme of things because everything gets resolved by the end of the episode. Though Atlanta does have some glimmers of hope, it is essentially a never-ending series of roadblocks for relatable characters played by unknown actors. The unfamiliarity of these actors allows viewers to see the characters as real people, or even scarier – versions of themselves.
Enter Earn (Glover). A Princeton dropout who can’t afford a nice dinner, yet reeks of superiority. He has a daughter but refuses to commit to her mother, whose teaching job supports the three of them. Earn is the typical bright kid who blames the world for his lackluster adult future. Whenever he finds an opportunity to make money, he takes it. Whether it’s off of his estranged cousin with a new record deal, a lady who mistakes him as an old lover, or an out-of-element and slightly bourgeois “Juneteenth” party, Earn is always on the come-up but has trouble finding real success.
Complete with a crony to do most of his heavy lifting, Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) is the smooth-talking guy whose immense street smarts are both a blessing and a curse. He cites rapping as “not real, just the only way,” but he personifies the better-than-you, untrusting, and ready-to-kill rapper that blares through radio speakers. He keeps his stoner friend Darius on his payroll because he’ll do anything but expresses doubt about letting Earn be his manager. Having received notoriety after a viral release, Paper Boi’s fame is only cemented after he kills someone. He feels bad when it reaches the kids in the ghetto but not so much that he won’t “blow a stack” to one-up a pro football player at the club.
Probably the dark horse of the entire series is Earn’s baby mama/best friend/caretaker, but never girlfriend, Van (Zazie Beetz). Van is always torn between the two paths of true love and independence. Like most girls, Van strives to be a Beyonce song: an alpha female and blasé about boys. But even though she means well, she is ultimately Earn’s doormat. The scowls on her face do not erase the fact that she drives across town to pick him up, the dead-end dates she goes on do not stop her from being upset after dreaming that he kissed another woman, and her baby daughter seems like an excuse to justify not kicking him out of her apartment. In an episode dedicated to Van, she shows viewers that she is a hard shell with a fluffy interior. When her WAG frenemy Jayde takes her out to dinner to “catch up”, Van quickly realizes the snarky undertones, but doesn’t act on them until Jayde’s sugar daddy brings a friend for Van, who promptly walks out of the restaurant. Though it seems like Van had won a point for the Beyonce façade, she quickly loses it once Jayde follows her out and convinces her to smoke weed the day before a drug test. She gains it back once she distills her daughter’s urine to pass, but loses it again after admitting to her employer that she smoked, gets fired, and then texts Paper Boi asking for an eighth. Van is the one who everyone roots for but seems to have the loosest hold on life than any of the three main characters.
The main characters on Atlanta live out the lives of Generation Y. So close, but not close enough describes every situation these three are in. Right when they stand up, life knocks them back down. They’re coming of age at an age where they already should have come. Atlanta is unlike Modern Family, where “serious” is a fight between Haley and her boyfriend. It is unlike Empire, where death is commonplace. What makes Atlanta one of the best shows on television right now is the fact that it’s a show, but it doesn’t have to be. Glover’s lack of writing experience is probably the best thing that could’ve happened to TV. Instead of watching another show about adults living a quaint life until the city hits them, viewers experience a fiction similar to their reality. And let’s face it, in this world, self-interest is the key to success. Cheers to the end of a stellar first season.
Olivia Granaiola is a first-year Telecommunication major with a passion for entertainment and sports. She will be reporting for ESPN Gainesville 95.3 FM in the spring and will continue to be a reporter for PopMedia.