I couldn’t wait for FX’s new series, Atlanta, to hit the screen. Ninety percent of my excitement is that it’s named after a city I like to call home. ZONE 4 ADAMSVILLE. WHAT! The other ten percent is because of all the press and promotion done on behalf of the show. If you watch television networks that feature shows including Black people, you have probably been beaten over the head with promos for Atlanta. I must say, the promo run has been impressive. The trailer looked dope, the backstory seemed interesting, and the articles I’ve read (specifically those about Donald Glover choosing to employ an entirely Black writer’s room full of novices) tilted me in the support at all costs direction. FX clearly spent dough to make sure that we were going to tune in.
Plus, again, Atlanta: the home of the Bankhead Bounce, Campbellton Road, and other city streets.
I did tune in.
And I couldn’t have been happier. Bruh. This show is fucking awesome. If it remains as good as the pilot episode then we’re in for one hell of a ride, and one that I would have HAPPILY binge watched all of last night into the wee hours of this morning. Let’s break down what’s happening here.
It’s a show about Earnest “Earn” Marks (played by Donald Glover), a fellow whose name might as well be “Can’t Do Right”. He’s that guy you know (we all know him, my best friend is this guy, RIP) that really tries, but he just can’t get over the hump. He has a line in the pilot about being a loser; it hurts. He’s one of those folks for which shit just seems to happen that is funny in the saddest way possible. In fact, if I had to sum him up in a lyric, he would be the living embodiment of Mos Def’s line on “The Questions” from Common’s Like Water for Chocolate album “why do I need ID to get ID/if I had ID I wouldn’t need ID…” He’s a father and a guy just trying to get money to take care of his daughter.
He is the cousin and eventual music manager of Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (played by Brian Tyree), a potentially past his prime rapper who sees a resurgence after he Earn gets him played on the radio AND after he gets accused of shooting somebody. His roommate aka weed carrier aka the comic relief (though comedy is a strong term here, more on that later) is Darius (played by Keith Stanfield) who would be a magical negro if those existed in the ghetto. In the hood, we call magical negroes drug dealers, and the only magic is Blue Magic.
Together they’re three East ATLiens on the come up. Earn lives with his baby momma who he REALLY wants to help out and be there for but he’s “not an old woman” so he can’t make money on his job which is being one of those people you avoid at the airport who attempt to sign you up for shit like UNICEF, PETA, or credit cards you don’t need by giving you keychains, pens, or compliments. He finds out his cousin, who he hasn’t seen his auntie’s funeral, is getting some burn on the music scene, so he attempts the hard sell to become his manager and utilizes his connections to get him on the radio. Be clear, Paper Boi doesn’t really trust Earn; they’re a bit estranged, but they’re family. And family ain’t shit.
Well, to put it simply: they end up shooting somebody. Allegedly. But in rap terms that might as well be the best promotion ever. It leads to one of the most HILARIOUS scenes at JR Crickets (an ATL staple) where an employee who grew up on that 90s hip-hop shit is glad to see a rapper who is still ready to blow a niggas head off, because that’s that real shit. Paper Boi is self-aware enough to realize that the people who find some type of glory in his actions is scary but it also comes with the come up like the lemon pepper wings…with the sauce, so I mean, you take the good with the bad. LEMON PEPPER WINGS WET? Bruh.
Or like the scene, reminiscent of The Wire, where kids are pretending to be Omar by shooting each other in the street. Paper Boi comes across some kids pretending to be him and attempts to go after-school special and explain that shooting people isn’t cool only for that message to go out the window once the kids mother/auntie realizes he’s a rapper. Who cares that he shot somebody, he’s a rapper; break out the phone for the pics for the ‘gram. He gets her number.
Listen. I won’t go into detail about what happens at the jail, but the jail scenes are so insanely funny in the saddest way possible, I almost felt bad laughing. Almost.
And that’s what really makes this show so interesting (so far). It’s funny despite how fucking SAD it is. It’s almost depressing. It’s dark comedy at its purest. Earn’s life pretty much sucks. Just in this first episode, his baby momma who he almost gets to morning smash tells him she’s going on a date that night and he needs to watch their daughter…and pay rent. He attempts to visit his parents (presumably for rent money) and they won’t even let him in the house. We find out he was put out of Princeton, which means he probably came home and went into a funk and tried to stay out sight. He ends up in jail. He gets called the n-word by a white dude who won’t call any other Black person the n-word. He’s on the bus at night with his daughter just trying to get somewhere to make things better. Earn is that guy trying so hard. He just can’t get over the hump. He wants very badly to do so. And you want him to as well.
Paper Boi is Earn’s shot (which I guess is a pun), and knows it, and his life kind of sucks too, especially in the aftermath of the shooting. He’s “famous” now but still in the hood and answers the door with a gun. And presumably folks are coming for him.
Atlanta is a show about a bunch of folks trying to make it. They just so happen to have the best one-liners of all time. I found myself laughing out loud during several scenes and then thinking to myself, “man, that really sucks.” Donald Glover and the rest of the writer’s room really put their foot all up in the nuance and found the humor in often humorless situations. They found a way to tap into lower middle class aspirational Blackness in comedy that isn’t typical hood fare but cuts right to the depression many of us feel just trying to get somewhere hoping that it’s better than where we came from without really knowing what “better” means. For the writing alone I can’t wait to see where they take the show.
Atlanta is a character that plays out in locations (shouts to the strip clubs mentioned), the accents, and the mentality. Plus currently, everybody in Atlanta is a rapper so the storyline, while not directly about the industry, really is probably not far off from what life in Atlanta in the hood for a dude trying to come up on music looks like. It’s funny. It’s dark. It’s life. And it’s got a ghetto magical negro who bakes cookies and bails people out of jail.
So for now, every Tuesday night at 10pm? If you want me you can find me in the A…A…A…A. You should join me.