Debuting on a crowded September 6, the genre-defying Atlanta is very funny but also dramatically of its time and place. Created by Donald Glover and co-starring Brian Tyree Henry, Zazie Beetz and Lakeith Stanfield, the FX comedy has a distinctly original voice in a TV universe that too often can be full of echoes. As I say in my video review above, Atlanta is a place you need to go — at least figuratively.
As a writer, executive producer and star, the former Community star and Grammy-nominated musician has weaved together a cool, calm and collected offering that also manages to keeping you off kilter by hanging back where most series would jump in.
Set in the world of local hip-hop and the hustle that only family can be, Atlanta focuses on Glover’s emotionally and economically embattled Earn taking on managing the career of his suddenly in-demand rapper cousin Alfred, aka Paper Boi (Henry). As strong as Beetz and the on-screen cousins are, for me it was Straight Outta Compton alum Stanfield who amazes as Alfred’s drug-dealing partner Darius. His portrayal eloquently sneaks up on you, revealing and denying more elusively. The result is actually a very hot depiction of the realities of being young, black, poor and frustrated, with its original voice examining how much of life is punting, pain and pursuit – and not always in that order.
Director Hiro Murai compliments the potent writing in the episodes I’ve seen with beautiful execution. The director, who has worked on videos with Glover under his recording artist moniker Childish Gambino, also filled the scenes with bursts of inspiration in framing and timing, like a particular police station scene that plays out so precisely. Also, as one would expect from Glover and a series set in the music scene of the Southern metropolis, the music is great and smart — as is, among many such narratives, a section debating the meaning of Steve McQueen in a racial context.
FX boss John Landgraf is constantly reminding the industry that there is a lot of TV out there — probably too much. While that’s not likely to change anytime soon, the launching of a series like Atlanta and the growth of a talent as rich as Glover’s is a price we should all be willing to pay in the era of Peak TV.
Take a look at my video review of Atlanta above and tell us what you think of the upcoming series.
Editors’ Note: This review originally ran August 16.