Atlanta Premiere Review
Following all the cryptic trailers of flashy montages and a heavy use of rewind, I got to see what all the fuss was about. Money, family, music, surrealism, and complete randomness. And it all came together into a unique medley I have yet to see on TV. It all feels like a stream of consciousness befitting of Childish Gambino's rap.
I am among those who eagerly awaited this show based on Donald Glover's work on Community. His portrayal of man-child Troy Barnes showed off his buffoonish comedy chops. Likewise, his career as Childish Gambino has carried on his persona of being calm, deep, and mysterious like an underwater cave. While liking Troy Barnes and Childish Gambino are not mutually exclusive, the two split sides of his career likely garnered two different audiences. So coming into Atlanta, it was interesting to see which part of his fan base he would be pleasing. After watching the premiere, it appears the character of Earnest "Earn" Marks is far more subdued than either of these other characters, but also plays as more relatable. The show itself provides the depth and layers common in his music, while the drier wit beckons to me. Coming from the Community fanbase, I can say, I was not disappointed.
However, another question I found myself posing throughout the episode, is does this show alienate Glover's "white" audience? Atlanta seems very skewed towards black culture, having an entirely african american cast, and delving into themes very thickly weaved into their culture. Nonetheless, I find the appeal of the show far exceeds any racial qualities, as it covers topics relatable to most people and has a good dosing of humor. This makes me think of the scene in the movie Dope, where the characters claim doing "white things" involves listening to Donald Glover. Atlanta seemed to pass this burden on to Flo Rida, because "moms need rap too."
Speaking of moms, we start the series off seeing Earnest's very complicated love life, in which he has a child with Zazie Beetz's character, Vanessa, though they appear to have an open relationship and he crashes in her bed. We also learn Earnest has dropped out of Princeton and has a difficult time holding down a job. Enter Paperboi, his cousin played by Brian Tyree Henry who is starting to garner fame in the rap community. Earnest gets Paperboi on the radio, and gets him onto the radio. The pilot is almost a straightforward story, if only it weren't for the circular nature of the episode, where it starts where it ends, in a parking lot stand off.
The pilot does an okay job of laying out the characters' frameworks, Earnest is a failure trying to make it big, Paper Boi, or Al, wants respect and has an ego, and Darius is the comic relief. In a show that seems primarily driven by the characters, the pilot seemed overly focused on getting the plot in motion. Overall, this group appeared to have good balance and chemistry, though there did not seem like many places to go with their interpersonal relationships. Earnest had a wealth of backstory, but lacks direction. Meanwhile Paper Boi seemed like a stereotype of an egotistical gangsta rapper, and Darius had little going for him besides wacky non-sequitors. I had a difficult time seeing myself getting too invested in these characters
Episode two goes in a completely opposite direction. While Earnest was carrying the majority of episode one, in episode two, he is merely the straight man in a series of skits that take place in a jail waiting room. It places the plot on hiatus for a series on commentaries on culture. We see how the community views homosexuality, police brutality and the mentally disabled. It is odd to see how the second episode turned Earnest into a lens for social commentary.
Al, meanwhile, carries the emotional brunt of the episode, as it explores how his minor fame impacts him mentally, and socially. We see people treat him differently, particularly a waiter who assigns him the image of a true rapper, and demands he upholds it. This pressure gets to Al quickly, as we see he becomes paranoid about getting attacked. Children mimic him in the streets, and women swoon when they find out he is semi-famous. This episode gives some great depth to a character who initially came off very self-assured and fearless, only to see fame break him down from the start.
Episode two had very little plot, and lost all of the metaphor and visions from the first episode, which created two wildly different pieces of work. While still wildly enjoyable, it is difficult to pin down exactly what Atlanta is trying to be. Will it tell a coherent story with season-based arcs, as we see Paper Boi's rise to fame, or will it coast in its current status, providing odd looks into the current lives of the characters?
Hopefully it works out for FX. Seeing how they played the pilot four times in a row on their channel, it seems like they are banking really hard on this series taking off.