Donald Glover spoke of how he wanted to make “Twin Peaks with rappers.” There is perhaps no better way to describe Atlanta, the bizarre, hilarious, relevant story of a broke twentysomething year old Earn (Glover) who becomes the manager of his cousin, underground rapper Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry). Glover has poured everything into this show, taking every risk possible, in the knowledge that it may only receive the single ten episode run (thankfully for us all it has now been renewed), and it really shows the potential of truly original shows not bound by the directions of a big studio.
Despite the seemingly basic premise Atlanta is perhaps unlike anything else seen on television this year. Glover manages to blend the utterly strange – an invisible car, a black Justin Bieber – with great moments of comedy, and of course a grounded realism too. It could have easily come across as farcical to jump from a moment of such weird levity to something as serious as police brutality and mental illness but Glover and his incredible cast make it a smooth transition.
Speaking of the cast, Zazie Beetz as Vanessa, the mother of Earn’s child and his on-off girlfriend, is perhaps the best of the bunch, stealing every scene she is in. The writing allows her the room and time to develop and so she moves above the one-dimensional girlfriend figure that you see in most other shows.
Glover switches the focus of the episodes up daringly and admirably, with some primarily concerned with Earn and his personal struggle, another about Earn and Van’s relationship, another about Paper Boi etc. etc. with each being as strong as the last. One particular episode stands out for its daring approach. “B.A.N” is as if you are watching this alternative world’s television channel Black American Network, where Paper Boi is a guest on a talk show. It is even complete with hilarious advertisements.
This unusual approach to television will no doubt split the audience but even if you are not a fan of that particular episode it is well worth sticking out to the end because it is some of the best television produced this year.
P.S Look out for the Childish Gambino vinyl hidden in Craig’s very weird “Black History” office in the episode “Juneteenth”.