By SELENE SAN FELICE
Donald Glover is a mastermind. Everything the actor/rapper/writer/comedian touches lately seems to turn to gold, and his new show, Atlanta, is proof of that. On Sept. 20, FX renewed Atlanta for a second season after just three episodes aired. The show has gotten rave reviews, including a 100 percent freshness rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and received shoutouts from celebrities like Sia, Alison Brie, Joel McHale, and rappers Tyler the Creator and Lil Yachty.
Atlanta is essentially Louis for hip-hop heads with a surrealist Twin Peaks twist. Glover, the show’s creator, star and occasional writer and director, plays Earnest “Earn” Marks, a Princeton dropout and deadbeat dad trying to make it big without sacrificing his dreams in the Stone Mountain city. While fans expected Glover to play a rapper like his real life alter-ego, Childish Gambino, Glover’s character only aspires to manage a rapper. Earn’s cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) goes by the rap name Paper Boi, and after his mixtape blows up, he struggles to stay lowkey and out of trouble. Keith Stanfield plays Alfred’s quirky stoner best friend who helps get him in that trouble. Aside from dealing with Alfred and Darius, Earn struggles to keep up a relationship with his baby mamma, Vanessa (Zazie Beetz), who threatens him with homelessness if he can’t shape up.
Earn is far from the “token black guy” role Glover tends to be cast into. Now that he’s calling the shots, Atlanta’s writing staff is entirely black, and its cast is almost all black as well.
Although the show boasts great, complex performances from main characters, what might make Atlanta is the realness and humor that minor characters bring into each episode. Earn, Alfred and Darius are constantly bombarded with weird, awkward encounters.
Earn has a run in with a radio station employee who calls Earn– and only Earn– the n-word in the first episode. He deals with a waitress selling overpriced food like used cars and a Dairy Queen employee that only lets kids order kids’ meals. He talks to a man on the bus who may or may not exist. Alfred meets a Paper Boi fan who comes to his front door in a Batman mask and runs away.
Some of the most profound scenes of the season so far are from the second episode, “Streets on Lock.” Earn spends a day in jail after getting involved in a shooting altercation with Alfred, and while he waits to be put on bail he faces the strange sadness of jail regulars along with big issues like transphobia, police brutality and mental illness.
After the episode aired on Sept. 6, Chance the Rapper tweeted, “I cried watching #atlantafx the other night, so proud of my bro Donald Glover talking #mentalhealth on national tv.”
The show also features more hip-hop than just Paper Boi (whose song is actually done by Glover’s brother Steve). Rap trio Migos makes a cameo as drug lords who do business in the deep woods. Their song “One Time” is the first to be featured in the show and “Spray the Champagne” rolls through the credits of the third episode. The show also features tracks from Atlanta natives Waka Flocka Flame, Father, Rich the Kid, Bill Withers and OJ Da Juiceman. Those craving more Atlanta between episodes should check out Glover’s mixtape STN MTN, which also pays tribute to the city.
As the season continues, even more pressure is placed on Earn and Alfred to make it big or face going broke. Glover’s weird, dark humor is sure to seep further into the show, mixing with hip-hop and real-world issues.
Selene San Felice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org