Atlanta (Season 2)

FX, Thursdays 10/9 Central

Mar 01, 2018 Web Exclusive
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Atlanta isn't like any other show on television. In fact, it's not really like any other show in TV history. That seems like hyperbole, but the way it breaks rules and paves its own path are wholly unique. It takes beats from previous media (David Lynch efforts, The Big Lebowski, and the funnier parts of The Wire all come to mind) but in ways that are unexpected nearly every time.

Part of this is, of course, the fact that TV gatekeepers have long kept out voices like showrunner/star Donald Glover. While African-American-led half-hour comedies have been around since the '70s (think Sanford & Sons and The Jeffersons), there has never been a show that so deftly combined social insight with comedy with characters that toe the line between defiantly unlikable and empathetic. White characters on white shows have been able to be complicated antiheroes for a long time, but black people have been too often restricted to being comic relief, providing family values, dealing drugs, being cops, being the Magical Negro, or providing a way to look at "social issues" in a ham-fisted way.

Atlanta (and some of its contemporaries, such as Insecure) dispenses with all of that. And if season one laid the groundwork for a modern classic, season two is proving to be even more incisive. The opening scene is a violent robbery (the season is dubbed "Robbin' Season") that would fit on an HBO prestige drama, and the same episode has a manic Katt Williams yelling "motherfucker" with aplomb. As Earn, Donald Glover has a protagonist that goes from infuriating to supremely likeable, sometimes in the span of a single scene; he exudes a stoned confusion about everything that's happening to him, and provides a perfect entry point for the violence, surreality, and relationships occurring around him.

The end result is sort of like the Coen Brothers directed Get Out while listening to trap music, and it's not like anything I've ever seen. If it sounds like tonal whiplash, it's only thanks to Glover, his crack writers room, his co-stars (particularly Zazie Beetz, Brian Tyree Henry, and Keith Stanfield), and the steady direction of Hiro Murai that the whole thing is as coherent a vision as is on TV.

Atlanta has a lot to say about a lot of things, often in ways you won't hear on other TV shows. In a single episode, characters will explore gift card scams and the injustice of the prison industrial complex, and it somehow totally makes sense. This show can combine an alligator emerging from a doorway with an extended scene in a strip club and a serious scene about the parole system, and it all fits together.

When the show debuted, Donald Glover said "the thesis with the show was kind of to show people how it felt to be black." While other critics (read: not white dudes) are more equipped to say if he's succeeded in that, Glover has been wildly successful at creating something completely unique and unlike any show that's come before it. And it sure seems like that's part of what it means to be black in America-you've been saying and doing and making towering cultural expressions since the literal beginning of humanity, but the people who control the cultural megaphones don't care to pay attention. Fortunately, with Atlanta, the rest of the world gets to listen in for a change. (www.fxnetworks.com/shows/atlanta)

Author rating: 10/10

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