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Thursday, November 30th, 2023  

Atlanta (Season Three)

FX, March 24, 2022

Mar 22, 2022 Photography by Matthias Clamer/FX Web Exclusive
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Four years is far too long to wait for Donald Glover’s multiple-award-winning, brilliantly written, cast and acted series, Atlanta, to return. When we last saw Glover’s character Earn, a well-meaning, but ultimately incompetent music manager and his rising rap star cousin, the shrewd Paper Boi—superbly portrayed by Brian Tyree Henry, they were Europe-bound to embark on a big tour.

The third season’s premiere kicks off with one of Atlanta’s patented non-sequitur episodes, “Three Slaps.” This episode revolves around a spirited Black young man who is taken away from his no-nonsense mother after a concerned call to DCFS from his teachers and administrators at school. The episode unfolds like a Jordan Peele horror flick, except much more tense and suspenseful.

The child is placed with a same-sex White couple who have a collection of Black children that they’re essentially using as slaves for their stinky kombucha business. Ruled by one of the new “moms,” who also controls the other new “mom,” the couple have a miniature cult set-up that is fed by a social worker who turns a blind eye on their callback to plantation times, including the encouragement of singing spirituals. The whole episode feels like it’s a dream—or is it nightmare—state.

After a four-year pause, it seems strange to start with an episode like this one. Not that it’s not absolutely genius in its spot-on stereotypes and its disturbing psychological thriller narrative. It is just confusing to thread oneself back to the series’ central characters with this random story—which would have probably slotted in very well anywhere else in the season. Think the “Teddy Perkins” episode in Season Two.

Atlanta gets back on track by the second episode, “Sinterklass is Coming to Town,” one of two furnished for review purposes. We join Earn, Paper Boi, his trusty sidekick Darius, played by the flawless Lakeith Stanfield, and Van, Earn’s baby mama, portrayed by the nuanced Zazie Beetz on that aforementioned European tour.

Each one of them is having a singular extreme experience. For Earn, this involves sexual encounters with women he doesn’t know in Copenhagen. For Paper Boi, this means getting locked up in a Dutch jail that has more in common with a modern boutique hotel than any type of prison scenario. Big screen TV, stylish minimalist furniture, quality menu, and “Free Paper Boi” being chanted in the streets. Paper Boi isn’t trying to leave this fabulous room. Darius is coasting through life, high as always, canal-side in Amsterdam, not unlike he does in Atlanta, unencumbered by life’s day-to-day trappings. For Van this means running away from disappointments at home by joining the squad in Europe.

In a previously unexplored combination, Darius and Van explore Amsterdam together, looking for clothes for her since her luggage was stolen. She gets caught up in Darius’ go-with-the-flow attitude, which, frankly, is good for her buttoned up and unrelaxed nature.

Meanwhile, Earn seems to have taken a ballbuster music manager course and passed with flying colors as he makes demands left and right, deadpan-style, and gets what he wants, and what Paper Boi wants as well, for a change.

Racism and racial identity is the overarching narrative of Atlanta, and this season is no different. Watching the extremist behavior on “Three Slaps” is excruciating. Earn’s challenging experience with airport security is as painful as it is comical. This episode addresses the long-standing and hugely controversial Dutch traditional holiday character, Zwarte Piet, Santa Claus’ helper who is in blackface, head-on. The interactions with people in blackface are numerous and increasingly uncomfortable.

Making viewers uncomfortable is not something Atlanta has ever shied away from and this season is no different. Sharp and accurate, at the same time, humorous, it is this latter characteristic that allows for the messages of the series to come through loud and clear. We’re listening and cannot wait to hear what the rest of this season has to say. (

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 1,234/10


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