It Turns Out The Show Atlanta Is Actually Pretty Damn Good

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Donald Glover’s Atlanta, with about 6 Billion Trailers and Tons of hype finally arrived on FX last week, but BNP was lightweight sleeping. Well, three episodes have aired and the squad isn’t sleeping anymore. Two of the site’s most learned TV folks (or the people that just watch too much damn TV), Nicole: and William: got together to discuss the surprise show thus far.

William: I have to admit, Donald Glover has worn me down a bit over the last few years. It’s not any one thing and it’s not like any of the small things were so egregious on their own, but I just kind of got fatigued on him. But I never swayed from thinking dude wasn’t talented or visionary in some aspects. So, Atlanta has been a pretty pleasant surprise for me. I’m taken aback at how much I dig it three episodes in.

Nicole: I had more of a growing indifference towards him. He didn’t piss me off or anything, but I kept hoping for more. He’s the kid the teacher pulls aside at lunch to have a Very Special Talk (TM) about how he has such potential if he’d only try. But this, this, is so far what I wanted from him.

William: Yeah, isn’t that weird? After all the Glover that we’ve experienced or Childish Gambino if you get down with the hippity hop, this is strange to think that THIS is where he seems to fit the best.

Nicole: I haven’t gone full Google stalk yet so I’m not sure if that’s because the Earn character is close enough to him in terms of background and experience that he can be vulnerable and authentic playing it, but still because it’s fiction there’s an emotional distance that maybe he didn’t get from his standup or music. I feel like I’m watching good art; this watches like a well-crafted product.

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William: So, Nicole, we’re playing catch up as this is the first time we’ve talked about it but 3 episodes have aired. What’s your quick impressions of the pilot episode. I dug it a lot…the gunplay concerns me a bit. And obviously it’s central to Paper Boi’s arc; what really happened, did he shoot the guy, is he going to jail, his artificial rise in fame. But it concerns me a bit that we get this authentic and comedic tale with Black characters and boom…there’s our ultra-violence. I don’t hate it, but it makes me wonder how necessary it is.

Nicole: The violence didn’t bother me because of the balance that was offered. We see Paper Boi in these domestic scenes with Darius who is wearing an apron and a bandana over his face when he greets Earn for the first time. These are men who at first glance are involved in violence (though later we see how in over their heads they are in some ways) but they aren’t one dimensional. The ending of the second episode drove that point home for me. Paper Boi tries to interrupt children in the middle of gunplay imitating him… and ends up getting the number of the mother of the kids, but only after she 1) tells them to stop playing with guns and 2) reprimands him for talking to her kids like he’s an authority figure. So we’re getting a sense of how conflicted our attitudes are towards violence.

We also see the hustle of him getting played on the radio so the idea of this organic swell of popularity from a mixtape and a local fanbase is dispelled and critiqued.

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William: How great is Darius. I mean, there’s a lot of characters like Darius in the TV medium, but I like that (so far) they haven’t made him some pseudo prophet. The stream of conscious and reasoning stays consistent from the premise of his first appearance. And he’s not necessarily dependent upon for the comedy relief because everyone is kind of funny at times anyway. That initial scene with the Deja Vu is staying with me for some reason. It feels so poignant and widening of that scene and understanding.

Nicole: The bus scene too!

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There’s a mystical element that I wasn’t prepared for and still don’t know how to interpret. That along with the unresolved questions from the pilot are, for my tastes, god storytelling.

William: I agree with all of that. It almost seems like there’s a magic out there, that can’t really be grasped by the characters that witness it. It’s always elusive or out of reach. It deepens the narrative for sure.

Nicole: (And now I’m waiting for the reemergence of the bus guy.) So here is a criticism of the show so far: no real likable female characters.

William: Well…barely female characters period to be honest

Nicole: In that the only characters with speaking parts are his mom, Vanessa, and kinda sorta his barely verbal daughter. And these three are a small parade of the women he’s let down. Also, we have to talk episode 3 “Go for Broke.”

William: Wait, wait, before we get there, and I want to get there…

We gotta discuss episode 2 and the prison first.

So, I loved it, but I have a criticism too. The good: Some very rooted and realistic characters. But I worry that all of the “social visibility” topics that are still either taboo or complicated in the Black community specifically were crammed into this episode. Mental Illness. Transgender characters. Sexuality. I just hope those themes aren’t limited within the confines of the county jail for this show moving forward.[quote_right]It almost seems like there’s a magic out there, that can’t really be grasped by the characters that witness it. It’s always elusive or out of reach.[/quote_right]

Nicole: Agreed. I don’t think it felt forced but it felt intentional. The nagging question about that for me is why is Earn the “enlightened one”? How did he come to be progressive on issues of gender and sexuality when those around him didn’t? This gave me pause because of Alfred/Paper Boi’s conversation with Earn’s dad about Princeton (another of those loose threads I enjoy). There’s something there that I can’t articulate yet about class (and maybe education.)

William: Yeah, that bothered me a bit too, Earn the enlightened one. I had a thought yesterday thinking about this show that I guess relates to Earn’s character too. So, we both watch a lot of TV and know TV Logic well. Any show we watch, if the protagonist was the the music star, if someone tried to manage them, we’d be immediately suspicious. But the proposed manager is Earn, the protagonist. Everything about his current life lends itself to think he might not have Paper Boi’s best interest in mind. But, he’s likable and full of heart (I think), so is there any doubt that he really is just trying to get ahead and help Paper Boi, or is there a chance he screws him over?

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Nicole: I mean he’s likable because he’s that every-man that we can root for. We are meeting him at this low point in his life. And since we see everything was his POV, we want to believe that’s he’s a good guy, but he hasn’t done anything to really prove that yet.

And if we tally his actions and characteristics, he’s not that awesome. He doesn’t take care of his kid. He seems to have soured the relationship with the mother of his child. His parents won’t let him in their house. He didn’t speak to his cousin until he thought he could literally profit from the interaction. I mean, I wouldn’t loan this dude $5.

And yet, I’m rooting for him to succeed. But he’s not.

[quote_left]But, back to Earn’s idealistic and freeloading ass. So I’m not here for that “I did it my way” Frank Sinatra bullshit when you got a kid to feed and you aint paying rent.[/quote_left]William: Yeah, LOTS of red flags about Earn. Even the speech he gives at the end of episode 3 is an aspiring rousal of ideal and selfish bullshit. Like, yeah, we all want to do things on our terms, but fam, put food in your daughter’s mouth first. So we need to talk about a few other things. First, that cop in episode two that snatches up Paper Boi for the instagram. There are so many things going on in that scene I barely know where to start.

Nicole: That was maybe when I hurt my sides laughing. Paper Boi’s face, though. Paper Boi’s face. When the cop hit him with the “back to back” I was beside myself. But again, we have a black cop who loves rap enough to come down to get a pic. But then he superimposes his will on Paper Boi without even a second thought. And he’s a misogynist (who’s he posting on IG for?). But Paper Boi doesn’t leave or protest beyond that stank face AND Darius takes the picture. So many identities to navigate.

But, back to Earn’s idealistic and freeloading ass. So I’m not here for that “I did it my way” Frank Sinatra bullshit when you got a kid to feed and you aint paying rent. I’m not saying give up on your dreams, but you have to find a way for your dreams and your reality to coexist in such a way that you can feed your kid and pay rent.

BUT that said… can we talk about him and Vanessa? His home situation is complicated. He says repeatedly that he’s technically homeless, but we have repeated scenes of him in bed with Vanessa.

Maybe it’s the writing doing its job, but Vanessa? For real, he’s homeless and sleeping at your house; WHY ARE YOU ORDERING LOBSTER? Why? Why? Why? Any lobster he’s buying you is not rent he’s giving you or food he’s buying for your kid. I just couldn’t get down with the feigned obliviousness of that date.

William: Yeah, let me back up to the cop moment really quick because I went through so many emotions in those 2 some odd minutes of footage. I laughed too, but I cringed a lot as well. I think that scene informed so many things, namely the fragility of the Black body under the oppression of a police force and how the overlord / supremacy reach of the police force is felt by Black Americans is not solely limited to Non-POC officers. The Blue line don’t give a good gotdamn who yo mama looks like.

So yeah, let’s talk about Vanessa. I have a slightly different approach to this because I have been some facsimile of Earn. I too, before being the façade of a stable and financially solid family man, once took a young lady out on a date when I barely had enough money in my account to drive us home from the restaurant. And I too, knowing I couldn’t afford to pay respects, let alone for a lobster dinner, once dove in over my head and took her to a restaurant I had no business looking up on the internet, let alone entering the front doors of.

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And you know what that young lady did, knowing her date was struggling to finance a happy meal? Ordered some shit I couldn’t afford if I had a week to save up for it. So what I’m saying is, yes, the shit was foul, but yo, it was not hyperbole. I’d like to think that she was trying to teach him a lesson of some sort, like if this is the life you want to lead where you can take me out to a nice restaurant, you’ll struggle to do it in the current state you’re in. But that might be generous. Maybe she’s just terrible. Which would be a shame, because outside of that caveat, I really like Vanessa. And again, she’s like one of two women on the show that has spoken in more than two scenes on this show so far.

Lasting thoughts before we move in to anticipating episode four?

Nicole: I was feeling Vanessa up until that scene, so I want to see more of her. I also want to see more of Earn’s mom because every time she’s on screen she’s dropping these one-liners that elevate the scene. I’m hoping that we get more of the social awareness we got a peek at in Episode 2. Overall I’m excited to see where this goes, but cautious because I’ve been disappointed by shows before.

William: Same. The world expanded a little in episode 3 with the woods scene, but I doubt that will be part of the show’s natural geography. So is like to see the world expand more. Atlanta is a big city and contains multitudes. Overall, somehow this is on a must watch list for me so far. We’ll see what happens.

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  • Chris (@ragingpandabear)

    I’m getting an anime-style build up vibe from Atlanta – lightly correlated situations are giving us insight and background to the characters and their personalities, and setting up some potential ongoing story lines, but if there isn’t any payoff in the next episode or two that gets the narrative really rolling, I could see myself falling off the bandwagon out of boredom. I hope that’s not the case.

  • Chance Shaka

    Am I the only one who felt no sympathy for Earn in that restaurant? He’s the one who said “I’m gonna take you out” on some spur-of-the-moment shit to get back in Vanessa’s good graces knowing daaaamn well he could barely afford a three-course-meal at Red Lobster. He coulda googled the place before he showed up.

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