Atlanta TV show review

Ashley McCallum, Co-Editor in Chief

By Ashley McCallum

Oct. 30, 2016


Donald Glover has been using words to power his success as a television, stand-up comedy and rap music writer since his career began in 2006 as a writer for “30 Rock.”

Ten years later, Glover has his own show and uses his words to bring attention to important social issues while simultaneously making people laugh and claiming his spot as one of the best wordsmiths this generation will ever see.

“Atlanta” is a comedy-drama created by and starring Glover. The show uses comedy to address the overarching theme of the Black experience while also zoning in on issues like gun violence, poverty, mental health, incarceration, gender and sexuality and race relations; this is all touched on within the first two episodes of the series.

The show revolves around Glover’s character Earnest Marks, a Princeton dropout living in Atlanta and managing his cousin, Paper Boi, an up-and-coming rap artist. Marks is broke but ambitious, exhibiting the relatable ideas of the American Dream, but doing so through the narrative of a Black man in the south. Marks has a child with his on-and-off girlfriend, Van. She is determined to provide for her child while she battles with her ongoing internal conflict of whether or not she should stay with Earn and his series of ongoing shortcomings.

Marks’ battle with balancing the lifestyle of Paper Boi, the promising drug-dealing rap artist, and doing what is best for his family is the central conflict of the show, surrounded by many intertwining layers of conflict that move the plot beyond your typical starving and struggling father.

Similar to Walter White from “Breaking Bad,” Marks creates an underlying conflict for the audience of rooting for a protagonist, despite their controversial decision making. Both characters act out of hope that the anticipated ends of providing a better life for their families will justify the means of illegal and immoral activity; for White it is cooking and distributing methamphetamine, for Marks it being involved in the shooting and killing
of a man.

“Atlanta” thrives in its ability to tackle tough issues by demonstration instead of outright telling the audience what is going on and doing so with humor that is smart and complex.

In the second episode, Marks is being held in jail after the shooting and spends hours observing people in the jail system. These highlighted incarcerated characters all embody designated social issues such as mental health in the jail system, transgender and homosexuality and beyond.

The interaction between Marks and these characters show the audience how society handles social issues by using the other onlooking jail members as society, and Marks as the voice of reason or change in his quick and witty comments on the characters
exhibiting issues.

Glover uses narratives to tell all too real stories in a fictional framework. His use of comedy makes the issues digestible. Instead of a knee-slapping, uplifting, sitcom and situational humor seen in other cornerstone shows of the Black experience such as “The Cosby Show” and “Black-ish,” “Atlanta” confronts controversial issues plaguing the Black community and uses smart humor to make the audience relate, but at the same time feel uncomfortable enough to recognize where change is needed in the overall views
of society.

What may have been one of the most genius moments in television is the seventh episode “B.A.N.” The episode does not follow the traditional narrative of the series, but instead is as a satirical episode. It comments on the representation of Black culture in media and the intersection of the Black and transgender communities in media. This episode is hysterically funny as well as eye-opening and shows the depth and intelligence held by Glover and his team of writers.

“Atlanta” works as a sifter for society. It is a show created to be understood by people with open minds and the ability to pull apart abstract methods of storytelling and activism.

Those who don’t understand the impact or humor of the show may also struggle with the understanding of the racial and social climate of this generation. Nobody can delve into this show just wanting to be entertained. The viewer needs to go in with an open mind in order to take away all the show has to offer.