Atlanta (2016)

Season 1 – 9.7/10 / Season 2 – 7.6/10

Plot Synopsis: Atlanta follows Earnest “Earn” Marks (Donald Glover) & his cousin Alfred as they try to make it in the ATL hip-hop scene.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

CLC’s Official Best #Atlanta Episodes: 1. B.A.N., 2. Fubu, 3. Streets On Lock, 4. Teddy Perkins, 5. The Streisand Effect, 6. Nobody Beats The Biebs, 7. North Of The Border, 8. The Club, 9. Woods, 10. Sportin Waves, 11. The Big Bang, 12. Juneteenth

Official CLC Series #Atlanta Review: Avant-garde, sardonic, packed with social-commentary on important topics, & strikingly-authentic as pure black comedy both genre/culture-wise with its heart-on-sleeve by [unmistakably] all-POC creators/writers/directors, Atlanta is a love-letter to its eponymous city perfectly-capturing the vibe, feel, and diversity of ATL [as I can verify having lived and went to college at Emory] with a coming-up story of the music scene crafted from real-world perspective by Childish Gambino, thorny relationship drama, morbidly-dark satirization, & brilliantly-characterized canvas of racial-experience/themes for a piéta exhibit of Donald Glover’s eccentric/outré entertainment-genius on TV. 9.4/10.

Official CLC Season 1 Review

The Muse Of Childish Gambino On TV

The Multi-Platinum Grammy Rapper Made A Name Off Wild Creative Innovation & Bold Styles – Now To TV & A Love-Letter To ATL

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

The hype for Atlanta was exponential when ATL-maven and rap-star Childish Gambino announced a TV comedy series on FX: a meta-transposition into the herculean struggle of coming up in the music business in the city everyone wants to be a rapper in – on the network of the highest artistic freedom. That anticipation was two-fold for me: a recent-graduate of Emory University having lived in Atlanta, GA for years and who loved the renaissance the wildly-diverse city I’m in love with was getting in recent pop-culture/film-industry lore [replacing Hollywood for many big blockbusters]. The debut of the premiere to rave reviews calling it one of the great new shows of our era set a wildfire across social media – and CG’s masterpiece deserves every ounce of the accolades surely coming his way. Avant-garde, sardonic, exquisitely-detailed, & strikingly-authentic pure black comedy with its heart-on-sleeve by [unmistakably] all-POC creators/writers/directors, Atlanta is a love-letter to its eponymous city perfectly-capturing the vibe, feel, and diversity of its setting with a coming-up story of the music scene crafted from real-world perspective by Childish Gambino, thorny relationship drama, brilliantly-characterized canvas of racial-experience, and piéta showcase of Donald Glover’s eccentric/outré entertainment-genius and multi-talents.

The Diversification Of Its Eponymous City

Part Sardonic Black Comedy Amongst The Funniest In TV History, Part IQ-Heavy Social-Drama On Black Cultural Themes, Part Music Industry Satire; All Brilliance

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

The comedy of the series is some of the best on TV in a long time: perhaps, ever. Atlanta is a shining example of sardonic, twisted, morbidly-funny black-comedy – the brilliance of the awkward and darkly-fascinating tonal-mix of The Office (U.K.), but better, funnier, and more proficiently-characterized in every way. There’s satirization of the Atlanta rap scene, poking fun at the low-barriers and ubiquitous [fake-artistic/money-fueled] ‘calling’ of being in the music industry or a rapper in a city with more than it even knows what to do with. The come-up and everyday struggle of living such an absurdist and highly-competitive dream is handled with magnificent prowess – classically-American underdog fighting-spirit warped in a new way extemporized to a new cultural dynamic/experience opening up huge representation avenues on screen. Make no mistake about it: this is black-comedy at its purest and finest – both genre-wise and culturally by a creative canvas of all-POC creators/writers/directors you can feel the authenticity of in every single line and shot on-screen unlikes anything else I’ve ever seen on TV. The behind-the-scenes of the music industry [likely-inspired and supported by Childish Gambino’s own experiences coming-up as a rapper in the city wanting to share on-screen] is so incredibly-lifelike and realistic-facade – it’s perhaps the ultimate comedy and TV-representation on the topic. The joke-less and laugh-track rejecting real-life comedy in a diversified canvas also packs satire-punch and sociologically-analytical intellectualization too – one of the smartest comedies on TV.

The Cast & Performances

ATL’s Characterization Is Top-Tier: Glover’s Underdog Earn, Beetz’ Strong Black Woman Vanessa, Stanfield’s Blithe Stonerbro Darius, & BTH’s Hilarious Crux Of Series, Paper Boi

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

The prison system, police brutality, racism, music industry, rap game, money, social media, exploitation of situations, psychological ramifications of stardom, parenthood, woke-PC outrage, ethics of gold-digging, transgender/LGBTQ+-discrimination, drugs, and tragedy of club-life are all put under a bright-microscopic lens by the outré and idiosyncratic genius of CG – often through humor in a magnificently-impressive canvas of IQ, big ideas, and hilarious situations you don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or some combination of emotions within. Not only those, but complex modern relationships are also expositioned by Atlanta’s central thorny one; all of these genre-mixes and brilliance of TV accomplishments are brought to life by Atlanta’s lifetime cast. Easily the biggest achievement of Atlanta is its characterization/performances. Childish Gambino’s Earn is hilarious: a gentle, pacifistic, down-on-his-luck, prototypical broke-dude and loser trying to follow his dreams and make something of his life – one you can’t help but feel sorry and root for, while also complex in his backstory of Princeton-withdrawal leaving big possibilities for later seasons. Zazie Beetz’ Vanessa is a committed, educated, strong black woman antithesization of CG’s Earn – making for an idiosyncratic amalgamation of romance that carries the show in its B-arcs. Lakeith Stanfield’s cool, blithe, relaxed, devil-may-care, vibey conspiracy-theorist stoner-bro Darius is hilarious as well: adding a buddy/smoke-comedy angle in conjunction with the show’s best breakout performance, Brian Tyree Henry’s Paper Boi. The rapper-crux of the series, BTH’s protagonist is one of the funniest performances I’ve seen on TV – a master of the exasperated eye-roll whose insouciance and cynicistic worldview while getting put in lame and bizarre situations out-of-his-control is impossible not to laugh at.

The Authenticity & Pure Black Comedy

Every Line Breathes Realism & Cultural Purity: Obviously-Crafted By All-POC Writers/Directors – One Of The Best On TV

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

Paper Boi plays like a Rick Ross x Gucci Mane stereotype too – with a fine one-hit-wonder single in juxtaposition to a great TV soundtrack of diversification. Obviously, the music was something sure to be a hit in a series created by an exec-producer who’s also one of the biggest names in pop-culture for his Grammy-achievements in its industry – and doesn’t disappoint in bringing everything from classic ATL hip-hop to gangster rap to jazz to spirituals to R&B to pure bubblegum-pop to the patriarchs/legends of the city: Outcast, all naturally in ways that work and often thematize their exterior situations musically in a fantastic canvas. Heck, even the minutia of a TV season like side-cameos are legendary for perhaps the most perfect canvas of characterization I’ve ever seen in a TV series outside The Office (U.S.): fellow zealous airport employee Swiff, gold-digger commentative WAG Jayde, sketchy club-manager Chris, race-flipped Justin Bieber, closeted gay-realization jailbros, bizarre wingstop ’90’s rap employees, and our two favorites: media-representative social media self-employed Zan and trans-racial 35-year old white/black man Harrison. If there’s a flaw, it’s that I wish the series was longer than 10 episodes of only ~20-minutes each – making the story comparatively-bare/short for a TV series, but a good problem to have in what needs to warrant an S2. Overall, Atlanta is one of the best new TV series of the 21st-centry: avant-garde, sardonic, exquisitely-detailed, & strikingly-authentic pure black comedy with its heart-on-sleeve by [unmistakably] all-POC creators/writers/directors as it paints a love-letter to its eponymous city perfectly-capturing the vibe, feel, and diversity [as I can verify having lived and went to college at Emory] of ATL, coming-up story of the music scene crafted from real-world perspective by Childish Gambino, thorny relationship drama, brilliantly-characterized canvas of racial-experience, and piéta showcase of Donald Glover’s eccentric/outré entertainment-genius and multi-talents.

Official CLC Season 1 Score: 9.7/10

Official CLC Season 2 Review

S2: [Robbin’] Season In ATL

Two Years Later, A Follow-Up Season – It’s Winter In ATL Now & The Whole Vibe/Atmosphere Is Different; Good & Bad

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

Robbin’ season: ‘It’s getting colder, harder to eat; everybody’s just trying to survive.’ S1 of Atlanta is one of the best seasons of TV ever produced – a piéta showcase of pure black comedy/drama [both genre-wise & in cultural-authenticity] and the outré eccentric genius of Childish Gambino. Two years is a long time between seasons, leaving fans ravenous for more and rewatching the originals ’til they’re worn out to near-sickness levels – but the quality-delivered is [mostly] worth the wait. S2 of Atlanta is darker, grittier, and more savage/ambitious in every way imaginable – true to its central theme of darwinistic brutality and the existential struggle to survive and eat as an artistic motif; with good and bad thing about its execution. From the opening scene of a heist-shootout in a drive-thru drug-deal-gone-wrong with panda masks and AK-47’s, the Hitchcockian-inspirations and pure shock-value are palpable – the season certainly delivers on wildly-entertaining crime-drama keeping you on your toes in every scene. This is perhaps best exemplified in Ep. 7: ‘Woods’, wherein Paper Boi is just walking by the train-tracks minding his own business, when three ostensible-fans gushing about his latest release-mixtape notice he’s alone and rocking gold-chains and jack him at-gunpoint – chasing him into the forest in a survival-epic literally indicative of being hunted like an animal out of greed and resources. The robbin’ motif goes further: Tracy steals money from Earn in the giftcards, Violet steals a laptop and possessions from the crew, Van steals a jacket from Drake’s, and Lucas [almost] steals Paper Boi from Earn: his prized possession and entire livelihood in this TV expedition through the jungles of Darwinian brutality-animalism.

A Motif Of Survival & Darwinism

The Brutality Of Existence & Everyone Fighting To Eat/Survive Are The Themes Driving S2: Brutal, Dark, Beastly, Hungry

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

There are several masterpiece episodes in Atlanta S2, and besides Woods, one of the other ones – that also contends for the best episode ever of the show [slightly losing to B.A.N. in CLC’s vote for its deconstruction of TV itself & PC-culture], and one of the greatest and most critically-important TV episodes of the 21st-century – also thematically-resonant on survival and brutality of existence is Ep. 10: Fubu. This episode alone cements S2 as a bonafide-win: a nostalgic ’90’s middle-school homage loaded with social-commentary on the materialism of black culture [why they care about it and are outwardly-pushed to by societal/instituational-racism] coming-of-age hardships, and child-bullying – twisting a dreamlike, happy montage into one of the hardest-hitting episodes in the realization of child-suicide to escape bullying and by personal-life hardships we all forget out of savage empathy-deprivation. The motif of the season also seeps into its characters’ interactions – whether it’s Darius trying to pick up a ‘free’ [pro-tip from horror-movies: never go into someone’s house alone offering anything ‘free’] piano in the series’ other masterpiece episode analytical of disabilities, fatherhood, and Michael Jackson ‘Teddy Perkins’ or the central dynamic of Earn’s managing of Paper Boi. The decision to have Earn falter as a manager and put Alfred in the position of having to contemplate firing his own cousin/family to achieve his dreams and get promotional-opportunities he should be getting is just as cold and evolutionarily-minded – as well as Earn’s final TSA-framing by stashing the gun in Clark’s bag out of desperation.

A Self-Deconstruction Out Of TV Boxes

Almost 1/3 Of The Season Is Pure Masterpiece Avant-Garde TV-Innovation On Critical Topics: Materialism, Suicide, Psychology, Fatherhood, Horror, Racism, Etc.

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

The side-characters are good too: RJ Walker’s anti-Paper Boi Clark County whose straight-edge charm and easily-palatable rap lite make him beloved by white corporations/executives, the brutally-honest pre-K teacher comparing the public school system to a slaughterhouse, the sketchy barber still forgiven for sins by the complex relationship between black folks and their fade-artists, and Van’s girls calling out societal idealizations of beauty and [accessorizable] mixed-culture relationships in Hollywood. The competition and internal-strife between Earn and the series-newcomer creates fine [much-needed] dramaticization, while delivering one of the series’ best and funniest characters: Khris Davis’ Tracy. The obnoxious, loud, goofy, hyena-laughing big personality of Tracy positively lights up the screen – effortless comedy presence and entertainment-value [plus thematic-parallels being a rough and lawless ex-con like the robbin’ season motif of S2] seeing him just steal shoes from a store without giving a f***, punch a dude’s lights out at the college, rock ‘prince of tides’ waves like nothing I’ve ever seen before to a job interview, and get locked out in the finale shot of a pseudo-happy ending of Paper Boi choosing family and to keep Earn as manager [even though Luke showed he cared about his clients too by taking the blame for the gun in Clark’s bag]. The problem is: where’s the rest of the comedy? S2 of Atlanta is inexorably-less funny than S1 – and, while I can certainly appreciate the many ways S2 pushes the boundaries and artistically delivers complex and sociologically-analytical episodes, it feels and looks overly-grimdark and joyless, almost like Batman v Superman in its muddy-grayish visual filters and masochism. There’s also little excuse for not pumping some more comedy and laughs into the season.

A Bizzareness Of Tone & ~Inconsistency

The Other 2/3 Is Overly-Grimdark, Too Eclectic, & Joy/Humorless – S2 Proves ATL Can Be Anything; Now What’s It Want To Be

Photograph Courtesy Of: FX Originals

S1 was able to pack just as much cogitation on deep/complex themes and intellect weaved within its boldly-funny and brilliant black-comedy – and S2 has many episodes that are just okay-to-bad in sharp juxtaposition to its masterpieces as it eclectically-bounces around from lows like Helen [quite likely the worst ep of Atlanta] to heights like Teddy Perkins in a two-episode spread. The bizarre tonal-messiness of S2 is perhaps best-exemplified by the cameo-appearance of legend Katt Williams in E1: Alligator Man – somehow finding a way to waste his effortless tooth-grin comedic-stylization on an ep that barely makes you crack a smile.. once. The closest S2 Atlanta gets to S1 is Sportin’ Waves – and it steadily declines from there – with a few hyper-jarring outliers in its new-wave classic eps 6, 8, and 10. The season’s fabricated-tension can be seen in how Alfred/Darius’ weird not talking at the beginning of S2E1 is retconned without even explanation of why they threatened the show’s best bromance – messy screenwriting for no [apparent] reason but to create drama it doesn’t even need. The diversification of the season is great, but ~lacks coherence as a whole even more glaringly-flawed by the dramaticism of quality-difference between its big achievements and failures – its limitless-heights and importance of themes it does tackle pulling the weight of its detractions for a mixed but overall still-valuable season of TV. The big takeaway lesson of S2 moving forward for FX and the Glover-crew is: Atlanta has shown it can be anything it wants to be [capably by the skill and idiosyncratic-IQ of its showrunners] – now, it just needs to narrow down to what it wants to be.

Official CLC Season 2 Score: 7.6/10