Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Atlanta? More Like Tales from the Hood!

Donald Glover is certainly having a Cultural Moment, what with Solo and "This Is America" and Atlanta. Troy Barnes sure has come a long way. But what's the deal with Atlanta, anyway? What is Atlanta?

Ostensibly, Atlanta is a show about down-on-his-luck Earn, who decides to manage his rapper cousin Paper Boi just as he's hitting it big. He is so down on his luck he doesn't have an actual place to live, though he tends to stay with his girlfriend, Van, with whom he has a daughter, Lottie; they are...sort of in an open relationship but sort of not, their relationship status is definitely "It's complicated." Also Paper Boi's friend Darius exists on his own weird plane.

In order to enjoy and appreciate this show, however, you must understand that it is not the heavily serialized narrative we've come to expect from Prestige TV. Each episode functions as a short film, centered on one particular story, as it were, and the next episode will be something else, like the previous episode never happened. Which is not to say that there's no continuity; everything in every episode did happen and occasionally gets referenced. Sometimes a character from a previous episode will return, or a plot point will come back in subtle or major ways. The second season displays more of this than the first season, which frustrated me in the way it seemed to tease narrative (the second episode does result directly from the first episode, but the show abandons that flow immediately); the second season is more ambitious in its commitment to creating powerful stand-alone episodes but also more conscious of how these characters are changing, even if the big character moments aren't always onscreen (or if they are, the emotional fallout occurs offscreen).

Working both for and against it is the show's marvelously understated tone, cultivated both in the writing and acting but also in the direction (primarily by Hiro Murai, director of "This Is America"). Though it's categorized as a "comedy," it is only occasionally funny, as it's not about jokes but characters either being kind of absurd or reacting to other characters being absurd, but all with a grounded tone that paints a surreal picture of black life in America. I did laugh out loud sometimes, though, usually at anything Darius said or did. But mostly I was drawn in by the various character conflicts, like Earn and Varn trying to suss out what their personal relationship is or Earn and Al (Paper Boi) trying to suss out what their business relationship is. I liked when supporting characters got spotlight episodes, showing they had their own lives apart from Earn.

And then there's fucking "Teddy Perkins." Fuck. Motherfuck. Goddamn. Shit. "Teddy Perkins."

Atlanta is a hell of a show. It is not entirely my thing, since I do gravitate more toward serialized narratives, but I admire the craft behind the individual episodes, unsatisfying as their own open-ended narratives might be, because I just enjoy spending time with these characters. It challenges a lot of typical conventions, but it almost never comes off as pretentious, which is a feat. It's doing its own thing, and when it hits, it hits hard.
Tags: atlanta, new show squee, tv

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