Donald Glover has said when creating his new FX show “Atlanta” that he wanted it to be "'Twin Peaks' with rappers.” An odd comparison at first, though, after watching the first four episodes, it's not unfounded.
With no paranormal soap opera premise to go on, “Atlanta” still seeps into the broad base of “Twin Peaks” by placing the show in an understated reality with new-wave characters that seem oh so familiar.
“Atlanta” follows Earnest “Earn” Marks (Donald Glover), a Princeton dropout with no hope or future. Earn has a young daughter with his on-and-off girlfriend, played by Zazie Beetz.
Glover’s minimalistic performance gives off a sense of his character’s monotony and acceptance of a mundane life. His static drive seems to be floored when he discovers his cousin Alfred, also known as Paper Boi, played by Brian Tyree Henry, is making waves in the Atlanta rap scene. Earn decides to latch on to this success by acting as Paper Boi’s manager.
That’s right — instead of a premise where Glover tries to rise as a rapper, mirroring his real-life stardom as Childish Gambino, he examines the inner workings of how people today try to better themselves on a daily basis.
“Atlanta” decides not to preach the strifes of being young, broke and black, but instead simply places you in their world. Characters hang out, run errands and have plans on the weekend. With this story dynamic in place, the external conflict comes in like a spinning wheel.
Real-life conflict — such as poverty — arises, seen when characters try to order from a restaurant. Police brutality and mental illness are showcased in the second episode that takes place mostly in a jail. Just like the prisoners, you can only watch silently and accept the circumstances. Even when something extreme like a murder takes place, the show doesn’t harp on it too much.
“Atlanta” is a show with a voice that needs to be heard. Glover wants to get the point across that there is no in-between, and this show has a great way of explaining the struggles and successes that come with social status and where you are from.
“Atlanta” still has the melodramatic edge to be everlasting, but the brutal comedy sprinkled throughout makes it more realistic. The jokes are given through keen observations like when a waitress tries to upsell an order or why a pawn shop has Steve McQueen posters.
The actual city of Atlanta brings upon the cliche that it is, in itself, a character within the show. Director Hiro Murai shows Atlanta’s rolling landscape in transitional montages but also emphasizes how people live inside of the city. The key question Glover tries to ask is how they will fare outside of it.