This is the first of 12 or 13 blog posts that will be posted on a monthly basis from now until this blog's final post in December 2017.
I was skeptical about Donald Glover's Atlanta when FX first announced in 2014 that it picked up Glover's creation, his first TV series since his departure from Community, the offbeat cult favorite where he continually killed it each week as Troy Barnes, a high-school football star trying (and failing) to suppress his nerdy side (like that time when Troy, in what has to be my favorite acting moment from Glover on Community, was so excited to be in the presence of his childhood hero LeVar Burton that he turned catatonic). A half-hour comedy about a trap rapper and his manager cousin trying to get by in the rap game? Disquieting visions of "Entourage for the Atlanta trap scene" danced in my head when FX first hyped Atlanta. The world doesn't need another half-hour piece of boring lifestyle porn where the lead characters constantly bang anything that breathes in the most opulent of settings and the storyline with the biggest stakes would be "Is
Another disquieting vision I had was that Atlanta was going to be a weekly half-hour ad for Glover's musical career as Childish Gambino. Glover is a good example of an actor/rapper whose beats, frequently provided by Community and Creed score composer Ludwig Göransson, are solid, but his bars leave a lot to be desired. I was never a fan of Gambino's corny verses about his Asian fetish.
Gotta have fetishized at least 3 asian chicks before u can really appreciate Childish Gambino's music— Desus Nice (@desusnice) October 31, 2013
I caught up on Atlanta season 1 on FX on demand, about a few weeks after the season concluded, during a couple of breaks between chapters for a manuscript I've been working on since August (chapters that I, by the way, ended up having to delete from the manuscript because I found myself thinking, "This material isn't gonna work as a YA novel anymore. A Jim Rockford-type Pinoy should be the audience surrogate, not a precocious Richie Brockelman-type Pinoy," so I got rid of all the teenage characters). Atlanta, which took home the Best Comedy Series and Best Actor in a Comedy trophies at the Golden Globes earlier this month, exceeded my expectations. As a half-hour single-camera comedy about the rap game, thankfully, it's more Taxi than Entourage.
Sure, Atlanta is frequently funny (three words: secret revolving wall), but Glover and his writing staff's brand of humor is tinged with Taxi-style melancholy, particularly about how working-class adult life often feels like you're running in circles. That melancholy reflects Glover's belief, as he once said during a 2016 Television Critics Association press tour panel, that "you watch Master of None and it's a very optimistic look at millennialism, [but] I'm pessimistic about it. I feel like we kind of fucked up."
There's nothing lifestyle-porny about Atlanta. Neither are there any moments of blatant product placement for Awaken, My Love!, the surprise Gambino album Glover dropped one month after the Atlanta season finale, save for a cameo by the Awaken, My Love! cover artwork on a bookshelf in the "Juneteenth" episode. The non-rap Awaken, My Love! is also the first-ever Gambino release I've genuinely liked from start to finish, aside from whatever the fuck Bino was doing with his voice during "California."
The show is an exploration of, as Joshua Rivera put it in GQ, "the stress and pain of being broke," particularly when that broke-ass person is both a creative and a POC, like Earn Marks, Glover's Ivy League dropout character, and, to a lesser extent, his cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), a.k.a. the trap rapper known as Paper Boi (not to be confused with Paperboy, who recorded the 1992 one-hit wonder "Ditty"), who's more economically stable than Earn, thanks to income from drug dealing, but he's not exactly on the level of Future/Gucci Mane-type wealth yet. "Ballin," singer/songwriter Bibi Bourelly's current ode to finding ways to "treat yo'self" when your savings account is empty, could be an unofficial theme song for the daily hustle of either Earn, who becomes Alfred's manager, or teaching assistant Van (Zazie Beetz), Earn's ex and the mother of his baby daughter (I wouldn't be surprised if Bourelly's extremely relatable song surfaces on Atlanta during its second season, which is currently scheduled to air in 2018, partly due to Glover's upcoming gig as young Lando Calrissian).