Hit or Sh**: FX’s ATLANTA
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
Donald Glover has been so prolific across so many formats that I’ve honestly grown kind of sick of his face. It’s just that unfortunate phenomenon where despite having no grievance with any of his previous work or him personally, I just don’t want to seek out his content. I feel like I’ve seen too much of him, like how I feel after eating tacos for every meal of the day; mostly satisfied, but also kinda gross. But I wanted to give ATLANTA a chance, because it’s the first television project that Glover’s helmed and he seems to be at his best as a screen actor. While ATLANTA is most certainly still a Glover-brand taco, its first two episodes make a strong case for surviving off of tacos.
Pictured: Donald Glover, in my mind
Glover breathes new life into his persona as the nerdy, well-meaning, moderately savvy dude who just keeps getting shit on by circumstance with his performance as Earnest “Earn” Marks. Earn has a shitty job at the airport, a baby mama that’s sick of his bullshit, and a shady past as a Princeton dropout. Throughout the two-episode premiere, Earn constantly reminds us that he’s still Donald Glover with his quirky, Troy-like delivery and his awkward but verbose interactions with aggressive strangers. Beyond the incredibly clean delivery of his formula, ATLANTA works because it puts that formula in a setting that we’ve never seen him in before.
ATLANTA has the distinct vibe of comfort food; the dialogue is flowing and gratuitous but stays grounded via consistent, powerful usage of real-world references and slang a la THE WIRE. The show’s sense of humor feels derived from CHAPPELLE’S SHOW, with scenes occasionally becoming disjointed and feeling like sketches. This is seen more in the second episode, with the plot bouncing between Earn at the police station and his recently famous cousin Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) dealing with his newfound success. A good number of scenes from that second episode did nothing to progress the plot, serving only as poignant vignettes about police brutality, transphobia, and how incredibly shitty white people are.
With any luck, ATLANTA will give racists another reason to post more about the white man’s burden on social media!
Glover said in an interview with Vulture that he “wanted to show white people, you don’t know everything about black culture.” As a very white person, I would not presume to know everything, or even very much, about black culture. So when it comes to determining how well this show hits the mark in terms of racial commentary, a huge element of the show, I am obviously not the best person to ask. What I can tell you is that, based on the show’s influences and dramatic, sudden tonal shifts, ATLANTA appears to be capturing the spectrum of the black experience. From the egregious institutional injustices to the casual societal racism to the rich culture that emerged out of those hardships, Glover makes it clear that this is his vision of Black America.
Granted, ATLANTA will probably alienate a portion of the Childish Gambino fanbase with his painfully accurate portrait of ignorant white people—there are two white characters so far, an unbearable record label douche that says “n***a” and a police officer that savagely beats a mentally ill man—but I don’t think he cares about that. Nor should he; Glover has produced his best work with ATLANTA, and I think the rest of the season will prove that. With cutting commentary and an authentic voice resting on a bedrock of excellent jokes, ATLANTA is entirely worthy of your viewership.
ATLANTA airs on Tuesdays on FX