It’s good to be Donald Glover
‘Atlanta’ is a game changer
Donald Glover in “Atlanta”
Donald Glover brings a zen-like charm to supporting roles in blockbuster films, playing atypical savior to Matt Damon’s desperate agrarian astronaut in “The Martian” or the cagey yet amiable criminal Aaron Davis in “Spider-man: Homecoming.” He does stand-up. Obviously he’s Troy from “Community.” His funky-as-fuck band, Childish Gambino—a great, semi-satirical project—earned multiple Grammy awards. And now that he’ll be Lando Calrissian in the upcoming “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” it seems there’s little the 34-year-old Renaissance man isn’t afraid to try.
It says something about the multitalented Glover that he makes creating one of the best shows on television, “Atlanta” (which returned for its second season on March 1), look almost effortless.
Glover, who sometimes writes and directs, is Earn, a perpetually broke college dropout searching for inspiration—and money—when he approaches his rapper cousin Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) and hype man Darius (Lakeith Stanfield, who kills it) with a proposal for them to manage his sputtering career.
Earn occasionally lives with his sometimes girlfriend Vanessa (Zazie Beetz). Their on-again-off-again relationship, interspersed between other romantic interests, is held together by their young daughter, Lotti.
These two threads comprise the bulk of the stream-of-consciousness storytelling in “Atlanta.”
You know how they say life is what happens between plans? That’s what the loose narrative of “Atlanta” feels like, and it’s a big reason why some of the show’s more astonishing left-field moments are so goddamn pleasing. Part (often hilarious) comedy, part (sometimes dark) drama, part something else, each episode of “Atlanta,” like good sci-fi, explores contemporary themes—sociological, cultural, or sometimes both—from an exclusively black perspective (which has the inverse effect of rendering its painfully white characters as caricature—deserved treatment after decades of our shit).
I didn’t count on how weird it could get, either. There are little movie in-jokes peppered throughout, but in the first season, after six narrative-ish episodes, out of nowhere, Glover indulges his inner Paul Verhoeven in “B.A.N.,” a supremely satirical entry that finds Paper Boi the beleaguered guest on a Tavis Smiley-esque talk show. He takes heat for the misogyny, violence, and homo/transphobia in his lyrics from an identity politics-fueled white lady while Robocop-inspired commercial breaks skewer misguided consumerism (“The Dodge Charger. Keep it in the divorce.”), psychics, Swisher Sweets, and police brutality in the form of an animated kid’s cereal ad that, like the show as a whole, borders on the sublime.
It’s wicked sharp, funny, and completely unpredictable. The only problem I have with a second season of “Atlanta” is that now I have to wait a week for the next episode.