The Show You Need To Binge-Watch This Week: Atlanta
What’s it about?
The series follows Earnest 'Earn' Marks (Glover) during his daily life in Atlanta, Georgia. Having dropped out of Princeton University, Earn has no money and no home, and consequently switches between staying with his parents and his on/off girlfriend, Van. But once he realises his cousin Alfred ‘Paper Boi’ Miles is on the verge of musical stardom, he desperately seeks to reconnect with him in order to improve his life and that of his young daughter.
We begin with a confrontation in a car park. Voices are raised and guns are drawn. By the end of episode one, shots have been fired. From the off, we’re thrown into daily life for these characters: money is tight and reputation is everything.
It’s during this altercation that Earn realises his cousin is getting noticed for all the right reasons (“You’re Paper Boi, you’re rich,” the pair’s adversary yells). Earn decides he wants to become Alfred’s manager. Although his plan is initially met with resistance – it transpires the cousins haven’t spoken since Alfred’s mother’s funeral – Alfred agrees to the set up after Earn gets a Paper Boi track played on the radio. From here on in, Atlanta focuses on the pair’s newly rebuilt relationship (alongside their offbeat friend and collaborator Darius) and Alfred’s rise to the top, exploring issues such as depression, blackness, police brutality, homophobia, transphobia and drug culture along the way.
2018 is most definitely Donald Glover’s year. First, he won the Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance for his Childish Gambino track ‘Redbone’, then he starred as a young Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and it’s also been announced he’s to play Simba in the live-action reboot of The Lion King, due for release next year.
But perhaps his most talked-about turn came when he released the song ‘This Is America’ in May under his Childish Gambino moniker, which shot straight to number one in the American Billboard charts. In just over a month since it landed on YouTube, the video has racked up over 263m views and launched hundreds of fan theories. While Glover himself has refused to comment on any meaning in the video, it’s brimming with symbolism that references everything from slavery and gun culture to race-related killings (a gospel choir mowed down by a machine gun is thought by many to reference the 2015 Charleston massacre). It’s a powerful four minutes that demands repeated viewing, and it’ll surely go down as a career-defining moment for the 34-year-old.
In short, now is very much the time to be debuting Atlanta over here. While the show is written and directed by Glover, he also plays the lead role of Earn. When it premiered in the states in 2016, aside from Childish Gambino, Glover was best known for playing the part of Troy Barnes in Community and as a writer on 30 Rock (he was also in a 2013 episode of Girls, where he played Hannah’s Republican-supporting boyfriend). Through Earn, Glover has created the opportunity to celebrate blackness and explore race and identity in America on his own terms – and often through the lens of his eccentric sense of humour.
Glover’s supported by Brian Tyree Henry (Alfred/Paper Boi), a Tony and Emmy Award-nominated actor with a background in Broadway (he was part of the original cast of The Book of Mormon). Meanwhile Lakeith Stanfield plays Earn and Alfred’s friend and business partner Darius. Best known as playing Snoop Dogg in N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton and civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson in Martin Luther King film Selma, Stanfield has also brought grit to roles in Get Out, Snowden and Dope.
Vanessa – Earn’s long-suffering, yet sympathetic girlfriend (and the mother of his child, Lottie) – is played by Zazie Beetz, who’s most recognisable for her roles in Netflix series Easy and the recently released Deadpool 2. As a foursome, they make a formidable line-up.
Will I like it?
If critical reception is anything to go by, then we’d hazard a guess at yes. Since it first aired, Atlanta’s gone on to win two Golden Globes (for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy and Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy), plus a handful of Primetime Emmy awards (for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series – Glover was the first African-American to win it). It’s also been renewed for a third series, due to air in 2019.
In a New Yorker profile of Glover, comedian Chris Rock described the show as “the best show on TV, period,” while Jordan Peele, the director of Oscar-winning horror flick Get Out also said: “For black people, Atlanta provides the catharsis of ‘Finally, some elevated black shit.’” It’s hardly surprising it’s had this reaction – the show has set a benchmark as the first TV show to have an all-black writers’ room.
Previously only available to watch in the UK on Fox, this is the first time that those without a TV package can (legally) tune into the show. Shown on BBC2 on Sunday nights, all eight episodes are available to binge-watch on the BBC iPlayer – we seriously suggest you do.
Where can I watch it?
Series one of Atlanta is available to stream in full on BBC iPlayer now.
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