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Why Atlanta Is The Best Thing On TV Right Now

June 2018Words by Mr Ed Cripps

Mr Lakeith Stanfield and Mr Donald Glover in Atlanta, season 2. Photograph by Mr Guy D’Alema/FX

Last month, visionary polymath Mr Donald Glover reached his largest audience so far with “This Is America”, an incendiary state-of-the-nation rap against police brutality directed by film-maker Mr Hiro Murai. It’s had 266 million views on YouTube. If you like what you saw (dense imagery, cryptic ambivalence, cross-fertilisation of artistic forms) and are unfamiliar with Mr Glover’s work, let it be a gateway to Atlanta, his masterful comedy-drama, also directed by Mr Murai. In the UK, the first season of Atlanta is airing on BBC Two and the second season, which is even stronger than the first, starts on Fox UK on 17 June. Not yet a fan? Here’s why you should catch it while you can. Already fully on board? You might find yourself nodding in sage agreement with the following.

Mr Glover once half joked that Atlanta was his attempt at “Twin Peaks with rappers”. With an almost entirely African-American cast, it’s TV’s most nuanced expression yet of modern American black identity. Among so much else, it deconstructs racial profiling, gangs, drive-by shootings, fame, the hierarchy of rap, black TV channels and trans-racialism with a deadpan-absurd lyricism. Largely shot at the honeyed magic hour, even a dilapidated sofa on a lawn looks like a painting.

The ensemble characterisation is rich and complicated. Mr Glover’s Princeton dropout Earnest (angrier and more lost than he lets on) quits his job at a bank to manage his deadpan cousin Al (Mr Brian Tyree Henry), aka rapper Paper Boi, with the help of their dizzy friend Darius (Mr Lakeith Stanfield). Earn has a refreshingly ambiguous on-off relationship with Van (Ms Zazie Beetz), with whom he has a young daughter. Beyond their friends and secondary circles, the show consciously makes time for the background characters, such as binmen, toilet attendants and the homeless, that most shows overlook.