The half-hour FX surrealist comedy-drama follows Earnest "Earn" Marks, portrayed by Donald Glover (no relation to Danny), as he attempts to venture into the music business with his rapper cousin Alfred AKA Paper Boi, played by Brian Tyree Henry, and his dopey friend Darius (Keith Stanfield), the affable cosmic cousin of Dave Chapelle's pothead character in Half Baked.
The show's moody aesthetic, perfectly curated soundtrack, quirky characters and smart humor all contributed to its refreshingly unique perspective. If you missed out on "Atlanta" this year, here's what made it such a special show to watch.
It was real
Earn is poor. As a working-class guy who's in an on-again-off-again relationship with the mother of his child and who is technically homeless, we catch a glimpse of his pathetically small paycheck and watch him equally struggle to pay for a kid's meal (for himself) as he does a rare dinner date.
Financial strife isn't the sexiest subject matter for a TV show, but "Atlanta" digs into the realistic portrayal of a black, middle-class worker dealing with the shitty cards he's been dealt. Throughout the show, honest and vulnerable conversations about Earn's well-intentioned attempts to navigate fatherhood and the messiness of his romantic relationship oscillate amid casual philosophizing over the purpose of life and the long, winding road to happiness and fulfillment.
It was surreal
The intentionally slow pacing of "Atlanta" paired with absolute absurdities results in eerie, surreal scenes that end up feeling more like a bizarre fever dream than a TV show.
Among the weirder moments of the first season are an invisible car, a deadly drug deal in the woods with the Migos rappers, an out of control black pop star named Justin Bieber and a to-go box of chicken that mysteriously lights up like the briefcase in "Pulp Fiction." The show seems to make a point that it, like life, sometimes fails to make sense.
That super-meta episode
If you only watch one episode, it should be "B.A.N." Instead of the normal-weird episode of "Atlanta," it's an ambitious meta episode that's shot as a show within a show airing on the fictional Black America Network -- spoof commercials and all.
The episode follows Paper Boi on a TV show called "Montague," (a "Larry King"-type talk show with a Don Lemon-like host) discussing his lyrics and getting into hot water over transphobic comments he made on Twitter. However, the real stars of the episode are the parody commercials. Highlights include classy-AF ads for Mickey's malt liquor and Swisher Sweets cigars, and an odd commercial with a callback to an unsettling character Earn eerily encounters in the first episode.
Audiences were divided about this episode's overt political commentary, but the experimental idea and its brilliant delivery will make any fan of "Community" (the super-meta TV series Donald Glover used to star in) smile wide with pride.
Donald Glover is a 'G'
Glover, the show's creator and headlining actor, is a modern day renaissance man. Also a writer, stand-up comedian, rapper and singer, Glover just released his third studio album "Awaken, My Love," was cast in a new Star Wars movie and won the Critic's Choice award for his acting role in "Atlanta."
Aside from writing, directing and acting in "Atlanta," it is Glover's unique vision that's made the series unlike anything else on TV. His original idea for the show, a "'Twin Peaks' for rappers," sounded more like the premise of an SNL digital short. Yet Glover, with help from a talented cast of writers and director Hiro Murai, successfully executed his brainchild into one of the most fantastic, thought-provoking new comedies on TV.
Thankfully, FX renewed Atlanta for a second season. Unfortunately, due to Glover's busy schedule, fans will have to wait a little longer until it's ready. That gives you plenty of time to binge-watch Season One before crying out for more.