It’s Just a Feeling in ‘Atlanta’ – Max

While reading about the origins of sitcoms, I started thinking about how far television has come. A new show (and one I wish I could write about for the class, though I think it is too new) came to my mind. That show is Atlanta, created by Donald Glover of Community and Childish Gambino fame. But if you go into the show expecting to see Troy and Abed antics, you will be surprised. Atlanta is a show about life, which means it has some ups and a lot of downs.

atlanta_1

Still from Atlanta, “The Big Bang” (Season 1, Episode 1, 2016).

There is so much life in the show and everything feels so real. For instance, the third episode focuses on Donald Glover’s character, Earn Marks, being too broke to take his girlfriend and the mother of his child out to dinner. Being broke but still wanting to do something special for a person in your life is such a relatable concept, yet most sitcoms hand-wave money issues away or situate their characters in such a way that money isn’t an issue. Atlanta focuses on being real with its characters, and it’s that much more engrossing because of it. And like life, the show gets dark. In the same episode, Earn’s cousin and his friend (Paper Boi and Darius) try to make a drug deal and end of witnessing a murder. The two plots in the same half hour might seem jarring: one is relatable to so many people while the other isn’t, but I think that’s the point. The show wants to jar you. It wants to create a world where you don’t know if the guy knocking at the door is going to be a jogger in a Batman mask or a cousin offering to manage your rap career (both happen in the pilot). The sheer possibilities of what can happen in this show mirror the possibilities of what can happen in life. It’s why people need to watch this first season, so hopefully FX will renew it and we can spend years seeing the unexpected turns of life.

As a network, FX has been on the forefront of making comedies that aren’t really comedies. You can see that with Louie (which is almost a sketch show or as he has described it, Woody Allen on TV), You’re the Worst (which is a dark comedy about love and depression), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which features more characters to hate than to love), and now Atlanta. Atlanta is a comedy, as I did laugh during the first three episodes, and I laughed frequently, but the show is more than a comedy. It could be summed up as a show about a down-on-his-luck guy who begins to manage his cousin’s rap career or as a show about a man in his early 30s/late 20s trying to figure out life, but neither captures what the show really is. Alan Sepinwall, in his review for the series, quoted what Donald Glover had to say what the show really is. “The thesis with the show was kind of to show people how it felt to be black, and you can’t really write that down. You kind of have to feel it” (hitfix.com, 2016).

Just Donald Glover’s comment shows how far television has come. After reading about dialect comedies, the use of blackface, and how many comedies were built around making fun of African Americans and others through stereotypes, it felt good to see sixty-five years after the television premiere of Amos ‘n’ Andy, a show not just about African-Americans but about how it feels to be an African-American premieres on television. It shows how far we’ve come, but also why did it take so long?

Atlanta is a comedy. It’s a drama. It’s life. And it’s extraordinary. Watch it. Tuesdays at 10 PM on FX. You won’t regret it.

– Max

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4 Responses to It’s Just a Feeling in ‘Atlanta’ – Max

  1. mediaphiles says:

    You mentioned the show in your post, but I want to draw upon it a little more because I feel like there are a lot of similarities between Atlanta and it: Louie. Both shows feature a well-liked comedian in the starring role as they go about their daily lives. Both shows walk a thin line between comedy and drama. Both shows can be really jarring in how bizarre they frequently get. Both shows have a unique flow to them, almost like a stream of consciousness being depicted on screen. And both shows are on FX, which may well lead the way in groundbreaking comedies/shows in general. I totally agree Atlanta is proof of how far African American depictions on TV have come, but I also think it’s proof of how far comedy has come. 10 years ago, we never would have seen either of these shows on TV. And perhaps because we’re in peak TV now, and there are soooooo many shows, these shows are able to get more specific with their humor and pitch their comedy to a very specific audience. In an interview on Nerdist Podcast, Scott Aukerman, creator and star of Comedy Bang! Bang! (the podcast and the TV show), explained how we’re living in age where creating niche TV is something that can actually happen, and how he’d rather create something that 10% of viewers really loved than something that 100% of viewers kinda liked. That approach, creating something with a very specific brand that appeals to a small portion of the overall audience, is evident in both Atlanta and Louie. It’s evident in many dramas as well. And I think it has lead to the creation of some of the best shows on TV.

    –Kevin Pabst

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I’m a huge fan of Community, Childish Gambino AND Atlanta (native Georgian over here), so I was really excited when I first discovered this show. I get bored incredibly quickly by jokes that take themselves too seriously, or that are so laboriously created that they don’t even warrant a response (let alone a laugh), so when a show like Atlanta offers a more authentic version of comedy- I’m in. Maybe this is because I find myself laughing at some of the most mundane aspects of my own life. Maybe I think it’s funny because I have a crush on Donald Glover. I don’t know. But I do know that when a show successfully appeals to both my emotions and my sense of humor, I’ll stick around. A show like Atlanta acknowledges that life is full of crappy and dark moments, but it also invites us to seek humor in those moments (and not feel guilty while doing so). That’s impressive to me.

  3. marymdalton says:

    I am really digging this series, too! Recording several news ones tonight…so much TV!!!!!!!!!!

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