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.
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.