Atlanta – S1E1/S1E2 – The Big Bang/Streets on Lock | Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, LaKeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz | Writers: Donald Glover and Stephen Glover | Director: Hiro Murai
After only two episodes, it could be strongly argued that Atlanta may be the realest show on television.
It would be easy to conclude my review on Donald Glover’s urban opus with those eighteen words but it would be a grave disservice to the stellar work of all involved. From the moment we’re treated to immaculate overhead shots of the varying landscape that peppers Atlanta, set in concert to trap music, it’s a soothing confirmation that FX’s newest show will be unlike any programming that has aired in quite a while.
The premise of the series was summed up with exceptional flair and generous amounts of offbeat humor: Earnest Marks (Glover) is dangling from the edge by a shoestring and unable to see a way to provide for his baby daughter and girlfriend Vanessa (Zazie Beetz). Once Earn discovered his cousin Alfred Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) is blowing up on the streets as “Paper Boi”, he immediately sought the opportunity to become Alfred’s manager. Along with the continually tangential Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) in tow, Alfred and Earnest began to lay the foundation for Paper Boi’s rise to stardom, any which way they can.
Although Atlanta chiefly focuses on Earnest’s path towards maturity, the most relatable and charismatic individual was Paper Boi himself. Brian Tyree Henry evokes a humble yet ambitious persona as the block’s new star. While he didn’t mind the praise he received from his growing reputation, there’s more going through the mind of Alfred while his fame grows. As much as he loves the streets, constantly being tested by every young buck that crosses his path is a life he longs to forsake. The only way Alfred can accomplish this is to rely on his cousin; regrettably Earn doesn’t have a sterling record when it comes to being a stand-up guy.
When your own mother is happy that your girl is seeing another man, maybe it’s time you start working some things out. From the get go Earnest fumbles out of the gate with his girl Van (Zazie Beetz) and continues to tumble through the first two episodes, thankfully with affable charm. Marks isn’t a hero by any means; everything at one time appeared to be going in favor until an incident forced him to return home then burn a lot of bridges in the process. No one appears to hate Earnest by any means, but everyone appears tired of his mess. Everyone. For every step forward he takes, Marks somehow tumbles down a flight of stairs. In this case, Earnest learns the long, hard lesson an inordinate amount of Black men suffer under the control of the police.
While “The Big Bang” set up all the players and their respective relationships, the energy of the neighborhood and outlined Alfred and Earnest’s designs for the future, it was the second episode “Streets on Lock” that blew the doors wide open with its stark portrayal of everyday disenfranchisement Black America endures within, of all places, the confines of a holding room in Fulton County jail.
Though the situation of a first-timer getting processed in the system had its humorous moments, the overall tone of Mark’s experience is a somber reminder of the ordeals Black America experiences on the daily. Earn’s interactions and observations provided a jarring critique on police violence and discrimination, our marginalized views on the importance of mental health, and archaic concepts of sexuality and homophobia. All of this in a manner of minutes. Donald and Stephen Glover – who wrote the first two episodes – handily crafted every character with a dimensionality no matter the amount of screen time given. No one is painted as a caricature, not even Griffith Freeman’s nauseatingly detestable Dave who’s as white bread as they come.
Ultimately, Glover is able produce a series that hopefully continue to depict a relatively authentic Atlanta, a city that pridefully displays its many colors, shapes and styles. From its onset, Atlanta celebrates the diversity within Black culture that’s seldom reproduced in entertainment whilst shining a light on its faults.
And always remember: one doesn’t ask for lemon pepper wet wings, you earn them.
Atlanta S1E1/S1E2 = 9.7/10