When Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, announced he was making a TV show for FX way back in 2015, I was excited. The funny thing is, my initial reaction to Childish Gambino was, let’s say, not all that positive. That’s not to say it was his fault, it was more so mine, and my tendency to hate what I don’t discover* first. My friend told me about him through the Freaks and Geeks video, I didn’t really care for it. Seeing him rap in a warehouse and jump around just did nothing for me, and I really didn’t have any appreciation for his lyrical prowess at the time. He looked like throwaway rapper #54
So, how’d I 180? Community. Though, Community also got the same sort of initial downpour of distaste for my lack of personal discovery, but anyways, eventually I did give it a try and I fell in love with it. See, that’s the thing with me, though I tend to be prejudiced in a wrong way, I’m always more than willing to try something and give it a fair shot eventually. And I did. This isn’t about Community so I’ll leave it at this, but Community, then going into it’s fifth season, rapidly became one of my favorite TV series.
It’s also around this time that I got into Childish Gambino as a musical artist. Because the Internet was a solid entry but it was his mixtape, STN MTN/Kauai (mostly Kauai) that really sold me. It struck me how much different he appeared to be to his character in Community, and in that sense, didn’t shock me that he was looking to open new doors. Glover’s got a very distinct character, for a lack of better way to explain it, he’s just not your ordinary rapper/actor/artist.
In any case, having lost him in Community, I was eager to see where I might find him again, cue in Atlanta on FX. Coinciding with Atlanta was also me dipping into his older stuff, specifically Camp, an album that was relatable to me in so many ways I can’t describe. Fuck, I could make a whole post about all the lines that really struck a chord.
Atlanta stars Earnest Marks, who seems like an extension of Donald Glover (or at least the persona he displays in the press). Now, I could talk about the technical qualities of this show, the directing, particularly from Donald Glover, but that’s not something I would feel proper addressing.
One of the biggest hooks for me has been Atlanta’s willingness to experiment. The anthology-formula they’ve used makes Atlanta stand out fast from the pack and it instantly brought to mind Dan Harmon’s experimental tendencies in Community and Rick & Morty. B.A.N. was a reflection of Interdimensional Cable 1 & 2 from Rick & Morty, and had me crying most of the episode. And then you had sort of character-focused episodes or location-centric ones like Club and Value that bring to mind the best a show like Breaking Bad might offer.
I’ll be honest, Atlanta didn’t get me day one, I was into it, but not into it, and by the time I caught back, we were at the penultimate episode but man, The Streisland Effect hit, and it hooked me hard and never let go.
Aside from the very distinctive conceptual episodes, Earnest Marks probably resonated with me most because I imagined that’s how I might end up like (to a degree) if my parents hadn’t moved us out of urban Scarborough into suburban Durham when I was heading into High School.
At a pivotal spot where I am, even if the show isn’t determined to instill a moral story to its tale, there was still a sort of optimistic aura emerging out of it by the end of the series, that, you know, shit’s gonna work out in it’s own little way. I know Donald Glover didn’t know for sure if he’d even get a second season so he just went out of his way to do everything he wanted to do in the first, and I’m glad he didn’t cop out for a sort of cliffhanger ending that favored renewal over just telling a story.
Seeing Earn, this guy who’s sacrificing the little he has to pursue a career in music production, something that statistically-speaking isn’t likely to pan out, in the difficult situation he is, finally see some salvation at the end of his story when he gets paid and is able to go to his little warehouse and have his own place after couch-surfing the entire season, that was touching.
Though I like to think I relate to Earn, that’s not to say I face his same difficulties. I live in a suburban town. I have access to a car half the time. And I’ve got a job (albeit a fast food job). I’m well aware tons of people have it worse, Earn included. But if someone like that’s pursuing his thing, then it pushes you to do your thing, in spite of everyone believing that perhaps you should aim for something a bit more viable.
And there’s so many other little things. The way he acts at a club, dealing with hood shit he’s totally not comfortable in (I don’t think I was comfortable in that sort of environment even if I was back there, though I did my damndest to fit in with the hood shit going on around me, I probably wasn’t doing an amazing job, and my tendency to float from clique to clique was already hitting back then), slogging through a day job you don’t like, trying to convince people you’re trying to focus on what you enjoy, dealing with privileged people who don’t realize they’re privileged. Man, some of the stuff here is just plain universal.
It’s a bit hard to put into words, even as much as I’ve written, why Atlanta really resonated with me, but it was something I wanted to mention, so there you go. I look forward to season two.