When it was originally on: 2016-present
Original network: FX
Where you can stream it now: Hulu
Had I seen it before: I’ve seen all of Season 1.
What IMDb says: Based in Atlanta, Earn and his cousin Alfred try to make their way in the world through the rap scene. Along the way they come face to face with social and economic issues touching on race, relationships, poverty, status, and parenthood.
Why I picked it: Atlanta was one of several shows in the 2010s that challenged us to rethink our notions of what a half-hour show has to be. It’s arguably the most successful iteration of this half-hour character study genre to come from basic cable, and the realm of half-hour scripted originals on basic cable is slim pickings. I remember liking this first season, but by the time season 2 came out it had been a while since I’d seen the first and I just never got around to it.
What I liked: I’ve oftentimes lumped Atlanta in with other interesting-but-not-particularly-funny half your shows, but the pilot was actually funnier than I remembered. I love Darius, and he provides most of the episode’s comic relief. Somehow he manages to serve a sort of Joey Tribbiani function in the show without actually being dumb. He helps diffuse otherwise tense scenes and remind you you’re watching a comedy. My favorite example is probably “I actually like Flo Rida. Moms need to enjoy rap too.”
I also think it’s interesting how the show does such a great job of making Earn a likable character despite the fact that he seems to have burned every bridge in his life. His parents don’t seem to like him. His baby mama doesn’t seem to like him. His cousin Alfred doesn’t seem to like him. And yet… I just can’t help but like him. Maybe that’s just because Donald Glover is a charismatic dude. Maybe it’s the fact that we don’t really see him do anything wrong, he’s just broke. This protagonist is flawed, yet I can rally around him even and especially when his life’s not going well.
The fact that our protagonist is at odds with just about everybody also means there’s so many ways this series can go. Earn working to build a rap career for his cousin is already a high enough mountain to climb that it can make for interesting tv. But we also have Earn trying to be a good father even though he’s not in a relationship with the baby’s mother, but they don’t really seem broken up either. There’s also tension between him and his parents.
What I didn’t like: I wish Alfred could’ve been a little bit more fleshed out in this first episode. What motivated Alfred to pursue a rap career in the first place? What are HIS stakes if he can’t turn that rap career into a good job? I can see multiple ways for this conflict to get interesting. Maybe Alfred just wants to make music as a hobby and Earn is pressuring him to turn it into a career for his own profit. But I don’t really get that vibe. Maybe Alfred has his own vision for how his career was supposed to go, and now Earn is getting in his way. I don’t really get that vibe either. Has he made more than one song? Has he played any gigs? If Alfred already was busting his butt to build himself a rap career, the pilot leaves us in the dark about those details.
We also don’t really learn that much about Alfred outside of his rap career, other than that he’s Earn’s cousin and that his mother passed away at some point. Does he have a love interest? Does he have a day job? Alfred is likable enough, but I also want a sense of how bad things could get if Earn fucks this up for him. The pilot spends so much time on developing Earn that unfortunately there’s just not enough room to learn much about these other characters. In the case of Alfred, that’s especially unfortunate because he seems to be one of the characters that defines the whole series.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! This one was entertaining, and honestly better than I remembered it.