As September begins, the television lineup begins to fill up with the return of most of its beloved series and with the addition of some new shows. While many of the new shows that premiere this fall will not make it to fall of next year, the show Atlanta from the mind of Community star, Donald Glover, seems promising after its two episode premiere last Tuesday. Unlike most of the shows on television, Atlanta is not treading on previously established routes and instead is charting its own place in the field largely in part to its non-white writing staff that is willing to charge into social issues even if it is only for a brief moment or scene.
As Community came to an end in the summer of 2015, eyes turned to writer, actor, comedian, and rapper Donald Glover to see what direction he would continue with his career. After a brief hiatus, FX ordered a pilot for Atlanta, a show created by and starring Glover. Much like Louis C.K. with Louie and Charlie Sheen with Anger Management, FX wanted to give Glover a great deal of creative control in order to make Atlanta in the correct vision. Other than the basic premise of it being about an aspiring rapper in Atlanta not all that much was revealed about the show until a few days before its premiere when Glover discussed his writing staff with the press. Unlike most television shows that are predominantly white, Atlanta’s is completely black. In doing so, the show naturally is not written like most shows that are on television today because the writers come from different backgrounds than the white writers that dominate the television writing staffs. In addition, this is particularly important for a show like Atlanta, which features a predominately black cast as the writers are able to better understand the characters backgrounds than a team of white writers would. But it is not only the ethnic background of the writing staff that makes the show’s writing unique.
While television is leagues ahead in terms of originality when compared to film right now, network executives are still cautious about green lighting shows that are too original and do not fit the mold of a “normal” television show. However, FX took a chance and let Atlanta make its own mold. Instead of being a comedy or drama Atlanta strives to blend both making each aspect compliment the other. When the show’s tone does take a daunting turn and dip into a too dramatic of a space, comedy is injected to help the show maintain its authenticity to everyday life. In the same manner, the show also is never overtly comedic to the point where it runs the risk of lowering the gravity of the characters situations. But, even though the tone of the show is handled to the tee, the real highlight of the writing comes in the substance that is included in the show. Instead of straying away from controversial topics, Glover and his team in the opening two episodes were able to include commentary on both mental health and sexuality in the black community without making the episodes adverts for these topics. In doing so, the audience does not become numb to the topics since only small scenes are attributed to the discussion, and instead the audience is left with the information allowing them to critically ponder the subject on their own terms.
With only sixty minutes of storytelling so far, Atlanta still has a very long way to go and might not even head in the direction its inaugural two episodes point to. Nevertheless, for at least the first ten-episode season I will tune into Atlanta, as the perspective that it gives audiences is not one that typically exists on television. If the rest of the show delivers the same quality of writing as its first two episodes we may be looking at another staple in the golden age of television. As a result based on what I have seen so far Celluloid Cinema gives Atlanta 4 out of 5 Reels.
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