Atlanta: “The Big Bang” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Here at Tonight’s Watch we’re big fans of Donald Glover. Derrick Comedy, Community, Childish Gambino—we were there through it all, laughing and loving it the entire way. We love Donald Glover. And we missed Donald Glover when he disappeared from the our weekly television schedule. He’s back in Atlanta, a show he’s not only starring in, but writing and producing. That’s a triple dose of comedy genius.

I know what you’re thinking: “How can we trust you to keep your journalistic neutrality while you’re proclaiming an undying love for this man?” I won’t. You better believe, after years of admiring a style of comedy so specific and mystifying, I’ve developed a bias. Comedy and all art is subjective, though, so at any point where I have to judge how much I enjoy something, I am exercising a bias. If you trust me and my taste, and you haven’t been exposed to the wonderful comedic stylings of  Donald Glover, then I can promise you that my bias will become your salvation as I sing these praises in such a catchy tune that you’ll have no choice but to sing along.

The Characters

Our downtrodden hero Earnest “Earn” Marks (Donald Glover) has had a rough go of it. The mother of his child, Van (Zazie Beetz), is seeing other people, his Princeton education has suddenly (and mysteriously) come to an end, and his economic situation is less than a person needs to, well, live.

Enter Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry), an up-and-coming rapper and cousin to Earn. Once Earn realizes Paper Boi is rocking the local underground scene, Earn offers up his services as a manager to his not-too-close cousin.

Like every great rapper, Paper Boi has his entourage—if one person can qualify as an entourage. Darius (Keith Stanfield) fills the role of confidant, best friend, and, possibly, oracle. Darius looks to fill the comedic role of idiot-shaman, armed with a reliable sense of déjà vu and surprisingly insightful words of wisdom.

The Conflict

Earn is broke a broke, Princeton dropout and Paper Boi, a few ciphers away from fame and fortune, is in need of a manager. The struggle isn’t whether or not that relationship will bloom, because it will, but it’s those few aforementioned ciphers-worth of time we’re worried about. The Atlanta underground doesn’t look like an easy scene to succeed in; sacrifices will have to be made. Maintaining the appearance of a gangsta, while navigating the treacherous waters of Georgian poverty. Paper Boi also has a clock to race against—his minor success might be a launching point for a new career, but only while it’s still fresh in the minds of the local scene.

Earn’s relationships with his family is already under a ton of stress and I’m sure the pursuit of an unlikely career will only place more strain on those closest to him. Lest we forget, Earn has a daughter to take care of and a baby mama who’s already fed up with him. There’s only  so much a woman can take before she decides to remove herself, and her child, from that situation. I can already see Earn begging Van to wait for his big break—right before asking her to front him for rent.

The Criticism

Folks, I’ve missed Donald Glover. I’ve missed his satirical writing with Derrick Comedy, I’ve missed his comedic acting with Community, and, while I never had to miss it, I’m sure I’ll love whatever original music he writes for this show. Why did I miss him? He plays the straight man better than anyone. He can make us laugh by rebutting a sentence using not much more than the original sentence itself. He’ll lend his cadence, his slight head tweak, an incredulous expression to the retort. Maybe the act will become tired, but I refuse to comment on an uncertain future. Donald Glover has been funny as hell, and he continues to do so.

Atlanta impressed me. Thirty minutes is not a lot of time to make much of an impression, especially for a comedy. Comedy requires time and set-up to make an impact. What’s more impressive: comedy isn’t the only genre Atlanta shows us; Atlanta managed to present elements of both comedy and drama in a twenty-four-minute episode.

I have nothing but high hopes for this series. Now, on to that part where I comment on an uncertain future.

The Conjecture

What does the future hold for Earn, Darius, and Paper Boi? I imagine Paper Boi will make it big. I imagine this series will get far enough to see Paper Boi become the next Jay-Z. Darius will prove his intuition to be supernatural. Beyond that, I believe Darius will strike out on his own, maybe become the next Kanye. Van may realize a bit of fame herself, after Earn taps her as a backup singer in one of Paper Boi’s tracks. As for Earn himself, Paper Boi might make it big, but Earn gets out once he has enough money to finish his Princeton education. He graduates and he and his daughter live comfortably, while he pursues a humbler, yet more personally satisfying field.

The Conclusion

Atlanta must be an incredibly personal story for Donald Glover who grew up in Atlanta listening to the great Hip Hop artists of the 90’s. Like Paper Boi and Earn, Donald started from the bottom. He made his own success with his own talent, and it’s a quality I admire about the man. To me, it’s apparent this story needs to be told. It’s even more apparent this story needs to be seen.

I can’t promise Atlanta will be funny. I won’t promise you it will be great. I refuse to promise it’ll be worth another season. What I’ll do is swear Donald Glover is worth giving a chance. Watch this episode. Watch the next two episodes. Finish the season with me. I know, starting from the bottom is difficult; there’s a long road ahead. But it can be worth it.

If you’re interested in the series, Atlanta airs Tuesdays at  10PM PST on FX. If you’d like to see what else Cody is watching, you can check his Trakt page to keep up-to-date with all of his shows.

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