Skip to content


Created by Donald Glover

(Comedy Drama TV Series, 6 September, 2016 – present)

Review by Nou Ra


Atlanta is such a unique show that it manages to stand out even among the mountains of great new television. I was already a fan of the series creator, Donald Glover, from the show ‘Community’ (2009-15) and from Childish Gambino, his hip hop/funk/soul musical outfit responsible for the astonishing ‘This is America’ music video. So, when I first heard about Atlanta, I was immediately excited to see what he would create, and it turns out that Glover and his team have many stories to tell.

Ostensibly the show is about hip hop artist Alfred ‘Paper Boi’ Miles, played by Brian Tyree Henry – but there’s also Alfred’s cousin, Earnest ‘Earn’ Marks (played by Glover) who aspires to become his manager, a quirky sidekick Darius (in a hugely charismatic performance from LaKeith Stanfield) and Vanessa ‘Van’ (Zazie Beetz) as the mother of Earn’s child. Although these four are the main characters of the show, there are episodes where none of them appear and that seem unrelated to the main narrative. This allows for the show to feel very different to its contemporaries. 

It is an unapologetically black show, with many of the themes exploring African American experience from the mundane to the fantastical, to the downright terrifying. From Paper-Boi spending the whole day on the run around with his barber, just trying to get a haircut, and continually, hilariously failing due to the barber’s many ridiculous side hustles, woman drama and truant son, to him getting lost in the woods after getting jumped by three teenagers who recognise him, and then spending the duration of the episode trying to outrun a demented forest person who threatens to kill him. The black experience discussed is not unique to these characters, whether it be the downright scary opportunities for cultural appropriation in a white man trying to school a black man in African culture, or having to contend with the outsider idea that hip hop is somehow a lesser art form.  

The four main characters, especially Earn and Van, wear their hair proudly natural in gorgeous displays of African American beauty. Hair is an important aspect of how you are perceived culturally, and the episode ‘Rich Wigga, Poor Wigga’ touches upon this with the lead male obviously wearing his hair straightened. In this episode, the characters talk about the difference between being African and African American, claiming that if you are African, at least you know who you are, where you came from and what your culture and lineage are, whereas the Americans of course do not. We are told that Darius, the sidekick, is originally from Nigeria; and it does seem to me that his character is portrayed as more carefree, youthful and inquisitive than his friends. Is this because he doesn’t feel the historical and cultural trauma of his American counterparts? It certainly feels that way; his character just seems to exude adventure and whimsy.

Over the three seasons of Atlanta, a few episodes stand out as remarkable even in a show with such high standards in writing and production. Season 2 episode 6, ‘Teddy Perkins’ is one of them. We join Darius on a journey, driving a van whilst listening to Stevie Wonder. He pulls up to a grand house and is greeted by what can only be described as a black man in white face, with a high-pitched voice which is oddly terrifying. The credits on the show say Teddy Perkins is ‘played by himself’, but it is widely accepted to be Glover in make-up. Darius is there to collect a free piano with multi-coloured keys that he’s seen advertised on Craigslist, but on arriving he feels as though something isn’t quite right. After some procrastination that includes ordering a glass of water from a butler that doesn’t exist, Teddy explains to Darius that he lives with his brother who used to play piano with the likes of Stevie himself. This brother is an elusive character, lurking in the background in an ominous silence that makes us question his very existence. This episode and a few others, whilst not quite being supernatural, have an eerie and uncomfortable tension to them that put me in mind of Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017). I wouldn’t be surprised if Glover made a feature-length black horror, despite his comedy origins in stand-up and writing for Saturday Night Live

 Atlanta is funny, but it is also dark, thoughtful and almost contemplative, making us ask ‘What would you do if you were confronted with this?’ From a billionaire that has his own Nando’s at home to a young black boy put into foster care when a white teacher sees him getting slapped by an otherwise compassionate, caring grandfather, Atlanta is not afraid to explore a broad range of themes and ideas. A final Season 4 is set to be released in September 2022. I have no doubt that the comedy, surrealism and satire will be back, and I look forward to Glover and his team doubling down on those themes to create an epic ending to their story.