Last night Donald Glover and Atlanta won well-deserved Golden Globes for “Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy” and “Best Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy” for the show’s creator, writer and star. Despite these awards—and a slew of others Atlanta and Glover have won or been nominated for—I’d wager that much of America has still to catch up with the FX network’s breakout new hit. If you fall into that category, you need to change that status, stat, jack.
Several friends of mine were raving about Atlanta after it premiered in September, but I was too preoccupied with hate-watching a reality show called “Election 2016” to take much notice at first. By the time I finally sat down to watch Atlanta, five episodes had already piled up and I greedily watched all five one right after the other. Had there been more I’d have watched the entire series then and there. I loved Atlanta. My wife loved it as much as I did. There is so much great television on today that to designate just one show as the very “best” is a difficult task, but even still, Atlanta is what comes immediately to mind when I ponder what that one best current TV show would be. With Rotten Tomatoes giving Atlanta a 100% approval rating and Metacritic bestowing upon it a 90 out of 100 score, clearly many other people feel the same.
It was a few episodes in—the one where Earn wants to sell his sword to raise some quick money—when I put my finger on exactly what I believe makes Atlanta feel so fresh and special—and just that much of a cut above anything else—in a sea of admittedly ultra great competitors. Dig the shot where they walk into the pawn shop. Watch the choreography of how the camera moves, watch what the actors do, notice the color palate going on. “Clearly the director [Hiro Murai] has watched every single Godard film” I remarked to my wife, but that’s what it was: Atlanta is shot like a European arthouse film that is bogged down by exactly zero of the standard tropes of American sitcoms. It’s one of the most cinematic things ever produced for TV that is, essentially still a situation comedy. Compare and contrast it with, say, Seinfeld. There are a lot of things you could find that the two shows had in common, but stylistically speaking, there are just about none.
With the sharpest writing around, a cast of some of the most charismatic young actors working today and the insanely brilliant comedic timing of Ivy League-trained thespian Brian Tyree Henry as “Paper Boi” there’s already a level of excellence afoot here, but again, it’s the attention to detail that gives the impression that we’re looking at a finely cut diamond. Another key element of Atlanta‘s success is the incorporation of casually oddball events that call attention to themselves just for a moment before the characters move on. Who doesn’t have quirky encounters on a daily basis? Atlanta is great at capturing how mundanely surreal life can be—not something that’s easy to accomplish—and does so better than anything else currently on television
Which brings me to Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, a short film that Glover wrote and starred in (playing himself to a certain extent) and Murai directed. Clapping for the Wrong Reasons was produced to promote Glover’s second Childish Gambino album Because the Internet in 2013. Filled with the same sort of attention to small details as Atlanta, Clapping for the Wrong Reasons—which takes place high in the Hollywood Hills under much different socio-economic circumstances—plays slower but has some wonderful (and wonderfully strange) moments. I don’t want to imply that it was a dry run for Atlanta—because I do not think that was the case—but if you’re hankering for something more produced by the same creative team, it’s the next best thing. With a cast including Danielle Fishel (smartypants “Topanga” from Boy Meets World), Chance the Rapper, Trinidad Jame$ and Flying Lotus. Pornstar Abella Anderson plays a mysterious hottie who would be difficult to miss if she was just walking around your house.