Following the launch of Louie in 2010, comedy on television went through a drastic shift that saw it become popular to not actually be funny. However, these shows, while good, don’t fully fit on the other side of the spectrum as 30-minute dramas. Instead, they live somewhere in between - telling dramatic stories in off-beat ways while completely forgoing humor as a concept. In this context is where we find FX’s Atlanta.
Created by and starring Community’s Donald Glover, Atlanta follows the journey of Earnest Marks, a Princeton dropout that seizes an opportunity to become the manager of his cousin, rapper Paper Boi, after he hits it big in the local Atlanta music scene. Together, the two navigate the city’s culture in hopes of making their lives better for them and their relatives. However, the scene is not as easy to navigate as it was to join.
There’s nothing funny about Atlanta, which is odd considering its creator’s career began in the writers room of NBC’s 30 Rock after writing a spec script for The Simpsons - not to mention his cult status as a viral icon as part of comedy group Derrick Comedy. Atlanta is a drama portraying a world never seen before. A world that takes the streets and brings it the suburbs, which is one of the truly unique elements of Atlanta as a city. That’s something the series does very well. Its portrayal of the town feels respectful, but one can’t help but wonder if the story would be better served if it just forgoed the “comedy” part of its identity completely.
Offbeat, one-off moments contained in the show’s first four episodes do nothing but subtract from the show’s quality. Because this is still an FX half-hour, the show still acts like it can entertain through humor, but it can’t. It has nothing to say or offer in that respect. Earnest and Paper Boi should be real dramatic characters living in a serious world - not an outlandish one surrounded by a crazy roommate that forgets the keys to handcuffs at home.
Its failure at comedy aside, the series contains good characters that, if the show is able to let go of its unnecessary “weirdness,” can really turn into a special bunch. They are so close to being great it’s frustrating at times to see they aren’t. Just when they’re about to reach a character moment that could define them, the scene shifts to a routine case of broke people trying to pay for expensive things. These characters deserve better than that.
Atlanta is not great and it’s not funny, but it’s good. It wants to be both those other things, perhaps because Glover wanted to meld his two performance worlds of music and comedy together, but it can only be one… and that one isn’t funny. It can be great if it stops trying to be something beyond what it clearly is: FX’s chance at making a clearly defined half-hour drama. If the series gets a second season, it will hopefully realize that on its own.
Atlanta premieres Tuesday Sept 6th at 10/9c on FX (USA).
Australian airdate still to be confirmed.