Donald Glover is an actor, comedian, writer, director, record producer, singer, songwriter and DJ. Oh, and he’s also Childish Gambino, with hits Redbone and This Is America among his back catalogue.
Along with doing all this, Glover’s found the time to write, produce, direct and star in Atlanta, the darkly comedic TV series following Alfred Miles, aka Paperboi, and his cousin Earn trying to make money out of the Atlanta rap scene.
Most people have seen the snippet on BBC showing a bearded black man in a suit with headphones around his neck going into a tirade about what you don’t have to be after he’s refused a kids meal at the counter of a fast food restaurant.
As I get older, my skull’s either getting thicker or my brain’s getting smaller creating more distance between me and a good idea, because it took about ten (that is not an exaggeration; ten!) showings of this advert for me to clock that Atlanta might actually be worth a watch.
So I went on the BBC iPlayer and watched all ten episodes of the first series in two nights, amazed by the show’s smart, subtle, yet empathic portrayal of the sheer bizzare nature of modern American culture.
Throughout the series, the viewer watches Earn and his compadres go through shootouts in the strangest contexts, learn the fickle and thick nature of America’s obsession with celebrity, there’s an entire episode (BAN– best episode of the series) devoted to watching the show through the perspective of actually watching American TV (stupid adverts every 5 seconds included), and a simple yet brilliant argument in a shooting range when Darius unfurls a target of a dog to shoot at only to be rounded on by the local NRA wackos who insist you can’t shoot dogs but it’s okay to shoot at targets of women and children.
It’s these kinds of profound observations that makes Atlanta such an exceptional show, along with having gritty characters that aren’t over-the-top hams like so many protagonists are made to be to convey messages to the viewer.
Earn is angry. He’s black and broke stuck in the centre of a racist society. But Glover demonstrates this not with over-the-top histrionics, but with a quiet consistent demeanour that just says, ‘um pissed’.
It was a much appreciated surprise to discover Atlanta after having it held in front of my face so long, its smooth marijuana induced odours taking their time to penetrate my six-inch thick skull. I’m glad they eventually got through, and having watched Glover’s take on the culture in which he lives I can understand why he’s so un-enamoured with society when it takes this long for something this good to penetrate the general consciousness.
Message to the smash hit producing, supercool rapping, acting impresario, comedic, clever Dick: I get it.
Full series of Atlanta season one is available on iPlayer now.