I’ve loved Donald Glover since the Derrick Comedy and NYE Mixtape era, but I’ve been in awe of his accumen since the pilot of ATLANTA. The show is top-tier, sure, but that pilot, hoo boy. It is fascinating in that it has so very little to do with what comes after it. Surreality is there from the start if you’re looking close, but otherwise the pilot feels like someone literally went through a checklist of writing the perfect FX pilot of the era:

  • distant father played by seasoned and respected character actor (Isiah Whitlock Jr from The Wire)
  • a web of local happenings and goings on that all seemed potential low key hooks for future storylines
  • complex relationship with a love interest who seemed poised and doomed to be shunted to the background
  • a hard, masculine world to showcase: where SONS OF ANARCHY had biker culture, and JUSTIFIED had backwater drug-dealing rednecks, ATLANTA had the rap game — rife with opportunity for the violent beefs that serve as male melodrama.

But instead, ATLANTA zagged almost immediately. By a couple episodes in, the dadaism was blasting at 11 and the format was already bursting out of the straitjacket and into sublime. Justin Bieber alone, my god.

But, and this is crucial, none of the nonsensical, Kafkakain (‘-esque’ feels too noncommittal) shit ATLANTA pulls feels indulgent1. Because more than being weird, ATLANTA feels specific, considered, sometimes even personal. It feels like the rare show that gets to be exactly what the creator wants.

Part of that is because all four main cast members have since become bonafide movie stars each in their own right. Largely because of the show they made together — one that allowed for the endless restructruring, reinvention, and straight up flights of fancy necessary to showcase every scrap of the considerable talent contained within the entire cast, both singularly and in combination. So the more ATLANTA is what it wants to be, the justifiably greater the profile and career opportunity for all involved (even down the line to series director Hiro Murai and series cinematographer Larkin Seiple).

(Similar vibes to both ALWAYS SUNNY and the now lesser admired LOUIE. For a while there FX really had a good run of picking winners.)

So the cast are all now big deal stars, which means they can both throw more weight around and that their agendas get busier. So it’s helpful that all four can easily carry an episode on their own, it’s good for the shooting schedule. It also enables and incentivizes the kind of piece-meal-tapestry storytelling that Atlanta has nearly perfected here in its final run.

All of which to say: instead of coming in with some arty bullshit for a pitch, Donald Glover gave FX exactly the pilot they expected, the pilot they were prepared for — and then proceeded to damn near ignore it completely2 and make whatever the hell he pleased. There was something to say, and it had nothing to do with traditional tv structure3, so it didn’t bother with it at all. Which is dope. And probably why everyone in it’s such a big deal now.

All dreams are possible. The good ones just take a fuckton of effort and uncompromising vision.

  1. maybe some small bits here and there.↩︎

  2. here at the end, the Glover Bros have stripped the pilot for spare parts in ingenious fashion for a couple of banger episodes. But. My longwinded point stands because this is my website, and them’s the rules. Don’t like it, host your own goddamn website, believe me it’s exactly as much fun as it sounds. I actually pay good money every month for a comment service that respects your privacy even though not a single person has ever commented on this entire site. Because I care. What are you doing? Nothing. You’re on my website for chrissakes; you’re not making positive life choices. Rexamine your shit or be doomed to live it all over again and again and again.” Socrates said that, or Santayana, or somebody. I dunno read a book, jagoff.↩︎

  3. unrelated, but this reminds me I want to write about RUBICON, one of the best shows watched by fucking nobody but me. Rubicon would near the top of that list, although PERSON INTEREST remains all-time heavyweight champ.↩︎

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