'Atlanta' elicits thought-provoking laughs

FX's "Atlanta" hits close to home with realistic situations in which the characters find themselves. (Eli Watson/Flickr Creative Commons)

Donald Glover’s Golden Globe-winning series “Atlanta” is full of laughs, but definitely gives its audience pause with its hit-close-to-home, that’s-a-little-too-real situations its characters find themselves in.

The series sees Earn trying to manage his cousin, Alfred’s, better known by his rap name Paper Boi, fledgling music career as a way to provide for himself and his young daughter.

Earn’s relationship with his ex and mother of his daughter, Vanessa, usually shortened to “Van,” is a point revisited and questioned throughout the first season. He sleeps in her bed some nights because he has nowhere else to stay, while she goes on dates with other men. She bails him out of jail and they share the occasional sexual encounter, while continuing to live their separate lives connected by a daughter whom they both love and care deeply for.

Van’s character development throughout the first season is one of the most enjoyable points of the show. While the beginning episodes of the show focus on Earn, Alfred and their friend Darius, once we are let into Van’s world, we see her struggles as a mother and how tied she is to Earn by their daughter.

One episode details Van’s night out for dinner with Jayde, a friend of hers who’s been globetrotting with various professional athletes. While Van is focused on going home early to care for her daughter, Jayde tries to convince her to go out for the night. Van and Jayde argue about their clashing lifestyles, but manage to reconcile by smoking weed. Van wakes up immediately regretting the decision the next morning when she’s reminded by an alarm on her phone that she has a work-required drug test. Following advice from Alfred, she warms up her daughters used diapers on the stove to produce enough drug-free urine to fill a condom and tapes it her leg, only to have it break all over her when she tries to get it off in the bathroom at work. The scene is comic, desperate and makes us feel empathy for Van. She’s doing all she can to get by as a mother while still trying to be young, with little support from Earn.

Throughout the first season, the show also takes opportunities for social commentary. Sometimes subtle, sometimes in-your-face, “Atlanta” touches upon several social issues and debates facing America, particularly black Americans.

Darius gets removed from a shooting range with a gun pointed to his back after practicing on a paper target shaped like a dog. Those around him at the shooting range are horrified. Darius wonders out loud, as he’s being removed from the shooting range, why he would shoot at a person instead.

At the series’ start, Earn, Alfred and Darius are held in jail after Alfred shoots a man who broke the side mirror on Alfred’s car. While guards and other inmates laugh at a mentally ill man who’s become a regular in Atlanta’s jail, Earn says he seems like he needs help, not incarceration.

While the show has plenty of serious moments, Glover’s oddball humor is woven in seamless. The show casts black actor Austin Crute to play Justin Bieber in an episode where Bieber and Alfred both play in a basketball charity game. Bieber pees on a wall and is rude to reporters, but everyone around him laughs at his antics and says he’s “just young and figuring it out.” Another episode is styled as a talk show with Alfred as a guest, complete with fake commercials surrounding the talk show portion. The host and guests argue about political correctness while name-calling and personally attacking each other, much in the style of cable news talking heads.

“Atlanta” is a comedy that’s enough to distract and entertain you for 20 or so minutes, while at the same time touches on street violence, relationships, poverty, incarceration, political correctness and many other relevant issues facing our society today.


Schae Beaudoin is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at schae.beaudoin@uconn.edu.