Season 3 (Episodes 1 & 2)
Aired On: FX on Hulu
Release Date: 03/24/22
THE "IMDB" PREMISE:
"Based in Atlanta, Earn and his cousin Alfred try to make their way in the world through the rap scene. Along the way they come face to face with social and economic issues touching on race, relationships, poverty, status, and parenthood."
The time has finally come. The third season of the irreverent hit FX show Atlanta has finally arrived. It has been four long years since season 2 aired and we were all wondering where the show would take us next. Well, we need to wonder no more.
The darkly humorous dramedy which stars Donald Glover, Bryan Tyree Henry, Lakieth Stanfield, and Zazie Beats opens its third season with meta-horror mixed with social-political subtext. The first two episodes, which premiered at SXSW mid-March, both aired consecutively. This wasn’t by accident.
The introductory episode “Three Slaps” features a story separate from the main plot of the show. It is a dream within a dream that explores darker underpinnings young people of color may experience. The opening scene features two men, one white and one black, fishing at night on Lake Lanier, a body of water north of metro Atlanta. The white man waxes poetically about how everyone wants to be white, and that being white was more about position and status than skin complexion. He suggests Lake Lanier is haunted because the black town that was flooded sits at the bottom (which is actually true) harbors all the black souls that were lost. The scene turns to horror as the white man transforms into a ghastly figure as black hands break the surface to grab the black man who is beset with terror.
That opening scene rings more like a Jordan Peele expression of art than it does of Donald Glover and his brother, and writing partner, Stephen Glover. It is scary in its simplicity. But the episode cuts to a young black elementary school student named Loquareeous. After cutting up in class, he is thrust to child protection services by his impatient and tired mother. He is sent to live in an unorthodox home run by two white women. They are partners and lovers who have adopted three other black children. Loquareeous and his new siblings are made to work the organic garden, be propped up to sell produce at the farmers market and eat terrible, progressive “food”. The cycle of abuse comes to a head when his new mothers attempt to kill him and his siblings by suicidally driving their van off a bridge (into Lake Lanier of course). This storyline mirrored the true-crime story of the Hart family murders in 2018. It isn’t until the end of the episode until we finally center back on Earn (Glover), waking up from what appears to be a nightmare.
The second episode circles back to Earn catching up with the other characters who are all now in Europe. Earn’s cousin Paper Boi (Henry) is on a European tour, and consequently in jail, as the second episode “Sinterklauss is Coming to Town” opens. We also catch up with the spaced-out Darious (Stanfield) and Van (Beats) as they all coalesce in Amsterdam. The beauty of Atlanta is in the subtle uncomfortable situations the characters can’t help but find themselves wading through. In the sophomore episode, Van and Darious have an unconventional date with death. Their American sensibilities are challenged by what they see. Earn and Paper Boi are confounded by the ironic status of Paper Boi’s clout as it is juxtaposed with the country’s infatuation with Sinterkaluss’s assistant Zwarte Piet, a comparable assistant to Santa Claus who wears black face.
The nuances of Atlanta are what make it so original. It is so hard to dial in and pinpoint where the show will go next. That is its charm and why it has attracted viewers, and conversations. The ability to make a statement without being too on the nose is only made possible by smart writing, perfectly executed timing and allowances of levity to prevent the situation from going overboard and heavy-handed. Glover and company have been able to balance all of that effectively. Atlanta is not a show set in reality, because how could it be? It plays out like a modern cautionary fairy tale. It floats just above the surface demanding our attention. Even after two seasons with wide gaps between releases, Atlanta is still in the pocket. The slick veneer hasn’t faltered, its inner materials grow darker and funnier in perfect stride.