May 11, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Atlanta”


When FX’s ATLANTA began its 2nd season at the beginning of March, it seemed like a big enough deal to note that with the departures of Louis C.K. and Ryan Murphy (for very different reasons), Atlanta‘s creator Donald Glover had ascended to being the emblematic creative face of the network.  But now, a bit more than 2 months later, those stakes feel very small.  The pop culture spotlight has lately been shining on Glover as brightly as it has for any individual over the past few years.  He’s become something of an instant icon, winning simultaneous acclaim for his new music as alter ego Childish Gambino, his hosting stint on SNL during which he/Gambino introduced the song “This Is America” and launched the music video that’s already garnered tens of millions of views and precious controversy (the video, like many key Atlanta episodes, was directed by Hiro Murai), and his upcoming role in Solo for which it’s fair to say that his rendition of Lando Calrissian is at least as eagerly awaited as the performance of the title role.  (It also hasn’t hurt that Glover’s stack of achievements has come at exactly the same time that Kanye West has seemingly fast-forwarded to his pop culture sell-by date.)

And, of course, there’s Atlanta, a subject of critical awe that’s been, if anything, even more praised in its sophomore season.  In some ways, Atlanta can be seen as a diverse reimagining of the kind of indie movie/auteur TV Louis C.K. had been doing on FX, with the same unexpected per-episode shifts in tone and format, but the less familiar rap world substituted for the more stale sitcom milieu of NY stand-up comedy.  That geographic and cultural relocation, though, made Glover’s vision the right kind of fresh and exciting, and the visual and aural work by Murai and other creative personnel have been thrillingly cinematic in a way that C.K. never achieved.

This season has included all manner of strange settings and styles, from the ersatz Oktoberfest of “Helen” to the tall tales of “Alligator Man” and “Barbershop,” the not-really-Drake’s-New-Year’s-Eve party of “Champagne Papi” to the 1990s flashback “FUBU,” and the most celebrated episode of all, the remarkable Michael Jackson/What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? mash-up “Teddy Perkins.”  Compared to those, the Season 2 finale, written by Executive Producer Stephen Glover (Donald’s brother) and directed by Murai, was relatively naturalistic and low-key.

Entitled “Crabs In A Barrel,” it engaged with the plotlines of the season, especially the continuing business relationship between learning-on-the-job music manager Earn (Glover) and his cousin Alfred, better known as the rapper Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry).  Al’s ambivalence about his own rising success meshed with his doubts about Earn’s ability to function in the big-time music business, a contrast stressed by the recurring figure of Clark County (RJ Walker), a star with impressive marketing deals but not much soul.  Al had told Earn that he might cut his cousin loose, and in the finale this was underscored by Al’s continuing invocation of the need for his entertainment lawyer to be Jewish.  That trope slid past being problematic when Atlanta, in its characteristic edge-of surrealism style, introduced a Chasidic agency that specialized in last-minute passports for procrastinating rappers and their entourages, not surprisingly needed by Al’s soulmate Darius (Lakeith Stanfield).  Earn’s own financial issues, which in the finale extended to private school for his daughter with Van (Zazie Beetz), finally prompted him to break through his passivity, thinking fast to plant a gun that’s been drifting in Chekhovian style through the season on Clark County while they were all in a TSA airport line, both rescuing himself and attempting to win Al the headliner spot in the European tour they were all going on.  (Clark County, though, shrewd as ever, somehow even more quickly planted the gun on his own manager.)  Earn’s troubles certainly aren’t over–during the course of the episode he discovered that Van was planning to leave Atlanta with their daughter–but the finale provided a surprisingly conventional hook for a potential Season 3.

Atlanta, though, isn’t venerated for its narrative, which tends to be loose-limbed.  Its superb cast, which this season included memorable guest turns by Katt Williams and Robert S. Powell, is as nuanced and charismatic as any on television, and they ground the bizarre turns that the show takes.  Directors, who this season have included Amy Seimetz and Glover himself in addition to Murai, have built episodes like “Helen,” “Woods” and especially “Teddy Parkins” into essentially mini-movies that build not just a world but a sensibility.  The events of the series become even more fascinating when Al’s rise is meta-ed out to reflect Donald Glover’s own place in the entertainment industry.

As was the case with Louis C.K. back in the day, FX will take whatever of Donald Glover it can get.  Season 2 of Atlanta was postponed so Glover could play Lando Calrissian, and no plan for Season 3 has yet been announced.  It may be a while before we find out whether Glover’s magnum opus (to date) has plateued or or if it can continue to grow.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."