How Season 2 Of ‘Atlanta’ Experimented With Storytelling In Ways We’ve Rarely Seen Before
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Television , Opinion

How Season 2 Of ‘Atlanta’ Experimented With Storytelling In Ways We’ve Rarely Seen Before

On the red carpet of this year’s Met Gala, Lena Waithe, in iconic rainbow vestment and a bottom grill covering her canine’s told an interviewer that, “Donald is a new god.” And his opinion of himself, in some capacity at least, is not very far off. In fact, in an interview with The New Yorker he said, “I feel like Jesus. I do feel chosen.” Depending on your disposition, or varying degrees of conventionality, and without any context, one could receive those ideas in a myriad of ways, both positively and negatively. In the form that you see them now, they are completely left up to individual interpretation, like most compelling art. And oftentimes, what we see paints a much clearer image of ourselves than it does of anything else.

Photo: FX Photo: FX

Season 2 of Atlanta on FX is storytelling, all about context and interpretation. The why of things is often left up to you and how willing you are to go down the rabbit hole. Much of Donald Glover’s early work spoon fed its audience. His 2011 album Camp was a collection of specifically detailed, true stories from his life across 13 tracks. Almost everything that he wanted you to take away was right there on the surface, ready to be picked up with minimal work required. But Atlanta is a cut, more polished Because the Internet. There’s a story on the surface if that’s all you’re here for, and it’s a really good one . The experience will still hold up. But seeping from the seams in many creative choices is a deliberate subtext that, without context, can easily seem inexplicable – until you look for more. And even then, the context never really comes in a definitive aha moment. Instead of telling you how to view it, Atlanta asks, “what do you see?”

Photo: Curtis Baker/FX Photo: Curtis Baker/FX

That kind of layered nuance almost never comes solely from one person alone. One of the most consistently overlooked characteristics in the people we consider the most gifted is their ability to recognize and utilize the greatness in others. Glover has it in spades. The cast of players influencing the creative process of Atlanta, and in many cases, much of the other work Donald has done in the most recent years is a pantheon of experience across mediums that help make it come to life. Royalty, the collective that has been navigating the brand as well as the show on FX, along with a number of newer faces in the Glover universe are all, in part, responsible for the finished product we see onscreen.

Hiro Murai has directed 14 of Atlanta’s 21 episodes, and is an executive producer on the show. Stephen Glover is also an executive producer, and has written 8. Both Jamal “Swank” Olori and Ibra Ake both have episodes under their belts. And Fam “Rothstein” Udeorji, who’s also a big part of the writers room, is the reason why you can hear Jay Critch ft. Rich the Kid - “Did it Again” in the very same episode as Curtis Mayfield’s “When Seasons Change”. He and Jen Malone handle the music supervision. Stefani Robinson and Taofik Kolade are writers on the show as well. But like in a Hot 97 interview Donald gave back in 2013, if you know where to look, it becomes clear that, “[in] Royalty, nobody’s really doing one thing.” For instance, you could catch Swank doing some hands-on “field research” on cracking open ostrich eggs while out in London, coincidentally where Donald shot his role as Lando in Solo: A Star Wars Story.  Royalty is multi-faceted, almost exactly like an episode of the show.

There are an abundance of times in the season where we can see cracks in the matrix. Moments like in “Sportin’ Waves” when the entire Not Spotify office is staring at Earn for just a little too long, Van’s encounter at Fasnacht conquering the Schanppviecher, or Al’s visit to the woods after getting jumped and robbed. But the episode that had us all scratching our heads the most was “Teddy Perkins” – Darius’s trip to recover a free kaleidoscope piano. Donald Glover and the Royalty crew are big on symbolism. These are the same people that invented a meaningless meme, Roscoe’s Wetsuit, as a commentary on the herd mentality of internet trendiness and to create hype for/sell an album at the same time. And from the lack of commercial breaks, style switch in cinematography, to the aforementioned ostrich egg, and Teddy’s powder white, surgically altered face, there is symbolism and subtext running rampant all throughout every frame. But just like Roscoe’s Wetsuit, which neither Glover or Royalty have explained to this day, there are no Genius annotations to read for breaking them down. And if they continue on this path of consistency, there probably never will be. Just like in his brief Met Gala interview, when questioned about “This is America”, the latest artistic expression dividing the internet, he said, “I just wanted to make, you know, a good song. And like, something that people could play on 4th of July.” Even he couldn’t hold the smirk back on that second sentence.

Photo: FX Photo: FX

So then it’s up to us, as the viewer to synthesize these moments into something discernable, if that’s what we want. It could be assumed that the curators’ hope is we become so curious, unable to let them slide past,  that we go looking – maybe that’s the entire goal, or at least part of it. Towards the end of that New Yorker interview Donald says, “Best-case scenario, the show is just a show that makes people aware.” But aware of what? Any of us could plug in at least one or two things that could make sense. Atlanta is without a doubt, one of the most authentic representations of black life in America on television, surely it could be that. That in itself is a glowing achievement. But just like compelling art, what we see in it paints a much clearer image of ourselves than it does of anything else. Donald Glover’s Atlanta on FX is an experiment in how we see ourselves – for its characters and its viewers. And hopefully, from watching the show, all our reflections get clearer.

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