Because I’ve been committed to my stupid step-count goal, I haven’t found much time for television this year. I didn’t even bother to look at any of the fall TV previews in any of my usual places, so I was only vaguely aware of a few new things (mostly from promos that come on during football games), but the only new program I made an effort to catch was Atlanta on FX. There was so much critical buzz that I had to check it out.
It’s good. And Donald Glover writes it with a kind of confidence that makes me suspect he had the same final-say agreement with the network that Louis C.K. had for Louie. In only the sixth episode, he steers the show completely away from any of the main characters and centers all the story, action, and dialogue on one important but supporting character, and not in a way that serves the main characters or the (now ostensible) story arc that blankets the whole show. It’s like Glover asked himself, “What would a show about this character look like?” and then just wrote one episode of this hypothetical show.
It really works. I haven’t seen episode 7 yet, but there’s a lot of buzz about it, too. It apparently does its own thing in a way completely different from episode 6.
One of the things I don’t think about much as I’m watching it but only later as I’m processing is that there are all kinds of references and devices that don’t make any sense to me. In episode 2, Earn (the main character played by Glover) has a conversation with a guy in a police station. The guy has an accent I’ve never heard and only kind of understood, and it’s clear that we’re supposed to notice it: he’s given longer uninterrupted lines than almost anyone else in the episode. Earn doesn’t look like he has any problems understanding the guy. So is this character speaking in a way unique to him? Or is this a way some people in some parts of the country speak but I’ve never heard because all I know is what’s on TV?
In one episode, there is a celebrity charity basketball game. One of the participants is Justin Bieber, but he’s played here by a black actor. I don’t really get that, but it’s not that important to the episode. What strikes me is that Albert, kind of a minor celebrity himself, interacts with other participants in the game, and I don’t recognize any of them.
Do I not recognize them because they’re as fictional as Albert? Or do I not recognize them because I don’t listen to the music or watch the films these celebrities show up in? There are people watching this program who know whether or not these are fictional characters or real celebrities.
We all live in different worlds. But you might not know it just by watching television for all these years.
Atlanta has a lot going for it, but this is maybe its most valuable for me, just a reminder that we live in different worlds and that TV is not the best way to be aware of them.