Enter Darius, played by actor Lakeith Stanfield, (Sorry to Bother You, Selma, Death Note),a character who is all too resonant of the fan favorite stoner on the 90’s animated series Daria. (I’m talking about Trent of course.) A soft spoken, cooler than the other side of the pillow, numinous being of the universe whose social graces mirror that of The Great Gazoo, (The Flintstones). He seems to figuratively “appear” into conversations with transcendental comments that are often left without response from his counterparts, but not misunderstood. His otherworldly perceptions may seem like typical stoner jargon to those who are “un-woke” (we won’t go there today) but there’s some real gravitas to the extramundane views of Darius.
At times he straight up predicts the future and flexes some serious tangible insight; (without spoiling too much) In season one, he makes a rather unorthodox investment that, as promised, reaps it’s bountiful reward in season 2. As an actor/artist of color, I think I speak for the collective when I say we’ve been waiting for a character like this! And he’s not the only piece of the Atlanta puzzle that transcends the limiting expectations of the typical “black” character that has saddled super talented actors for ages.
Paper boy, played by Brian Tyree Henry, (Widows, Hotel Artemis) is actually the nucleus of the piece. At a glance, the show is about a rapper on the rise (Paperboy is that rapper) but Atlanta is so much more. Also known as Alfred, the charismatic rapper serves as the all American brooder we’ve been used to seeing throughout the history of Western cinema: The cowboy who tends not to say more than what is necessary to make a point and without much inner conflict, simply does what needs to be done. Paperboy is that cool older guy you remember wanting to emulate as a kid. And Henry transforms his otherwise eloquent vernacular to a monotone southern drawl for the character. Atlanta’s formidable team of writers gives each character their respective episode in Season 2, helping the audience get to know these guys more intimately.
This includes a poignantly intense selection for Paperboy aptly called, Woods (my personal favorite). Without giving away too much, It reminded me of that Sopranos episode, All Due Respect, when Johnny Sack gets arrested by the feds mid conversation with Tony, forcing the big guy to frantically flee through the woods in a haggard pilgrimage back to familiar ground. There is something viscerally resonant about the art of film when depicting man in nature [see the film Jeremiah Johnson starring Robert Redford]. Paperboy is often undergoing revelations and experiencing the sometimes dark repercussions of his newly discovered fame.
His oft reluctant disposition appears similar to that of Bojack [the horse]: The animated lead character of the show, Bojack Horseman. Bojack is an L.A. residing semi-famous actor who trudges around morosely in the wake of an early celebrated career while the pursuit of a progressing celebrity status basically drains him to the core: But he would never choose any other lifestyle. Paperboy, while less intense of a personality, undeniably shares some of Horseman’s woes.
Which brings me to the main character, Earn, played by the show’s creator and writer, Donald Glover. Earn has attempted to make things easier for his cousin Al [paperboy] ever since pledging to be his manager in the debut season. An Ivy League college dropout, Earn [Earnest] is probably the most accesible character.
[Think: A cooler, young, less forwardly humorous Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm.] He also reminds you of Adam Sandler in his 30s, during the Big Daddy era where the dude was just a cool but unlucky “everyman” with balls to spare. The funny seems to just happen to guys like these, not the other way around.
Pairing with the fresh, sophisticated views of director Hiro Murai, Glover has created a universe where even the supporting actors and actresses (Not to exclude the beautiful Zazie Beetz) of Atlanta have a place. The way the show is written, you get a feel for what drives the personalities that are normally glanced over. [Watch Kat Williams in S2Ep1 Alligator man. Thank me later.] The show exploits yet glorifies stereotypes simultaneously in a way that extracts the usual negative connotation. With a distinct, creative voice and screen style that reminds you of all your favorite directors whose films you can recognize within 5 minutes [Tarantino, Lee, Scorsese] Atlanta is a relatable, funny, inspiring, stellar, and all around dope experience.
And it’s helping illuminate the narrative of how diverse artists of color truly are. In a perfect world, I’d love to say that it’s just a great show. But from an ethnic viewpoint, creating dope shit includes the dispelling of whack shit. [Like the modern day black face and blaxploitation so prevalent on prominent platforms] I mean honestly, since a kid, most of my heroes were white. I always wondered why cool characters like the Rocketeer, Indiana Jones, and James Bond didn’t look like me, yet Mr. Popo, Dragonball Z, resembled an unfair exaggeration of one of my peewee football coaches. Atlanta is an integral part of a major revolution in American art. And we should all feel damn lucky to be a part of this right now. So yeah, go watch it.
Both seasons of Atlanta can be streamed on Hulu now.