TV Review - Atlanta (2016)

What Louie CK did for his FX series Louie, Donald Glover is doing for this show. In terms of tone and sense of humor, there are a lot of comparisons to draw. Louie was about Louie CK's outlook and perception of what he does or experiences as a stand-up comic. This show is all about what Donald Glover's outlook and perception of what he does or experiences as an aspiring rapper. The only exception is that Glover isn't playing the aspiring rapper, even though in real-life that's what he is.

Glover instead stars as Earnest, a guy who is trying to be the manager of a southern rapper named Alfred Miles aka Paper Boi, played by Brian Tyree Henry. Paper Boi wants to be successful and famous, but he doesn't seem to have any drive or real enthusiasm about anything. He doesn't seem to care. He's just lounging through life. He has a weird and quirky friend named Darius, played by Keith Stanfield, who has more of a passion about things. Paper Boi never really seems to be into anything.

Therein lies the problem with the series. Paper Boi doesn't seem to want or care about making a career in music. Unlike Empire, we don't see Paper Boi perform or pursue this career. We don't ever really see his passion, so there's barely a reason for the audience to care about him. Earnest's passion or most often frustration is a bright spot of the show, but it gets buried.

In the second episode, the show did something that was almost transphobic. It literally depicted a scene of transphobia, which in and of itself isn't problematic, but it had the potential to be problematic. The episode was all about the ridiculousness and slight horror of jail. It involved a transgender character but didn't take the time to really give that character a voice. That can be overlooked because the episode was more about the criminal justice system and certain relationships to it.

However, the seventh episode, which breaks format and becomes a TV show-within-a-TV show, does become about transgender people or a transgender issue. Yet, it doesn't contain a transgender character at all, or at least not a character who identifies as transgender. In regards to the transgender issue, Glover, as the writer and director of the episode, sets up a straw man argument that only does a disservice to the transgender issue and is ultimately disappointing.

In the episode, Paper Boi appears on a talk show called "Montague," which is akin to something like The Charlie Rose Show. The reason Paper Boi is on the show is to speak about a post on Twitter where he says in paraphrase not wanting to have sex with Caitlyn Jenner. The show was about his Twitter post being perceived as transphobic, or offensive and bigoted toward transgender people.

Paper Boi doesn't think it's transphobic. He dismisses the whole thing by claiming Freedom of Speech and essentially racism and how black men have it tough. These are straw man arguments. For starters, at no point is Paper Boi's Freedom of Speech put in any danger or threatened in any way, and people criticizing his Twitter post isn't a threat to his Freedom of Speech. He invokes racism, which he only can because the transgender person in question is Caitlyn Jenner. However, this is a straw man argument because there are plenty of black transgender people or transgender people of color who Paper Boi could have invoked or been confronted with.

Because Paper Boi isn't confronted with a transgender person of color like Laverne Cox, the whole episode becomes a cop-out and a disappointment on the part of Donald Glover. The fact that so many transgender people of color, particularly black transgender women, are dying and in fact being murdered is never addressed in this episode. It seems as if Glover wanted to spoof political correctness in some way, but not addressing the hard facts and throwing up straw man arguments are weak on the side of Glover.

The same episode also involves a character named Harrison Booth aka Antoine Smalls who claims to be trans-racial. He is a very dark-skinned, black man but he identifies as a 35-year-old, white man. It's a nod to the recent news story about Rachel Dolezal, a woman who has born Caucasian but claimed to be a black woman. People mocked her and in turn, Glover mocks the trans-racial character, Harrison Booth, too.

Sadly, Glover doesn't really explore the trans-racial issue with any kind of depth. The idea of a person identifying with a race or ethnicity that isn't biologically their own isn't new. Specifically, the idea of black people not identifying with their culture isn't new. Collectively, America was reminded of O. J. Simpson's famous quote, "I'm not black. I'm OJ." In fact, on the TV series Empire, a character is called an "Oreo," which is a derogatory term about trans-racial identity. There's also the debate about Michael Jackson's infamous skin-color change.

Instead of bringing up these points, Glover again sets up straw man arguments. He just decides to make Harrison homophobic. It's meant to diminish his position or even the idea of trans-racial identity. If Glover thinks the idea is stupid or ridiculous, that's fine, but the way he writes through it is with as little depth and nuance as possible.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA-L.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Tuesdays at 10PM on FX.


Popular Posts