Showbiz, Baby: Atlanta’ brings cultural issues back to TV

Donald Glover returns to the streets of Atlanta after a four-year break, along with costar Brian Tyree Henry. (Photo courtesy of IMDB) 

After four long years, “Atlanta” finally made its glorious return to television about two weeks ago. As a huge Donald Glover fan, you can imagine that I’ve been waiting for this not-so-patiently.   

Season three was originally set to release in 2019 but was delayed due to scheduling conflicts. Then, like many other shows, “Atlanta” fell victim to the pandemic when production was halted in March 2020. Audiences, now left Paper Boi-starved, wondered where the European tour would take the characters.

I’m sure everyone is already aware of the impact the coronavirus had on the TV and film industry. Many different show and film releases were pushed back. Although “Atlanta” was delayed, at least Glover’s show didn’t meet the same fate as Netflix’s “The Society:” a show left on the ultimate cliffhanger, only to be canceled. It was originally renewed in 2019, but Netflix reversed the decision due to coronavirus-related circumstances. I personally thought the show had so much potential and was sad to see it go. But after seeing shows getting canceled left and right like this, I can’t complain about “Atlanta”’s delayed release.

FX debuted season three with two episodes: “Three Slaps” and “Sinterklaas is Coming to Town.” Admittedly, I did not watch them back to back, so I was left a little lost after watching the first episode. It wasn’t the return of Earn, Alfred, Darius and Van that I expected. In fact, the main cast wasn’t present at all. Earn only makes a short anti-climatic appearance at the very end due to how the entire episode seems to be set up as a dream of his. The first episode opens with a nightmare of two men fishing on an eerie lake, said to have once been the site of an entire town. The white fisherman discusses how white people are blinded to the pain they cause to the Black fisherman before he is dragged into the lake by a swarm of hands. Loquareeous, the main focus of the episode, wakes up from this, but the real nightmare has just begun.

The episode draws from the true story of the Hart family. In March 2018, Jennifer Hart and her wife Sarah drove an SUV off a cliff with their adopted children inside. Unlike the real tragedy, however, the main child Loquareeous returns back to his normal life and sees that the other children were rescued and survived.

“Three Slaps” serves as a perfect example of how the show experiments with crossing genres and straying away from dramedy and into horror. 

“I think funny and scary touch very much. We’ve always kind of been into dream logic because dreams always feel like something bad can happen, even when nothing bad happens,” said Glover at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour. 

This premiere kicked off what Glover described as a season about “the curse of whiteness,” particularly about the blind spots and ways white people are affected by racial issues. The show often deals with issues of race like this, and I think it was about time it truly confronts white ignorance. Throughout the past two seasons, discrimination and stereotypes set against the Black community challenged the show’s main characters. This season is expected to bring in an interesting take on racism from the white perspective. In the first episode alone, one of the adoptee’s parents cries over her inability to give the children a better life and says she thought they were doing the right thing.  

I started watching “Atlanta” because, truly, I am a sucker for Donald Glover. But I have to say, this is one of the only recent shows that I actually find worth keeping up with. It gives drama; it gives comedy; it gives a little bit of everything. Most importantly, it stays culturally relevant. 

It may be subtle, but “Atlanta” starts real conversations about social issues. And frankly, maybe my parents were right about the value of watching something educational that isn’t completely mindless. So if you’re looking for something of substance, turn on “Atlanta” and tap into the genius mind of Donald Glover. 

Sarah Hendartono is a sophomore writing about current events in the entertainment industry. She is also the page design director at the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Showbiz, Baby,” runs every other Tuesday.