When I was in the fifth grade I had a huge crush on this guy name Lonnie. Lonnie was one school year older than me and barely knew I was alive but for some reason one day he decided to strike up a conversation. I’ll never forget it. It was 3pm on a Wednesday during pottery class (we went to one of those progressive, hippie dippy schools that taught 2 hours of basket-weaving and 25 minutes of arithmetic.)
“So like…which television character would you say you most identify with?” (Lonnie was Kanye before Kanye was Kanye.)
“Who, me? Oh… um…”
To be honest I had never really given that question much thought before. I was a precocious kid growing up in the 90s so at first I thought to say “Laura Winslow” because #datass but I didn’t want Lonnie to associate my answer with anything having to do with Steve Urkel as I was also kind of a nerd. I eventually settled on Lisa Turtle from Saved by the Bell because she was black and I was black and …dassit. Lonnie looked at me oddly and kept it moving. We never married. All because of that lackluster answer, I am assuming. The funny thing is, at the time I really identified with Winnie Cooper, a character from ABC’s The Wonder Years. She was the original middle school muse—a manic pixie dream girl in the making. She was cute and sweet and smart and didn’t put up with any of Kevin’s narcissistic boolshiggity. I should have picked her. I wanted to pick her. I just felt I couldn’t. You see, Winnie Cooper was a Dwight girl and I looked like Rudy Huxtable. Still do.
Last night, FX premiered their much-anticipated show Atlanta starring Donald Glover. For those not familiar with Mr. Glover (NO, not Lt. Murtaugh, you fool. That’s Danny Glover!) Donald was a writer for Tina Fey’s hit show 30 Rock before landing the role of Troy (of “Troy and Abed” fame) on NBC’s Community for three seasons. He left somewhat abruptly to further pursue his blossoming rap career under the pseudonym Childish Gambino and to practice some self-care for some anxiety issues. Had a character like Troy or hell, even an alter ego like Gambino, existed for me in the 90s I’m sure I would have had a better answer than the girl that made Screech realize he was down with the swirl. Glover’s newest character, Earnest Marks is a guy we can all identify with.
Atlanta starts out with a literal bang as we meet Glover’s Earnest “Earn” Mark, his cousin and local rapper Paperboi and Paperboi’s friend Darius who are currently involved in a gas station misunderstanding with some Worldstar rapscallion that ends in gunfire. The story rolls back to the events leading up to that showdown as we learn more about Earn. FX dropped a two-piece and biscuit with episode one “The Big Bang” and two “Streets on Lock” airing back to back. I went into the program expecting the manic manboi energy of Troy or some of the lighter bits from Glover’s stand-up specials. Earnest Marks is a whole different ballgame, you guys.
Earn wakes up beside his on again, currently off-again babymomtuation, Vanessa and is this close to getting some early morning boo lovin when his own immaturity causes her to drop the double bomb on him: he’ll need to chip in rent money if he wants to live there and Van has a date later that night. Womp to the womp-womp! This pushes Earn into hustle mode and he makes a trip to his parents’ house, not for money but totally for money. It was at this point that I paused live T.V. to scream, “Sheeeeeeeeiiiiiiiit!” at the fact that Earn’s dad is played by Senator Clay Davis from The Wire. Rebuffed by both parents who are literally and figuratively sick of Earn’s shit, he decides to pay a visit to his cousin Paperboi. He’s got the perfect slacker sales pitch and dreams of being his rap manager. Paperboi, Earn, and Darius spark up a jay and talk business and the legitimacy of using a rat as a phone. Earn suggests Paperboi cut all those superfluous skits from his album and let him work on getting him radio play. Paperboi is a bit suspicious in the way any up and comer would be when fam comes out the woodwork. Cousins or not, Earn is going to have to show and prove if he wants this gig.
After hustling a casually racist colleague that he knows at the local hip hop station, our three amigos decide to celebrate at da cloob and the episode brings us back to where we began.
Will Paperboi and Earn throw it all away for a nigga moment? Nawl, son. It’s only the first episode. But they did get arrested and that ish is all over the news.
Ep2, “Streets on Lock”
I’m not going to lie to you guys. I think 2016 Donald Glover is fine as wine. He’s no longer the baby-faced college kid from Community. Just like Drake, facial hair does Glover well. As I’m typing this I am reading it aloud to my boyfriend. I’m asking him if I should leave this part in: my lust for Donald Glover. He’s shaking his head “no”. I click the backspace button and he walks out of the room. I click undo. If my lust for Donald has clouded my thinking from the pilot, episode two should put to rest any claims of lack of objectivity. This episode is nearly flawless in execution. It picks up right where we left off with Earn and Paperboi awaiting processing in jail. Earn admits that he has never been arrested before. The scene is a perfect balance of levity and drama. The cops interrogate our guys off screen and they joke about their futile attempts to set them up. To be black in this country is to know there’s always some new way the system is trying to set you up. They aren’t too worried about it except for the fact that Earn has actually never been arrested before so he may have some things to fear.
“Nigga this aint a movie!”
Paperboi has been processed and released (not before helping some overzealous fanboy police officer stunt for the “instasluts”). Earn has yet to be entered into the system so he’s left to sit and spin with the rest of Atlanta’s alleged derelicts until somebody gives him free. Earn plays straight man to a cast of colorful inmates including everyone’s favorite drunk uncle at the cookout. A guy whose AAVE-approved soliloquy I felt proud to understand 98.2% of. Elsewhere, Paperboi and Darrius are dealing with their own problems including a lemon pepper (wet!!!) server who probably has the lyrics to the “Ten Crack Commandments” tattooed on his sternum and a roundaway girl who is more concerned with taking pictures with a rapper she barely recognizes than teaching her children a lesson about gun violence. Oh, and it’s quite possible somebody is trying to kill them.
Back on the inside, Earn encounters the dark underbelly of our justice system. A system which brutalizes black bodies in a variety of ways including ignoring the mental health concerns of our citizens and to the way lesser extent the culinary tastes of its inmates. A scene between another inmate and his past lover plays transphobia for laughs and I felt guilty for laughing at how damn real and how damn funny it was. I mean, she was over there on the “dude” side, bruh! After what seems like forever for Earn he finally gets processed and bailed out by Van. She picks him up late at night with their daughter Lottie sleeping in the backseat. She looks pissed. I’d be pissed.
And that’s where we leave this episode. Earn’s in the doghouse, Paperboi’s getting mid-day visits by Batman and Darrius is having some form of existential crisis over the meaning of life, death, salt and pepper. I can’t wait to see where this leads us next week.