Donald Glover's/Childish Gambino's new show is part of the current wave of Black tv; Queen Sugar, Insecure and Atlanta. At first glance, Atlanta seems to be a meandering show without a focus, but by episode 3 or 4 you begin to understand Atlanta's rhythms. Humor is a definite part of the show, but so are themes of Black culture. Atlanta subtly explores a variety of themes as each episode has a moment or theme that analyzes the positives and negatives of that aspect of Black culture. Thus, to do a strong write-up, one has to analyze each of these themes and what they mean throughout each of the episodes. Spoilers ahead:
The first episode's largest themes outside of rap culture as a whole definitely deal with the differences in how Black people relate to each other versus how particular white people relate. Earn is not treated with the same admiration as Paper Boi by a white friend of his which shows how white people who have ignorance and moments of racism are selective in which Black person they feel they can freely say base statements or words such as "nigga" around. Furthermore, Earn relates to the help for a hook-up in playing Paper Boi's music which in turn leads to the gun play that occurs in rap.
Episode 2 highlights the systematic oppression of the jail system. Note that this is not a prison episode, it is people waiting for booking with jail episode. However, there is a lot going on from the humorous friend screwing another friend over to the sadder moments on transphobia in the Black community and how mental illness in the Black community is treaty. Neither is handled properly as the mentally-ill "criminal" is savagely beaten instead of committed for help and the transsexual character is demeaned and devalued in her place in society. One other contemplative moment in this episode is when Paper Boi tries to kill kids not to shoot each other with toy guns, but then their mom admonishes then admires Paper Boi once she knows who he is. She also mentions that only one kid is hers and it shows the dichotomy of the disapproval of violence for rap culture, but embracing of rapping talent and lifestyle at the same time.
Episode 3 revolves around the mysteries of the drug trade as Paper Boi and Darius get involved with a crazy drug dealer and his people for an exchange. There are moments here that seem out of much more sinister show and the direction behind the moment Migos arrives in the woods is filled with suspense. Earn's issues deal with the hustle for a $, which will continue to be a reoccurring theme in the show.
Episode 4 has the odd trials of Darius and Earn trading up for money exchanges in the future. However, the real highlight here is how Paper Boi deals with media attention from a troll. There are hilarious moments here, but at the same time in introduces Paper Boi to the social media frenzied world we live in. This how people get news, opinions and humor by constantly uploading and creating memes for the masses to utilize. It's a changing world that Atlanta highlights in how it has distanced those who are unaware of it from participating in its discussion.
Episode 5 begins the second half of the show which is far more subtle than the white guy treating Earn lowly or the jail sequences of the earlier episodes. Paper Boi has a hilarious romp with a Black Justin Bieber who is as annoying as the real Bieber which for me shows how opinions of characters would not change regardless of race (hence me thinking that Eminem might have a different fanbase if he was Black). However, I personally think Darius's shooting range scene in which his analysis of shooting a dog target is taken as highly offensive versus the shooting of black human targets is a much more potent moment. Furthermore, he is the only one let go from the range in argument between him, white Latinos, and white men which speaks volumes to the perceived threats of Black men versus the actual threat of white men.
Episode 6 is a glorious shift to Van (Earn's former partner) and a day in the life of her dealing with how the world sees her versus one of her rich athlete girlfriends. The episode goes from their intense argument on how Black women determine value and success in the lens of lavish lifestyle versus consistent work and shallow image versus family roots. Afterwards, Van gets high then deals with the next day of trying to eradicate that element on a drug testing day at the school she works at. Besides the humorous fact that this is filmed at my old Atlanta school (which doesn't drug test), this continues to show Van's simple struggles of work even when she does have stability.
Episode 7 may be the funniest episode in the entire show and certainly the most memed episode so far. Paper Boi has a hilarious round table discussion with a feminist and the host of the show within a show Montague. This episode runs with its theme with bells and whistles as it even changes the format of the commercials, introduction and style of the show to something out of BET all the while critiquing the absurdity of many elements of it (car culture, odd transition screens, and nonsensical interviews). The highlight of course is Harrison's want to be transracial from going to Black to white (showing Rachel Dolzeal's utter nonsense) and how it fails to be as coherent an issue as homophobia or misogyny which Harrison supports.
Episode 8 at first seems to be of lower quality, but instead it shows club culture in all its glory and misery. From promoters who won't give you money, what the VIP section is, thirsty women who want drinks not you, club shootouts, bartender knowledge and music you don't actually like. It's completely on point and shows why I don't want anything to do with the club because it often turns out to be too much money and too much time invested for nothing.
Episode 9 is a discussion on the false platitudes Black people with money but no consciousness give themselves. We see a interracial marriage that seems not genuine due to how limited in their emotions the Black person in the relationship can be (I think this often with my father and how he limits himself with my mom). There is an air of dishonesty throughout the episode that occurs at many esoteric Black gatherings and it isn't until Earn calls it out that Van truly appreciates him.
Episode 10 does not have a theme so much as it has moments - the strip club sequence in trying to identify a dancer to no avail, the police brutality shooting sequence, and the hilarious snapchat of stereotypes. While the ending is a deeper meaning into self-preservation the moments are all part of a Black reality that this show tried to highlight without hitting it on the head. There are wonderful and terrible aspects about being Black in America. One day you may be exclaiming with a friend about lemon pepper sauce on some wings - which you can honestly only fully appreciate if you're Black while the next you may feel as if you don't have a dollar to your name but are somehow still living - which again is Black as well. Atlanta is about all of that without saying it and I highly encourage you to see it.