Atlanta thrives in the space between the real and the surreal, where you might not have enough money in your bank account to pay for a date with your girl, but you do have an invisible car to get away from a club shooting. This groundbreaking FX series has proven two things: 1) A show about black people just living their lives is not only necessary to expanding the narrative of black lives on television, but it can be really, really, really good; 2) A show with a cast full of talented newcomers and green writers who can actually relate to the plot can produce things that are seriously refreshing.
The season finale, “The Jacket,” couldn’t have ended on a more perfect note. There was no solution, no climax, and no sudden plot twist. Just some OutKast and a little bit of progress. The characters aren’t exactly where they were when viewers first met them, but they’re still in a state of limbo. Paper Boi’s career is slowly taking off and he might be going on tour. Van and Earn are on good terms for now. Earn isn’t as broke as he was and he now has his own place, sort of.
Atlanta is so damn relatable because the characters feel familiar. I texted one of my best guy friends this morning to tell him to be weary of the bug Donald Glover has in his apartment, because he’s so much like Earn. I’m convinced that Paper Boi has the exact demeanor of my father when he was younger. I have girlfriends who remind me Van. I crushed on guys like Darius.
The characters also grapple with questions that are both mundane and important: Do you go home to get ready for work or smoke some weed in the car with your best friend? Do you tell someone the truth about your career or fake it till you make it? Do you let an internet troll get to you? Do you have to be politically correct? Do you provide for your daughter?
The second episode of the series touches on transgender people, mental illness, excessive police force, and the jail system in the span of five minutes, without being preachy or making a grandiose statement about being “woke.” Atlanta addresses police brutality and transgender women again in the episode “B.A.N.,” which takes place entirely on an episode of the (fictional) talk show Montague. And, on the season finale “The Jacket,” Earn, Darius, and Paperboi witness their Uber driver getting shot multiple times by the police, but they don’t then become revolutionary or attempt to fight injustice out of nowhere.
The characters are just themselves and Atlanta is about them reacting to whatever life brings their way. They are poor without having to be defined by it and opinionated without feeling the need to make a statement. They are black without having to explain what that means in relation to whiteness.