Around five to ten shows are compared to David Lynch’s seminal masterpiece Twin Peaks every year, but none of them deserves the vaunted comparison more than Donald Glover’s experimental gem Atlanta. In a world that is currently dominated by formulaic Netflix series and the oversaturation of content instead of art, Atlanta is the creative tour de force that reminds us that television can still be the medium through which new artistic heights can be reached.
Created by Glover and starring the likes of Zazie Beetz, Lakeith Stanfield and Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta follows the day-to-day lives of a local rapper called Paper Boi (played by Henry) as he tries to break onto the mainstream rap scene with the help of Earn – his music manager/cousin (Glover). While the subject matter might seem mundane on paper, it’s far from the conventional ‘rise to fame’ capitalist propaganda that is heavily distributed through mass entertainment.
“I’m not making a TV show, I am making an experience,” Glover once explained, and he’s spot on. Just like Twin Peaks, Atlanta is an exigent exploration of the absurdity of modernity. Unlike Twin Peaks, which occasionally got carried away with the philosophical aspect of surrealism, Atlanta engages in hilarious sociopolitical commentary through truly bizarre visions of American society in the 21st century.
While David Lynch ventured into alternate realities to curate the perfect surreal experience, Atlanta didn’t feel the need to do that at all. Instead, it insists that the supposedly separate realms of realism and surrealism are actually fluidly interchangeable. These smooth descents into completely crazy scenarios are infinitely more jarring because there’s a suggestion embedded in the subtext which tells us that it can just as easily happen to us.
Ranging from pet alligators and invisible cars to a mentally disturbed knock-off Michael Jackson (Teddy Perkins) to a Black Justin Bieber, Atlanta hurls nuggets of absurdity at us with adequate grace, and we gulp it all down in hushed awe punctuated by outbursts of laughter. Glover said: “We honestly didn’t think Atlanta was going to be seen as a comedy but you have to be able to laugh at the absurd, in order to keep from crying.”
Earn steps into the shoes of Agent Cooper, and he is handed the immense responsibility of helping us navigate a universe that is more surreal than Twin Peaks because it is paradoxically more real. Following in the footsteps of some of the greatest television shows like The Sopranos, Atlanta also enters the discourse of cinematic history by constantly referring to cult classics like Pulp Fiction as well as contemporary hits such as BoJack Horseman.
Atlanta hasn’t earned the Twin Peaks comparison just because it is a thematic goldmine. In addition to the complex issues it addresses and the unique ways in which it addresses them, Atlanta is a modern marvel because of Christian Sprenger’s luscious cinematography and the masterful direction of Hiro Murai. Combined with the characteristically Southern comedy and sublime writing, Atlanta feels overwhelmingly fresh.
“I just always wanted to make Twin Peaks with rappers,” Glover declared but he has done much more than just making a Twin Peaks reboot.
Instead, he has created a vital cultural chronicle that might just be cited as one of the greatest television shows of this century in the future. With the third season on the way, fans cannot wait to find out how Glover manages to outdo what he has already achieved so far.