At the FX TCA panel for the upcoming series Atlanta, star and creator Donald Glover, executive producer Paul Simms, director Hiro Murai, and cast members Brian Tyree Henry (“Alfred”), LaKeith Stansfield (“Darius”), and Zadie Beetz (“Van”) were on hand to about the ambitious show that really defines description (Glover has called it “Twin Peaks with rappers”). The series revolves around two estranged cousins who come together to try and make it in Atlanta’s rap scene. The first few episodes show a truly intimate look at the city of Atlanta, and Glover spoke about the uniqueness of the location (which is also where I live — and he nails it):
“In Atlanta everybody has a philosophy, and some very active dialogue that happen about how things, are how things were, and how things should be. Also, the dynamics of the economy play out really well there, and you can see them very easily.”
Henry added that “the language of Atlanta is familiar and familial,” and that it has a lot to teach other big cities about race and community. Glover continued,
“The thesis was to show people how it felt to be black, and you can’t really write that down, you have to feel it. the tonal aspect was really important to me.”
Atlanta is in the same vein of some of FX’s other recent surreal comedies — though the “comedy” categorization is not really the right way to define it — and could potentially be polarizing. When asked what Glover’s fans will think of it, as it’s such a departure from what we’ve seen of him as Troy on Community or as Childish Gambino, he said,
“Some will be, ‘Oh that’s cool,’ some will be ‘Oh, I hate this thing. I don’t get him’ [But] what was important to me is that this show was personal, and that it had a specific take, because that’s all you can ask for in a show nowadays, having a specific POV.”
The series is funny, often in a low-key way, which is something Glover said after the panel he feels is the most important thing. “Our job on that show into be funny, first and foremost. I never wanted to make a message that was just one thing. I think it’s really whack when shows come out and want to be ‘important.’” At the same time, he also commented that he hope the show can spark conversations about what needs to change to make things better. That is built into the very fabric of the show.
Earlier in the day, FX CEO John Landgraf spoke about how the network was making a big push for diversity in its directing talent, which some commented shows in how they are investing in series like Atlanta. Glover said it’s not just about the word diversity — which he’s “done with,” likening it to “tolerance” 10 years ago — but just “Allow cool shit to be made. The worst thing in the world is to hear ‘that’s really good … for an indie movie’ or ‘that’s really good … for a black show,’ or ‘that’s really good … for a gay show.’ That’s whack.” The key, as he put it, is “if you make something cool for no money, [the studios] will pay attention to it.”
Glover was also — of course — asked about his role in Spider-Man: Homecoming, which he could not — of course — talk about. But he did say that he didn’t catch Marvel’s attention so much as “it was kind of an accident, I wasn’t really out there trying to do that, the internet kind did that. But now I get to see it from the inside, which is all you can ask for as a fan.”
Back to Atlanta; when I spoke to Glover at a press party for Fox and FX and told him that (as an ATLien) I was a little wary of the boldness of the show calling itself “Atlanta,” which he acknowledged is a big thing. But he also said that if the locals like the show, he will feel like he succeeded. And yes, he’s been thinking a lot about Season 2.
Atlanta premieres September 6th on FX.