“Atlanta” Made a Comeback

Donald Glover in "Atlanta"

When I wrote, prior to the debut of its most recent season, that Season 3 of “Atlanta” was a disappointment, I kept coming back to the fact that the creators really didn’t give a damn that most folks didn’t like what they saw. It even sounded like they were proud of the fact that they messed with our heads by giving folks something different that would make us think in a manner they assumed we hadn’t thought before. And now, with Season 4 having come and gone, with much more favorability from its audience than they given in the series’ last attempt, I wonder if the writers find this most recent response satisfying, or if they might be mad that they simply gave us the Black TV show that we know and love…? 

Season 3 of “Atlanta” was a disappointment 

I won’t harp on it too much again, because you can just read the article yourself, but Season 3 of Atlanta was your favorite rapper’s worst album. Sure, even that bad album has great moments that remind you why you’ve bought every song they’ve ever made. But when you look at the album in its entirety, you recognize you’d rather re-listen to the entirety of their previous discography than ever play that album again. Just like I will never re-watch season 2 of The Wire, I will not be re-watching Season 3 of Atlanta in my lifetime. In order for me to do that, I would have to completely forget how I feel about it. So unless my lifetime includes severe memory loss, that’s a cool $24.99 on the App Store that I can save. 

But in case you forgot why Season 3 isn’t worth watching, I’ll give you the Cliffnotes. One, after a five-year hiatus, the show came back with just 6 episodes…and 4 short films that nobody asked for. Two, while the writers claimed they were doing something TV had never done before, what they in fact did was just give us another anthology series, and it wasn’t a very good one. And third, it wasn’t a funny season. Sure, mystery, intrigue, and drama are all great–and when I watch Game of Thrones, that’s exactly what I expect. But when I’m watching a sitcom or comedy (which is what the series labeled itself when it was collecting Emmy nominations and Golden Globes back in the day), then I expect to laugh. Is that too much to ask? 

Thankfully, these issues were properly addressed in Season 4 of Atlanta. While the ways in which they achieved peak Atlanta storytelling may seem obvious, they’re worth diving into, so that we can appreciate how long we had to wait to get the “actual” series we love. 

The show has come back to its Atlanta Roots. 

Perhaps the biggest thing preventing Season 3 of “Atlanta” from feeling like “Atlanta” was the fact that it wasn’t in Atlanta. Going into Season 3, I didn’t think that would be a problem–I thought the essence that is Atlanta traveled well. But like your cousin from the south that just doesn’t get why cocktails in NYC cost $20 and that a 7-block journey is not something that requires a car, Atlanta’s spirit was not transferable to Europe. In just the first four episodes, Season 4 quickly presented us with very black, very Atlanta situations: going to the mall and/or outlet center and seeing everybody from your past; giving a damn about what D’Angelo is up to at this point in his life, cultural appropriation at the highest of levels, going to church with your parents, seeing the big money in Atlanta sell its Black citizens short. And that wall just episodes one through four. Those are themes that just didn’t travel very well to Europe, but thankfully, they’ll always have a home in the A. 

The funny premises are back, without having to violently suspend disbelief. 

Hey! Remember when “Atlanta” used to be funny? Well, that part was back in Season 4. In the very first episode, we got the unique horror-comedy plots that we got used to see in Seasons 1 and 2. Darius was being chased by a woman on a motorized scooter. Alfred was in the midst of a creepy scavenger hunt that leads to a funeral. And both Earn and Van are lost at Atlantic Station while constantly running into their exes. Juxtapose this against an episode from Season 3 in which an apologetic, fourth-wall crossing cameo by Liam Neeson is the major talking point of the episode, and you can see why we’re excited that the crew decided to get back to the basics of making us laugh in their final season. 

We get to focus on our favorite characters. 

Last but not least, we got to return to our favorite characters right from the beginning of Season 4, which as I mentioned, brings all of Earn, Darius, Alfred and Van into the fold. As per usual, Van doesn’t have much of a presence, if any, throughout the first 3 episodes, which is unfortunate, but I also find understandable given her character doesn’t work with the other main characters. Furthermore, we got a chance to experience the 3 guys, and really Alfred and Earn, back in their hometown, while also getting to see them develop and take on the various aspects of their lives. Whether it’s Earn dealing with how to handle, through therapy, all of the people who have disrespected him in the past. Or if it’s Alfred trying to figure out what his life is beyond performing, we’re getting to see how the success they garnered in Europe is affecting their everyday lives at home. 

With the return of the actual city of Atlanta, humor, and character development, I liked what I saw from the last season of Atlanta. I know some critics have remained harsh, but I really think that’s because we were left so long with just the memory of how great the first 2 seasons were, that it was going to be hard for some people to get over such a terrible third season. 

However, I think the writers went through the healing process, and they landed the plane in a way that ended what was once a show headed for all-time greatness into a respectable conclusion and final ranking on the all-time best Black TV show list

I know I’ve been hard on season 3 of Atlanta, and while I’m all for expanding boundaries and opening up minds, you don’t put on a live press conference during the middle of an action movie and tell ticket payers you wanted to redefine cinema for them. Sometimes you just give people that great thing you’ve been giving them, make it a little better each time, and live with the beauty that is incremental improvement and experimentation. The first 2 seasons of Atlanta adhered to that principle. The difference between adhering to that, consistently, and not may be the difference between this show going down as one of the greatest TV shows of all-time and these writers blowing one of the best starts to a TV show we’ve ever seen. 

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