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“Atlanta” is back and better than ever

The show created by Donald Glover perfectly picks up where it left off, with a new degree of dark humor

After going on a four-year hiatus for multiple reasons — including the pandemic and the cast pursuing other roles in Hollywood — the FX classic “Atlanta” has finally returned. Similarly to the show, actor and showrunner Donald Glover had been laying low until he posted a picture on Instagram of him with the cast of “Atlanta” in 2021 captioned, “Day 0 S3 ATL.” 

This spring, the entertaining series known for displaying the reality of stardom in the rap industry while tackling serious topics of race is finally back. The season premiere starts off with a doubleheader, with the first episode titled “Three Slaps.” 

The episode stands alone, similar to a short film with a plot unrelated to the show and none of the show’s previous characters, a format done several times before on the show — including episodes such as “Teddy Perkins” and “FUBU.” Stephen Glover, episode writer and Donald’s younger brother, writes an eerie tale of a young Black boy, Loquareeous, who is taken away from his strict mother by Child Protective Services and is adopted by two white women. 

At first, it’s a comedic observation of the cultural differences of the two races, such as the house not having washcloths to shower with and the hilarious scene of the parents making fried chicken in the microwave. However, it quickly takes a disturbing turn. 

Stephen’s message becomes clear when Loquareeous and his three Black foster siblings are forced to do garden work and beg for food. The parallelism to slavery highlighted with dark comedy creates tense moments of laughter.  When Loquareeous wants to sing the rap song “Make No Sense” by YoungBoy Never Broke Again while he works, for instance, his foster mother suggests he instead sing “silly” lyrics complaining about work. 

The moment is very relevant to young audiences, as they likely have Youngboy’s song on their playlist. But while the scene is amusing on the surface, the foster mother’s work song suggestion becomes less so in the context of Sorrow songs or songs of the Underground Railroad — songs used to project encouragement and coded information while enslaved laborers were forced into labor.

The reference to enslavement is an example of the surrealism that “Atlanta” excels in creating. The series stands out in its ability to take this grim premise of white people owning enslaved laborers again through adoption and somehow make it funny. “Atlanta” produces absurd moments that you wouldn’t expect, but they all take inspiration from real moments in past and modern Black experiences. The conclusion of this depressing tale perfectly transitions into the second episode as Earn, played by Donald Glover, is seen waking up from a dream. 

The second episode, titled “Sinterklaas Is Coming to Town,” continues with Earn waking up, already running late for his flight to Amsterdam for a performance by Alfred, better known as Paper Boi, played by Brian Tyree Henry. Episode two is a rush of enjoyable nostalgia as the unique humor and loveable characters of the show appear once again on screen, this time in Amsterdam. Darius, portrayed by LaKeith Stanfield, is still a witty and mysterious character with quotable one-liners. The mother of Earn’s child, Vanessa, portrayed by Zazie Beetz, is still disoriented in her career. 

Together, the two set out on an unexpected adventure that leads to attending a random funeral. As characters who rarely share screen time together, Darius and Vanessa make an entertaining duo. The other pair the episode focuses on is Alfred and his cousin and manager, Earn. The episode is filled with priceless remarks on Dutch culture — from everyone in the room responding with “gesundheit” any time Earn sneezes to extremely polite police officers and their graceful yet terrifying way of coping with death. But there is one ignorant Dutch holiday that bothers the characters, which is the celebration of Sinterklass — a day of exchanging gifts similar to Christmas. 

The city is riddled with citizens dressed in blackface as Zwarte Piet, which translates to Black Pete, Sinterklass’s companion when delivering gifts to children. The complete switch from the Dutch being the nicest people on the planet to their failure to recognize blackface as utterly racist is somehow absolutely hilarious — at the same time, we see Alfred’s and Earn’s comic disbelief as they are greeted by smiles from those in face paint, unaware of their insensitivity.  

The ridiculous adventure concludes with Earn and Vanessa running into each other at the hotel. The simple conversation leads to nothing, but the constant on-and-off relationship between the two and sweet moments shared in previous episodes leaves viewers wondering if anything will happen in the new season. 

The series premiere doubleheader displayed the perfect balance the show has been producing since the beginning — the rise to fame for Paper Boi and his entourage and the creative freedom exercised in unrelated storyline episodes. “Atlanta” will continue to air episodes weekly on Thursday and release them for streaming on Hulu the day after. Season 4 of “Atlanta” is expected to release in Fall 2022. With Donald confirming that season 4 — the final season — has already been filmed, the audience can only sit back and slowly enjoy the concluding ride of the Emmy Award-winning series.