Spoilers abound below the fold.
I'm already hooked on FX's Atlanta, starring Donald Glover.
And I really didn't want to like it.
That's because I'm a horrible fan. I'm the type of fan that makes TV producers make horrible decisions that ruin things for actors, directors, and fans alike. That is, I don't want to see Donald Glover grow and show his full range of talents. I'd like to just see Troy and Abed* filming a morning show from the back of a library somewhere (or multiple libraries, without permission, just sneaking in to do it), and have that put on Youtube on a regular basis. That's all I want. Is that too much to ask? Could the actors I love just commit to always playing the characters I love, forever? That's all I want.
*I was able to see a sneak peak of Danny Pudi's new show, Powerless, at Comic-Con. He's definitely playing a new character, but he is entirely hilarious in a similar way such that I can forgive him. Powerless, since we are on the topic, centers around people who sell insurance in a world with superheroes, which means there's a ton of claims because the epic fights we see in movies cause massive death and destruction. Great cast, hilarious show, and Pudi is fantastic in it. Though can we get some Abed references in it, you know, for fans like me?
Back to Atlanta, now with spoilers.
Glover is great in it. It is a very good character for him -- nothing like Troy, and yet still occasionally funny in a completely different, much darker way. What I truly loved about the first episode, however, was Brian Tyree Henry's character, Paper Boi.
Paper Boi has just come into a bit of fame after a rap single that's going around, but the show doesn't start there. The show begins with Paper Boi shooting someone who had just kicked off his car's side view mirror.
So, we open with Paper Boi as a killer.
Then the show makes him sympathetic.
This is a twist. Usually, the show starts with a character, gets us to sympathize, and then the character murders someone. Most famously and classically, The Sopranos has Tony murder someone in the fifth episode "College." Of course, people at HBO thought that was too soon, but the audience had four previous episodes to sympathize with Tony, who is humanized in his therapy sessions, and it worked: the audience doesn't turn on Tony after the murder.
Maybe we should have.
Probably we should have.
But we didn't. Or at least most people didn't. And, most people don't turn on Walter White long after we should have. Don Draper doesn't murder anyone, but he's in advertising, which is basically the same thing.
But, the trick has been established: if you get your audience on the main character's side first, they can kill and get away with it. And not because the killings are justified, but because we are already rooting for them, and can't just stop when they become killers.
Of course, that's probably a problem. It is definitely something to worry about.
But Atlanta didn't even do it like that.
First episode in -- first scene in! Our actual introduction to these characters involves Paper Boi shooting someone over a car mirror.
This makes it very hard to find him sympathetic later, but they do it in at least two key ways.
The first is to make Donald Glover's character, Earn, much more relatable, but also less sympathetic. Earn's a Princeton dropout who just can't seem to get his life together, mostly for reasons we have yet to have seen. But, he isn't immediately likable, even though we surely are meant to be rooting for him. The contrast between Paper Boi and Earn puts us more on Paper Boi's side when Earn is attempting to become his new manager, which Paper Boi initially refuses.
More importantly, the key scene takes place when Paper Boi is wandering around his neighborhood and he sees kids playing at being Paper Boi. Of course, they are not playing at having a rap song that may or may not take off and become a hit. They are playing at shooting at people. This disturbs Paper Boi in a way that makes you feel for him.
But, of course, what you are feeling for is that he has shot a person, but doesn't want to be a person who has shot a person. You are feeling for the fact that, in real life, killers are not always cold blooded. That the situation that led him to shoot someone is replaced by regular life, and, his shooting is now something horrific that he has to deal with (while not looking like he is dealing with it to those around him). The very things that put Tony Soprano in surgery are the things that Paper Boi now has to grapple with. And we feel for him as he grapples with being a killer.
And if the show can make you feel for a character in that fashion, working in that direction, I'm definitely interested in watching more.
Though a special appearance from Danny Pudi at some point, preferably in a library, sure would cement the show's quality in my eyes.