Atlanta Season 3 Review: TV’s Best Surreal Comedy Returns

Atlanta It is an attitude. In this uncanny realm, as sketched in the first two seasons of Donald Glover’s protean FX show, cars can be invisible, Justin Bieber can be Black, and a party at Drake’s mansion can be a metaphor for the churning emptiness of social media. Atlanta can also be considered the capital of Georgia. It covers approximately 130 square miles. Atlanta the experimental masterwork, TV’s greatest surreal comedy, has no fixed location. Its incredibly auspicious third season, whose two-part premiere airs on March 24 and will be available to stream on Hulu the next day, takes place on a whole other continent, as Glover’s self-made manager Earn navigates his rapper cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) through a European tour.

But first: a standalone episode chilling enough to rival season 2 highlight “Teddy Perkins,” in which the series’ increasingly illustrious cast is all but absent.

“There are fairy tales to be written for adults,” wrote the French poet and leader of the original Surrealist movement André Breton in his first Surrealist ManifestoFrom 1924. “Stories that are still in a green state.” The season’s opening salvo, “Three Slaps,” could be just such a fairy tale. Scripted by the creator’s brother Stephen Glover, whose growing list of classic episodes includes “Nobody Beats the Biebs” and last season’s upsetting middle-school flashback “FUBU,” it follows an elementary schooler named Loquareeous (Christopher Farrar) whose mom (Nicole Lockley) and grandfather (Timothy Tinker Sr.) are called into a meeting with the principal about the boy’s disruptive behavior. While the issue is not academic but disciplinary in nature, Lauren Halperin (a counselor) recommends that the boy be moved to remedial class.

Once they’re out of the office, his mother scolds him: “If you don’t start using your common sense and acting right, these white people, they gonna kill you. Kill. You.” Then his grandfather gives him three comically light slaps across the face, as the counselor, a white woman, looks on. She walks him back to class, promising to get him out of a home she’s decided is abusive.

That same afternoon, Family & Children’s Services shows up at Loquareeous’ house to relocate him to the crumbling, kombucha-stinking home of a white lesbian couple, Gayle (Jamie Neumann) and Amber (Laura Dreyfuss), who’ve already adopted three other Black children. It’s a dreary place, where washcloths don’t exist, “fried chicken” is a flour-dipped drumstick nuked in the microwave and the kids tend a backyard vegetable garden as their moms supervise, in an unnerving echo of slavery. Rihanna is eager to be praised for taking the title. Spirit animal Gayle and Amber are blind to their cruelty towards the children they care for, but it is clear that Gayle was not prepared. Was ist das?’s clear is that these self-appointed saviors were woefully unprepared to support a family. “Everyone was so supportive,” Amber whimpers. “Every single person. And I just kept thinking: Why isn’t anyone stopping us?’” Loquareeous’ mom’s warning starts to sound like a prophecy.

Some aspects of the episode might raise certain viewers’ hackles. WhatA progressive-minded individual. Atlanta fan might wonder, Are the Glovers brothers against lesbians Women? In fact, like so many of the show’s wildest premises, “Three Slaps” is based on real events. This episode is remarkably similar to Jen Hart’s true horror story, which tells the tale of a white-crusading lesbian couple who adopted six Black children. It was a tragic ending that could have been prevented. And even if it wasn’t drawn from life, the episode would be a haunting parable about the far-reaching implications of white supremacy. If certain scenes, like a hilariously over-the-top cold open that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling, poke fun at contemporary Hollywood’s monster-movie monetization of such issues, now that You must get out It’s not uncommon for wannabes to be everywhere. Atlanta.

The second half of an opening diptych directed by Glover’s cherished collaborator Hiro Murai, “Sinterklaas is Coming to Town,” is both more familiar than its predecessor and more surreal in its depictions of racism. It rejoins Earn as he awakens in a Copenhagen hotel room, next to a white woman who speaks no English, to the realization that he’s missed his flight to Amsterdam. Al’s stoner-sage Darius (a Constitutionally LaKeith Stanfield), is accompanying him on his European tour.

This episode is the conclusion of an arc which sent the characters on separate adventures. However, it reunites the cast in an unusual setting. Even Earn’s ex Van (Zazie Beetz, still wonderful) has flown in to join the crew in Amsterdam; aimless after failing to secure a job she’d wanted, she is, for once, the less stable of the two. Darius, who’s sent to pick her up at the airport while Earn rushes out of Denmark, makes the ideal companion for wandering a foreign city unmoored. Meanwhile, Earn caters to the endless incidental needs of his taciturn cousin, battling his own self-destructive habits by becoming an ingenious problem solver on Al’s behalf.

Atlanta The show’s more traditional storytelling is often overlooked. But this sort of character development and relationships are the foundation of the series. It keeps the viewers engaged in more than the high-concept episodes. It eases the transition from Van and Darius shopping for coats to Van and Darius embarking on a wild goose chase that ultimately involves a dying man who Darius immediately becomes convinced is Tupac, and from Earn and Al glimpsing traditional Dutch blackface in the form of Santa’s supposedly soot-caked helper Black Pete to Earn and Al seeing blackface everywhere they go.

Surreal It is often used in art criticism to describe a dreamy, or even awkward tone. Glover is a writer. Atlanta, and especially in the new season—whose promotional art is a group portrait of Earn, Van, Al, and Darius rendered in a style that splits the difference between two European titans: Picasso and original Surrealist Salvador Dalí—genuinely resembles Breton’s definition of Surrealism as “psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express… the actual functioning of thought.” The idea is that the subconscious, unmediated by logic or analysis or facts, offers the most authentic likeness of reality as we experience it. For example, the season’s second episode riffs on the typical American liberal’s idealization of European life. A scene in an Amsterdam prison (that vaguely echoes A$AP Rocky’s incarceration while on tour in Sweden) paints it as a paradise, with big, nicely furnished private cells equipped with flat-screen TVs, where guards take inmates’ meal orders from a menu. Is that what it’s really like to be behind bars in a country that treats criminals as humans? It’s unlikely. It is both bizarre and touching that the fantasy resonates.

Surrealism, grounded in reality and untethered from traditional thinking is a powerful tool to use when dealing with difficult issues. Atlanta’s most consistent subject: race. An ominous news story, even if it is slightly modified, can be a nightmare for the subconscious. While a Black musician traveling through Europe will not be literally confronted with blackface wherever he goes, he is almost certain to encounter some form of racism at every stop. “Beloved imagination,” Breton wrote, “what I like most about you is your unsparing quality.” It’s unparallel It is the most appropriate word, for these conjoined episodes and even the whole show, to describe them. You can see why they keep going. AtlantaAtlanta, an entire ocean away

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