Atlanta is back, but not (quite) as we knew it. Even for a series known for its surprise twists and unexpected turns, what’s coming next is uncharted territory. One thing’s for sure: you can take the boys out of Atlanta, but you can’t take Atlanta out of the comedy hall of fame.
Season 1 made its debut in 2016 and immediately had critics and viewers praising both the show and its creator Donald Glover. It wasn’t a complete surprise; Glover was already a success both musically (under the name Childish Gambino) and as an actor, most notably in the sitcom Community. But Atlanta signalled the arrival of a next-level talent.
Atlanta grabbed a lot of trends that were swirling around television and made them its own. A half hour dramedy with a central character who, if not an outright loser, was at least somewhat loser-adjacent, it was more interested in being real – even when it was being wildly surreal (an invisible car drives by in season 1) – than it was in going for the obvious joke.
Earnest “Earn” Marks (Glover) is a 30-something university drop-out who opens the series with zero prospects. His big career move as a would-be music manager is moving home to Atlanta to attach himself to his cousin and rising rap star Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry). While his ex, Van (Zazie Beetz), waits half-heartedly for him to get his life together for the sake of their child, and Alfred’s offbeat offsider Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) goes his own way more often than not, Earn swings between risky moves and a kind of studied wariness while couch-surfing and barely scraping by.
While Paper Boi is conflicted by his success, Earn is called out on his failures; relationships crack because he’s content to let things slide. This isn’t a ‘rags-to-riches, we’re going to make it after all’ narrative. Success is random and comes at you from weird angles; race and class are constant issues that rarely pan out the way you expect. Comedy scenes often swerve into darker territory, or turn surreal. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t.
Each season kept the forward momentum of Paper Boi’s career going, but episode to episode, pretty much anything could happen. One episode might be about Earn’s struggle to afford to take Van out to dinner; another might have Darius getting in trouble at a gun range for shooting at a dog-shaped target, or Van struggling to come up with ways to avoid a drug test.
Watch the season 3 trailer now:
Across the two seasons relationships – between the characters, and between them and an America divided along countless social fault lines – deepened and became more complex. Season 2 ended in early 2018; it’s been a long four years and a lot has changed, in the world and on television. Atlanta’s way to avoid being left behind is both simple and elegant: they’re going on tour.
This isn’t an out-of-nowhere development. The last episode of season 2 featured (among a lot of other things) Earn, Alfred and Darius getting on a plane to Europe. But it – and delays due to Covid, which bumped the series back a year – provided both a clean break with what had gone before, a new setting to play with, and enough time to give the show… if not a fresh start, then at least a little distance from what’s gone before.
Exactly what they’re going to do in Europe remains a mystery, though it seems likely that Earn won’t have his act together, Alfred will bump up against some of the thornier elements of fame and Darius will… be Darius. Van hasn’t been left behind (despite physically being in Atlanta), with reports she’ll have an expanded role in the ten episodes as she and her daughter deal with having moved back in with her mother.
Glover’s remained tight-lipped about the actual events, though he’s made a few comments about the quality. He’s said this season will be the most real and accessible yet, and tweeted back in 2020, “While I’m here: Atlanta s3+s4 are going to be some of the best television ever made.” So that’s good to know.
The episode descriptions provide a little more info on how being in new territory is going to play out. Let’s put it this way: episode two is titled ‘Sinterklaas is Coming to Town’ with the synopsis: “People know blackface isn’t cool anymore, but they try too hard to go viral.”
Sounds like Atlanta hasn’t lost its edge.
Season 3 of Atlanta premieres exclusively in Australia at SBS On Demand on Friday 25 March. The season launches with a double episode, with episodes then streaming weekly on Fridays. The new season will also be airing on SBS Viceland, starting with a double episode from 9.20pm Friday March 25. Catch up on seasons 1 and 2 while you wait:
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