When the “Atlanta” series was being created, the tone was clear.
On the first day, writer-producer Stefani Robinson said, Donald Glover (the creator and star, shown here) “said. ‘We are going to get canceled because of what we’re going to try to do …. So let’s have fun.’”
That’s how Stephen Glover – a writer-producer and Donald’s brother – recalls it.. The idea, he said, was: “If we’re here only four episodes, they’re going to be the best four episodes ever.”
And then? It became four seasons, not four episodes. The show became popular and honored … and then not so much. It starts its final season (10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, on FX), relishing its quirks.
“People can do whatever they want,” Donald Glover said. “You just have to find your own happiness.”
The first two seasons (2016 and 2018) were clear hits. Both drew Emmy nominations for best comedy and Glover won for best comedy actor … both were chosen by the American Film Institute as one of its “program of the year” winners … the first year was named best comedy series by both the Television Critics Association and the Golden Globes.
Then came a long pause.
At first, that was because Glover was playing Lando Calrissian in a “Star Wars” movie. Then came Covid. There was a four-year gap before the final seasons arrived – one in March, the other now.
That third season opened with a self-contained episode, without the usual characters. A later episode had Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles in a hallucinogenic haze, confronting increasingly weird things.
Ratings fell steeply. The TCA did again nominate “Atlanta” for best comedy series, but others didn’t.
Now comes the fourth season, which Donald Glover says won’t be nearly as weird. “This is probably the most grounded season.” Adds his brother: “Maybe people won’t hate us as much this time.”
Still, Donald grants that the season-opener “is kind of strange.” That one has Earn (Glover) and his girlfriend Van wander through an almost-inescapable loop … and Darius trying to return an item in the midst of looting … and Alfred following a dead rapper’s elaborate clues.
The result feels like it was written by Serling and Seinfeld, Fellini and Freud. It may be the only episode this year to have someone say: “I’m not a looter; I’m just returning an air fryer.”
The second episode (10:40 p.m. Thursday) also has quirks. It tells two stories that seem, at first, wildly unrelated, one centering on someone we’ve never known before.
Those episodes go to Hulu the next day, with a new one reaching Hulu on the next eight Thursdays. And yes, some of them may be extreme. As Donald Glover put it: “It’s very hard to make something that people think is either brilliant or a piece of trash …. Isn’t that what it’s supposed to do?”
Robinson compares it to punk rock, ready to “just throw it out there for better or worse and not be worried about how it’s going to be received.”
And even at the start, she said, “Atlanta” had its odd moments. “People forget there was an invisible car in Season One that ran people over.”