Donald Glover’s show about fame and friendship heads into its third season after burning down every screen in sight by subverting expectations for what a TV series can be.
“Genius” gets tossed around a lot, but Glover has crafted a show that’s trippy and grounded, yet silly and brutal. It’s a show that defies a singular label and demands a seat at the VIP table. One of the best of the best.
Eat or be eaten, here are 10 facts about the Emmy-nominated series.
1. DONALD GLOVER TRICKED FX INTO ORDERING THE SHOW.
The concept of Trojan Horse-ing your way onto TV is something a few creators (including Jenji Kohan of Orange is the New Black) have talked about. Either selling the studio or your audience one familiar thing while introducing them to the real, innovative story hiding inside it. According to Glover, Atlanta followed in that grand tradition by telling FX the series would be more of a traditional hang-out show than it is. “I just Trojan Horsed it,” Glover told Vulture. “I told FX the show was something it wasn’t until we got there and then hoped it would be enjoyable.”
2. THEY MADE A CHICKEN WING ORDER SO POPULAR, A CHAIN ADDED IT TO THEIR MENU.
If you don’t know Atlanta, this can get a little confusing: J.R. Crickets is a real restaurant depicted in the show, but the Lemon Pepper Wet chicken wing order that Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) and Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) get wasn’t on its menu in real life until the show’s depiction of it made a bunch of people order it and J.R. Cricket’s decided to place it on the menu. Which kinda kills the joke. Glover based it on an item on American Deli’s menu, finding it funny that someone could treat Paper Boi to something at J.R. Cricket’s that wasn’t actually on the menu. This is what happens when you inject real restaurants into your fictional show.
3. IT’S CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM FOR RAPPERS.
Along with surrealism, the show trades in wry humor that would make Larry David proud. Glover describes Atlanta as “Curb Your Enthusiasm for rappers." "Being a rapper is super awkward,” Glover told Stephen Colbert earlier this year. "You’re in a video and you got, like, champagne and butts close to your face ... and then you have go to Whole Foods and the person is like, 'Hey, you’re that dude!' and you’re like, ‘Please I really want to buy this ice cream.'" Cue the theme music and the deadpan stare.
4. SINCE HE'S A RAPPER IN REAL LIFE, GLOVER DIDN’T WANT TO PLAY ONE ON TV.
There are plenty of TV stars who echo their real careers in the fictional world. Jerry Seinfeld playing an increasingly successful comedian, Lena Dunham playing an increasingly successful aspiring writer, and Adrian Grenier playing an increasingly successful Hollywood actor. Glover didn’t want to go that route. “That would have been wack to me,” Glover said. “I don’t think people want to see a show of someone actually making it.”
5. THE GLOVERS COMPARE THE SEASONS TO KANYE WEST ALBUMS.
"We’ve kind of been comparing the season to a sophomore record from a new artist," director Hiro Murai told Rolling Stone when Atlanta: Robbin’ Season came out. "Internally, we’ve drawn Kanye parallels: if the first season is College Dropout, this one is Late Registration.” It’s a sentiment from Donald and his brother, Stephen Glover, who is a writer and executive producer on the show. So it’s no surprise that they view the upcoming third season like Kanye’s Graduation. What does that mean, exactly? “This is probably our most accessible but also the realest—an honest version of it—and I feel like the most enjoyable,” Donald Glover explained.
6. BRIAN TYREE HENRY DIDN’T WANT TO STUDY OTHER RAPPERS TO CREATE HIS CHARACTER.
Donald and Stephen Glover write Paper Boi’s raps, and Stephen performs them, but Brian Tyree Henry embodies Alfred and his rap persona "Paper Boi." Yet in crafting the character, Henry didn’t go the conventional route. “I wanted to be so far removed from [studying other rappers] because I think that every rapper, even their names are ways that they want you to know them,” Henry told NPR. “Rappers make personas or names. I felt like it was a way of protection, you know what I mean? So, I didn’t really want to study any rappers per se because I wanted to get to know who [Alfred] really was and where he came from before I could even go to where he was going. Like, Paper Boi is where he’s going.”
7. THEY NEEDED A “WHITE TRANSLATOR” TO USE THE N-WORD ON THE SHOW.
FX initially told Glover not to use the N-word in the pilot, which would have been a dilution of natural speech. “I’m black, making a very black show, and they’re telling me I can’t use the N-word," Glover told The New Yorker. "Only in a world run by white people would that happen." To solve the problem, the creative team brought in white executive producer Paul Simms (known as the “White Translator” to several black showrunners) to make the case for why FX should allow the show to use the word. If you watch the show, you know who won that argument.
8. ZAZIE BEETZ IS CAUTIOUS ABOUT HOW HER CHARACTER IS VIEWED.
As an actress, Zazie Beetz is in a precarious position playing Van, a version of black womanhood not usually seen on TV. Van is representative, but, of course, not wholly so. “I think it is important to see intelligent black women who are also struggling with their partners. You know what I mean?” Beetz told GQ. “That’s all part of this larger narrative of what’s going on in the media and in film and television in generally. But her story isn’t everybody’s story. I don’t want executives in studios to be like, ‘Oh, we have to do more exactly like Van.’”
9. THERE’S A NOD TO CHILDISH GAMBINO IN THE “JUNETEENTH” EPISODE.
When Glover’s (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) third studio album, “Awaken, My Love!”, dropped on December 2, 2016, sharp-eyed internet denizens realized he’d already hidden its album art in an October 25, 2016 episode of Atlanta where Glover's Earn and Beetz's Van go to a Juneteenth party. That’s next level Easter egging.
10. MARIJUANA INSPIRES THE SHOW'S CHAOTIC STRUCTURE.
It’s hardly surprising that marijuana is the muse for much of a show marked by disorientation and disconnection. “We do everything high,” Glover told The New Yorker. “The effortless chaos of Atlanta—the moments of enlightenment followed by an abrupt return to reality—is definitely shaped by weed. When sh*t is actually going on, no one knows what the f*** is happening.”