Over the 2000s, the television sitcom has changed dramatically compared to the standard multi-camera format Americans were accustomed to watching. The single-camera format has dominated television sitcoms thanks to shows like Malcolm in the Middle, Scrubs, Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock. There also is rarely a laugh-track anymore. Jokes and punch lines are for the viewers to decide what is funny or not funny. They aren’t forced upon per se. With that being said, most of these sitcoms still followed the same format week after week, using the same characters, and same locations. This all changed with a show called Louie. Created by popular stand-up comedian, Louis CK, the show followed a struggling stand-up comedian going through every day life in NYC. Yes, that is basically the same premise as Seinfeld, but Louie really bent the rules from what a traditional American sitcom looked like and was structured. FX gave him the freedom to do whatever he wanted, and that’s exactly what he did. Some episodes were straight up comedy, some were more dramatic. Some episodes contained two smaller episodes, and some stretched to as long as two hours long. Brilliantly written and directed by Louis CK himself, Louie changed the game for American sitcoms, and he has several awards to back it up. Now, there’s another sitcom that FX has given us that also breaks the rules and offers great directing (almost cinematic like), writing, and comedic performances. Enter Atlanta.
Atlanta is created by booming, talented comedian, writer, rapper Donald Glover. Based in the inner-city life of Atlanta, Atlanta follows a young, single adult named Earn (Donald Glover) who manages a rising rapper named Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) while also trying to support his child and on-again, off-again girlfriend, Van (Zazie Beetz). The show does a great job of displaying the hardships, struggles, and turmoil of young African-American adults. However, it never feels too assertive or in-your-face. Really anyone can relate to the struggles these characters are going through, and we as an audience have a better understanding of what young African-Americans deal with on a day-to-day basis. It approaches stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination in a humorous and clever way. It is really refreshing to watch a show that deals with real-world issues that is not only relatable, but very enjoyable to watch. It’s rich in its content, but still engaging with interesting stories and characters.
The characters are very likable and they have multiple layers to them. There isn’t a single one-dimensional or predictable character. Each character is brought to life and memorable. Even though Donald Glover is the big star in the cast, the entire show doesn’t revolve around just him. It doesn’t follow the central character and deal with his interactions with other people like a show Louie. In one episode, it might involve just Paper Boi and what he is going through. In another episode the main character could be Earn’s ex-girlfiend Van, with barely any of the other main cast members even shown. This is risky, but it really pays off because all the characters are interesting, and the performers are all very talented and likable. The show does a great job spreading the wealth with the entire cast, so we as an audience can get a different perspective for each character and their viewpoints in the show. This is one of the best qualities the show offers, and I think is something more shows could learn from.
Atlanta really is a breath of fresh air and is really setting the bar high on how a traditional 30 minute sitcom can be made. It is bold, ambitious, and very unpredictable. It’s made like a high-quality independent film. The directing is pristine, and the writing is daring. Each episode in the first season’s 10 episode arch really stands out and is different from all the rest. With one of the best episodes in the series, “B.A.N,” the entire episode takes place at a local day-time talk-show, called Montague, and is structured like an actual episode of Montague. There is even fictionalized commercials that the writers wrote, so it would seem realistic. The episode touches on transphobic behavior, but focuses on a young, African-American man who believes he is really a “white man.” This is a hilarious spoof on our culture which has been ridiculed with hatred towards transgender people. Just a perfect example of the hysterical and ambitious ways Atlanta is able to get their messages across without being too preachy and still very entertaining. I really can’t say enough good things about this show, and I implore anyone who hasn’t seen it yet to please give it a chance. Atlanta is different from any show, and I think will help change even more how American sitcoms can be made. Television is as cinematic as ever, and there’s currently a thin-line between the quality of cinema and television on the smaller-screen. Lets just hope that television continues to be highly-original, gripping, and extraordinary like Atlanta is, and movies can start being more original (less sequels, reboots, and remakes please) and learn a thing or two from the great television shows of today.