To this point Atlanta has been one of my favorite shows on TV. Mostly because it’s smart and constantly surprising. It just doesn’t feel like anything else around. And then they go ahead and disappear for four years. Four years! And, yes, I know Donald Glover was out making big-time music and a poorly received Han Solo movie and that Guava Island thing that nobody saw and whatever other art projects he was concocting, but, man, I missed Atlanta. Until I didn’t. Because television kind of caught up since we last saw Atlanta in 2018. It was a bit of out of sight, out of mind as we were inundated with peak TV from other, more prolific creators. So it was with much anticipation that I waited for Season 3 to drop.
The issue? There is barely any Glover in my Atlanta. In fact, there is very little Atlanta in my Atlanta. Season 3 brings the show to Europe, which immediately removes the feel of the city in which we saw our favorite cast interact, and throws them into that whole fish-out-of-water scenario. Which, in and of itself, isn’t a bad idea. Though it changes the character of the show. And then when you remove the actual actors with whom we’ve spent time previously from the series all together, it’s a little disorienting. This is most obvious in the debut episode — and, remember, they’ve been gone for four years — when we are dropped into a narrative about a creepy-ass adoptive family based on the real-life Hart family murders. It has absolutely no connection to anything, and nobody from the normal cast even appears in the episode until the very end when Glover’s Earn shows up for two seconds. And while the episode is cool and weird and very Atlanta in its cool weirdness, it was a little strange to drop us back into a world without anchoring us in any way to that world.
This is kind of the thrust of the season. Glover really only appears in any significant way in half of the season’s ten episodes. And not at all in at least four. Those four stories being completely divorced from the main narrative. And, yes, most of them are eery and even horrific in a really unsettling way, and would stand on their own as interesting if not perfect anthology tales, but it really makes the season feel disjointed. And I imagine to some disappointing. But once I kind of got used to not seeing Brian Tyree Henry or Lakeith Stanfield consistently, I leaned in and really engaged with this season of seriously bizarre television.
And, honestly, it’s not as if we haven’t tuned in previously for the show’s curveballs. The usual, episodic episodes were always great, but not overly surprising. They told the story of characters with whom we’ve grown and laughed and loved. Okay, that’s stupid hyperbole, but we really grew to love these dudes. But it was the weirdo bottle episodes that folks really talked about, like “Teddy Perkins.” So it wasn’t without precedent that they leaned into these wholly separate tales. Sometimes to make a point about race or society. And sometimes to just tell a pseudo-horror tale that leaves you wondering what the hell you just experienced. And even, in one case, focusing an entire episode just on Van (Zazie Beetz), who spends most of this season wandering in and out of scenes stealing shit in a seeming stupor. But, like this Van-focused season finale episode, “Tarrare,” a bunch of the stuff seems to happen in a dreamworld that is not clearly the reality of the Atlanta we previously knew. It’s as if some of the magical realism that certainly crept around the edges at times in previous seasons sort of took over completely and made us wonder what was actually happening. Versus what wasn’t. Are there really Euro blackface parties? Is there really a Euro Tupac death cult of some sort? Is there really a club where people who have been “canceled” hang out? Do reparations really become a thing? Van is French? All of these things — and a bunch more — feel more like fables, or like an episode of The Simpsons where we clear the slate every episode and just pretend all that stuff that happened wasn’t a thing.
This is all to say that there are moments during this season that are confounding. But also intriguing. But always fascinating. I think it’s what art is supposed to be, right? You may not always get it. You may not always like it. But it should always make you feel something. Angry. Confused. Entertained. Disgusted. Whatever the case, Atlanta continues to be its own thing. Even if some shows have caught up, or even surpassed it, from a narrative and/or thought-provoking aspect. But none leave you with that very specific Atlanta feeling, which is usally a mixture of horror and whut tha? They apparently filmed the final fourth season at the same time as three and will be wrapping it up later in 2022. I’m excited to see where they take us. Because anything involving this group has no way to not be something.