Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Reality and the surreal go hand-in-hand on Donald Glover's Atlanta

We’ve enjoyed a wealth of zeitgeist-defining television this year, but it’s hard to imagine any show having the cultural impact of Donald Glover’s Atlanta, which is somehow both the weirdest and most crushingly real show we’ve seen in years. It’s in the tension between those two things—the reality and the surreality—that the magic of the show lies, as well as the aspect that separates it from other, more traditional narratives and total mind fucks, such as last year’s Twin Peaks: The Return.


The above video essay from Wisecrack explores these dual arms of the series, using a number of sequences—“black Justin Bieber,” Clark County’s “Yoo-hoo” song—to help demonstrate how the show is so deftly able to embrace surrealistic imagery and storytelling without veering into full-on absurdity. The environment, emotions, and characters remain so lived-in and relatable that the breaks from reality serve to better prop up their innate satire. Recycling the character and antics of a “bad boy” pop star like Bieber in a black man’s body serves to make a very simple, yet striking, investigation into the double standards we hold for celebrities of different races.

Of course, as the essay notes, “surrealism doesn’t always have to mean something.” Often, it’s used to “undermine and confuse our rational impulse to project meaning onto everything,” which is absolutely something you can tell the next person who thinks season two was “too weird.”

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.