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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Atlanta is a drama about a young man trying to make it as a music promoter in Atlanta, Georgia. The show is set in a gritty milieu in which men threaten each other with guns and shoot each other at point-blank range over perceived insults, women are ogled and their body parts rated, and characters roll and smoke marijuana-filled blunts. Cursing includes "s--t," "ass," and "bitch," aimed at female characters. Frequent use of the "N" word as an insult or affectionately; the use of the word by white characters is questioned. Parents are present and responsible, and characters are flawed but realistic and seeking redemption.
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What's the story?
Everyone had high hopes for Earnest "Earn" Marks (Donald Glover) when he got into Princeton. But he wound up dropping out and moving back to ATLANTA to live with his family. Several years of screwups later, Earn is estranged from his wife and young baby and on the outs with his mom and dad when his cousin Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) has a local hit song. Seeing his chance, Earn becomes Paper Boi's manager and starts trying to work his music-industry connections to move his cousin up the ladder. No one ever said trying to break into music would be easy. And it isn't.
Is it any good?
You've seen this "a star is born" setup before, but this drama makes it fresh with terrific, appealing actors and smart, funny dialogue that makes even hackneyed scenes seem new. When Earn offers to manage Paper Boi, his cousin chides him for excessive ambition: "Ain't you homeless?" "Not real homeless," Earn snaps back. "I'm not using a rat as a phone or anything." "That makes you schizophrenic, not homeless," Paper Boi points out. The whole show is full of lines like that -- sharp enough to make you smile, realistic enough that it sounds like real people talking to each other.
Glover, as Community watchers already know, is a tremendously magnetic actor, though even his fans may be surprised by how deftly he moves from humor to pathos, particularly in scenes with his ex, Van (Zazie Beetz), whom he watches longingly as she moves on with her life, aware that she had good reasons to leave him and that he hasn't always been a great guy. He has disappointed those who love him. This time, though, it's going to be different -- he hopes. And we hope, too, even though it's unclear if Paper Boi is a solid foundation on which to build his house. It doesn't take more than one episode to get sucked into Earn's quest -- even if the premise isn't new.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the music and movie industries are such frequent settings for comedies and dramas. What dramatic possibilities do they offer? Why might stories in these settings be appealing for viewers? What types of dramatic arcs do characters in these types of stories go through?
Donald Glover, who plays Earn, also created Atlanta and wrote many of its episodes. Does it surprise you that his character is the main one? Why would a show creator cast himself as the main character of a show?
If this show waeren't called Atlanta, would you know where it was set? How do movies and TV shows telegraph their settings? How can you tell if the show is actually filmed in the place it's set?
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