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2022 SXSW Festivals Film

‘Atlanta’ Season 3 Premiere Review: A welcome sleight of hand

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Atlanta fans were forced to be patient for nearly four years. We last left Earn, “Paper Boi,” Darius, and Van coming to terms with shifting careers and responsibilities in 2018. So after almost a complete presidential, Olympic, and high school cycle, where are we now with these characters? You’ll be eager to know that they are no foreigners to even stranger circumstances.

Atlanta Season 3 promotional poster.

Regular series director Hiro Murai stated during the SXSW premiere Q&A that Season 3 of Atlanta is “the maximalist” season, and he’s not kidding. Our cast is thrust into a bizarre European tour that proves Atlanta is more than a place, but a state of mind that has followed their escapades. Before any of that though, the episode “Three Slaps” reminds us why Atlanta sparks conversation – as none of the main characters appear in 99% of the episode.

That’s right. The season premiere instead introduces us to Loquareeous (Christopher Farrar), a young Black boy whose enthusiasm for Black Panther is curbed by his public school.  His watchful mother suggests if he cannot follow the rules of the white world, that he would be killed by it. As punishment for his outburst at school, Loquareeous’ grandfather slaps him lightly on the face three times and his school proceeds to call Child Protective Services. CPS shows up and takes Loquareeous away and he is subsequently adopted by a white lesbian couple that has also adopted three suspiciously malnourished, silent, Black children. 

Loquareeous (Christopher Farrar) in “Three Slaps,” Atlanta‘s Season 3 premiere.

The second episode “Sinterklass is Coming to Town” follows right where the pilot left off and we are progressively reintroduced to a pinballing Earn (Donald Glover), a meandering Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), a relaxed and imprisoned Alfred AKA “Paper Boi” (Brian Tyree Henry) and a wanderlusting Van (Zazie Beetz) adjusting to the milieu of Amsterdam. Atlanta as we’re most familiar seeing it begins here with a whirlwind of events that blend sitcom levels of energy with a splash of Master of None hijinks in its prime.

Amsterdam has its own bag of quirks that remind the characters that some things never change. A run in with multiple LARPs of Sinterklaas’ blackface companion Zwarte Piet and a shocking execution of a parallel famous rapper (guess who?) are among the vignettes the ATLiens witness in just a single day. Earn steadily manages an Alfred who’s leaning into his persona with all the luxuries and excess that would imply while Van confides in Darius of a less-than-ideal situation back home that propelled her to visit Amsterdam uninhibited.

Hiro Murai and Donald Glover’s collaboration is a match made in creative heaven. Each episode echoes a directing and visual sensibility that even the best feature films cannot muster. Highlights include the shadowy horror scene opening, Loquareeous’ long march back home in the pilot, and the second episode’s musically driven intro, and Paper Boi’s exquisite jail sequence. Amsterdam’s pale, muggy skies contrast well with the hot, lush swamps that we’re used to. This wouldn’t be possible without a strong narrative identity which Atlanta has in spades with the likes of Stephen Glover and Janine Nabers on writing duties. 

Earn (Donald Glover), Van (Zazie Beetz), Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) and “Paper Boi” (Brian Tyree Henry).

Atlanta pulls no punches in this strong pair of episodes. It feels as if the series has fully embraced the madness of our present world and is readily spinning those ironies out into fables of the Black experience and the Othered experience. Blatant references to the Hart family murders of 2018 and the ongoing controversies of blackface in Europe prove that Atlanta wants to step in it. And it’s not as if the show is there to make comprehensive, overtly teachable commentary on these topics. During the SXSW post-premiere Q&A, the writers revealed the fun of going over the top sometimes for no other reason because they can and they want to. They are blatantly playing with our expectations and the series is all the better for it.

Season three feels like it wants to explore more than just the double consciousness of being Black in America by saying that A.) double consciousness exists everywhere else and B.) these characters are grown up and at different places in their lives. The characters have made the biggest jump between last season and this one, and I’m still compelled to know more. With a fourth season already in the works, we’re in for a lot more Atlanta and no one can convince me they know what’s going to happen next.

Score: 4.5/5

The Atlanta Season 3 Premiere was covered as part of this year’s 2022 SXSW Festival.

Series pages: FX | IMDb

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