In 2016, when the world still felt small, “Atlanta” was a surprising breath of fresh air that challenged television with an unflinching look at police brutality, mental illness, rap culture, and more. Series creator Donald Glover told Time magazine that he wanted to create a series where people of all walks of life could understand the reality of Black people: “The thesis was: How do we make people feel black?”
That first season of “Atlanta” was truly mind-blowing, and each subsequent season has upped the ante with its surrealist moments. The season 2 episode “Teddy Perkins” showed audiences what the show could do, commenting on the nature of fame and family abuse using a Michael Jackson-like character named Teddy Perkins. Glover played Perkins in unsteady makeup, never blinking. In Season 4, Glover portrays a spoof by Atlanta filmmaker Tyler Perry that’s one part Willy Wonka and one part Jigsaw from “Saw.” The surreal world of “Atlanta” is always scary, with all kinds of monsters living around.
I am hilariously, obscenely white, the kind of white that is as basic as mayonnaise on Wonder bread. I have no experience with the characters in “Atlanta,” but watching the series has helped me wrap my mind around it. The surreal nature of “Atlanta” helps create a unique feeling of empathy, because we identify with these characters on a human level even though we may be different. I may not know what it’s like to be a black man in Atlanta, but I do know what it’s like to be afraid and misunderstood, and “Atlanta” helps connect those feelings to a better understanding of others.