FX’s Atlanta is the rare black comedy that is beloved by both critics and audiences. The premiere drew in over 3 million views, and the show has a 100 percent fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
While it evokes the surrealism of Twin Peaks, the stoner humor of Dazed and Confused, and the ethos and sound of Southern trap music, the show is uncanny in how it captures the cultural and regional specifics of Atlanta.
From the Follies-strip-club reference to the hilarious scene about wet-lemon-pepper wings from J.R. Crickets (I didn’t even know that was possible), Donald Glover’s show is as much about the city as it is about Earn, Paper Boi and the simultaneously profound and unendingly high Darius.
Atlanta is, to my mind, the best show to be set in the city, but that raises an interesting question: What are the other top shows based or shot in that metropolitan area? Here is a ranking of 10 shows you may have missed.
Honestly, I cannot stand this show (or, really, anything that Tyler Perry makes), but I do recognize the impact his work has on the city—and like many Southern black mothers, mine loves almost everything he creates. This is the most tolerable of his shows, so—here you go, Mom.
This is a lesser version of a show about what I call faux-bougie blackness. The twist here is that the women are either married to doctors or are themselves in the medical profession. Yet it is a living testament to the statement, “You can pay for school, but you can’t buy class.”
It’s fascinating to watch hip-hop artist T.I. and former Xscape member Tiny raise their children. Their parenting styles are, at times, confusing but, more often than not, commonsensical. I think they try a bit too hard to play to the camera, but they bring a level of authenticity rarely seen on reality television.
Smiley is gifted in his ability to embody familiar character tropes from black church culture. This show ran for three seasons on TV One but failed to find an audience big enough to sustain it. Nevertheless, Smiley’s portrayal of Bernice Jenkins is sidesplitting hilarity.
6. The Game
After this show moved to BET in 2011, it was shot in the ATL. In its own way, this series opened the door for shows like Empire and Ballers because it showed that a comedy-drama populated by people of color could be profitable.
This had so much potential. It premiered in 2013 as BET began its transition into the network we see today. This promising offering purported to be a fictionalized examination of young Wayanses who wanted to be known as artists and not just as the sons of legendarily famous comedic actors and actresses. Unfortunately, the show received poor ratings and was canceled after just 10 episodes.
4. Family Feud
I’m a fan of neither his respectability politics nor his antiquated views of gender, but Steve Harvey is funny as hell when hosting this game show, which is shot in Atlanta. I have too often had to tell my sons not to repeat things they’ve heard on this show (the sexual innuendo is usually thinly veiled), but they love to play along and try to guess the answers. Lawrence loves the kids, so this show makes the list.
The only reason this show isn't even higher on the list is that it isn’t truly a “black show”; however, given the diverse cast, I decided to include it anyway. The show was initially shot in and around Atlanta, and the way it captures how quickly a congested city can turn into rural isolation is chilling.
This is the gold standard among Bravo series about well-to-do, yet difficult-as-hell housewives. Look, if a show can make NeNe Leaks a star, then it’s doing something unique. The faux-bougie-ness is hilarious, and the show created the template for staged drama.
Look. I’m an academically trained philosopher. I’ve read Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth three times, and W.E.B. Du Bois’ Souls of Black Folk literally changed my life. I love Jesus (although I cuss a little), and I regularly attend Bible study. I know which fork to use when eating a multicourse dinner, and I know how to properly pair wines with meals instead of just drinking chardonnay or moscato with every dish.
That being said, I still like ratchet ish. LHHATL is almost transcendental in its messiness (except for the last season, which was disappointing). From Stevie J’s cartoonish face to Mimi Faust’s absurd turn as an unacrobatic porn star, this show is undeniable absurdist fun. Almost everyone in the show is an aspirational singer-rapper who spends endless hours in the studio, but, ironically, two of the few recent songs of note to be made by a member of the cast are the infectious “I Deserve” and “In That Order,” by Mama Dee. I am not ashamed to say that I love this show, but I am slightly ashamed to admit that I know the lyrics to both of Momma Dee’s songs by heart.
We are in the middle of the golden age of television, and it has finally made its way into the black community. Like Queen Sugar, Atlanta is intentional in how it evokes a time and place, and this list is a primer on the many ways the ATL has been captured on-screen. Now I’m off to my local wing spot to see if they know how to make wet lemon-pepper wings.
Atlanta airs on FX Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET.
Lawrence Ware is a progressive writer in a conservative state. A frequent contributor to Counterpunch and Dissent magazine, he is also a contributing editor of NewBlackMan (in Exile) and the Democratic Left. He has been featured in the New York Times and discussed race and politics on HuffPost Live, NPR and Public Radio International. Ware’s book on the life and thought of C.L.R. James will be published by Verso Books in the fall of 2017. Follow him on Twitter.