As we prepare to revel in another season of Donald Glover’s surreal dramedy Atlanta, the erstwhile Lando Calrissian opens up about the ingenious measures he took to ensure his vision for the series is what made it onto FX.
In an extensive but fascinating profile in The New Yorker, Glover explains that the original pilot had a more conventional story than the one that unfolded in Atlanta’s award-winning first season. Some things did carry over to the series premiere, like Earn (Glover) getting his cousin Alfred’s (a.k.a Paper Boi) song on the radio in a bid to become his manager. Glover also wrote about Earn’s co-parenting struggles with Van (Zazie Beetz), which feature prominently on the show that debuted in 2016. But the original script had Isiah Whitlock Jr. playing Earn’s dad, and a spiritual guide in the form of a bow-tied bus passenger, the latter of which seemed primed for Twitter debates.
Glover included a dad and an enigmatic character because he “knew what FX wanted” from him. The Grammy winner tells The New Yorker that the basic-cable network envisioned him and Office alum Craig Robinson, who now stars in the Fox sitcom Ghosted, “horse-tailing around, and it’ll be kind of like Community, and it’ll be on for a long time.” So Glover “Trojan-[horsed] FX” by waving archetypal figures like a “withholding father” in front of executives’ noses, because “if I told them what I really wanted to do, it wouldn’t have gotten made.” His brother Stephen Glover, who serves as story editor, echoes those thoughts, telling The New Yorker:
Donald promised, “Earn and Al work together to make it in the rough music industry. Al got famous for shooting someone and now he’s trying to deal with fame, and I’ll have a new song for him every week. Darius will be the funny one, and the gang’s going to be all together.” That was the Trojan horse.”
The brothers found FX’s initial feedback more “meddlesome” than helpful, but CEO John Landgraf did tell Donald Glover early on that he should “lean into those” parts that “you’re worried we’re going to think are too weird.” And so they did, building on the strange flourishes in episodes like “Streets On Lock” that culminated in the brilliantly bizarre “B.A.N.” This has been part of the show’s ethos from the beginning—Atlanta writer and member of Royalty Jamal Olori tells the publication “We always said, ‘We want to fuck up television.’ Donald would teach us the rules so we could break them.”