FX’s Atlanta is one of those shows that can go from hilarious to haunting in the span of a few minutes without betraying the authenticity of its story or characters. This masterful control over the show’s tone comes from the top-down, thanks to the successful partnership of creator and star Donald Glover and the series’ primary director Hiro Murai, who previously collaborated on music videos for Glover’s rapping alter ego Childish Gambino, including the critically lauded video for “This Is America.” Recently, in anticipation of the second season finale, Murai spoke with The New York Times about the visual language of Atlanta and how the show employs dream logic to pull off some of its more jarring moments.
“A lot of what we do on the show is an extension of ideas that we were playing with in our music videos,” Murai tells the Times. “Whether it’s blending comedy with a dramatic performance or with a heightened sense of surrealism, all the things that we were playing with sort of found their way into Atlanta.” Those surrealist elements are front and center in season two, where the already dark show has taken an even darker turn. The “Teddy Perkins” episode, in which Glover dons mask-like prosthetics to play the creepy, soft-spoken titular character, is a particular standout.
“There was a general sense of unease on set because the cast and crew didn’t know how to behave around him,” says Murai, referring to Glover in that episode, who reportedly stayed in character between takes. “Just being in the same room with him was really unsettling, and it definitely made me lose some sleep.” That on-set terror certainly translated to the finished episode, which simultaneously feels like a huge departure for the show and exactly the kind of thing they would do.
Other instances of the show’s dream logic come in smaller doses. The season two premiere ends with the “euphoric” escape of a pet alligator, the final shot from “The Club” in season one is of an invisible car mowing down bystanders in a parking lot, and, all the way back in the series premiere, Earn is greeted on the bus by a mysterious suit-wearing stranger who gives him a Nutella sandwich and seems to speak in riddles. This final moment, Murai says, exemplifies the ethos of the show. “Something that feels right, but doesn’t necessarily have a logical throughline. We’re always chasing that feeling.”
You can read the whole interview here.
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