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Five reasons why FX's 'Atlanta' won a Golden Globe for best comedy

This is posted on Monday, January 9, 2017 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

When FX's "Atlanta" debuted September 6, it was an instant critic's darling. The comedy from the mind of Stone Mountain native Donald Glover was quickly renewed for a second season and was rewarded with a Golden Globe for best comedy Sunday night.

Over 10 episodes this fall, the show featured Glover's Princeton University dropout Earnest "Earn" Marks, his drug dealing cousin Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles, his girlfriend and baby mama Vanessa "Van" Keefer and Darius, Alfred's oddball buddy.

Here are five reasons why it won:

Golden Globe voters like it new: Based on their recent picks for best TV comedy, the 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association tend to like it fresh. The previous three winners were also in their first seasons when they won. Of the show's four competitors in the category, two had already won (Amazon's "Mozart in the Jungle" last year and Amazon's 'Transparent" in 2015) or two had been around for a time (ABC's 'black-ish" is in season three and HBO's "Veep" has finished its fifth).

Mainstream popularity doesn't matter to Golden Globes voters: "Atlanta" ratings are a mere fraction of even the least popular CBS sitcom. Its overnight ratings on average didn't even reach one million. In recent years, none of the winners were big-tent type shows, be it HBO's "Girls" or Fox's "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." Then again, outside of "The Big Bang Theory," hardly any comedy pulls in really big numbers anymore.

The voters feel progressive and hip: The show, with its gritty mileau and injection of hip-hop music, feels very specific to a certain type of Atlanta. These characters are struggling and the humor can be dark and edgy. Earn is frequently downbeat and depressed. Paper Boi has anger issues. Darius is just plain weird. And Glover is already beloved in Hollywood, which is why he also won the Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy. He broke out as  nerdy Troy on NBC's "Community" and had a memorable role in "The Martian." He has now been cast as the young Lando Calrissian in an upcoming stand-alone Han Solo Star Wars film. And he is a successful hip-hop artist himself as Childish Gambino.

The show blends realism with surrealism in a unique way: Glover, like fellow FX star Louis C.K., has total creative control over this show. FX gave him breathing room to do his show his way. This means a hip-hop artist can drive an invisible car. This means a black child can just pop up for no reason in whiteface. This means Justin Bieber is black.

It's unpredictable in its humor: No single episode feels like another one. The debut felt like an indie film as it set up the characters in a slow, leisurely pace. One week, the entire episode was Paper "Boi" on a fictional black network talk show with an angry feminist, interspersed with fake parody commercials. Another featured a rich, white man obsessed with black culture who is more familiar with Paper Boi than his judgmental black wife.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.