How The Atlanta Crew Channeled The 'Effortless Chaos' At The Center Of The Series

Atlanta, the Georgian city surrounded by forest, is a singularly surreal place, but it's not quite as strange as the version of it that exists in Donald Glover's FX series, "Atlanta." The series ran for four seasons and followed a group of young Black people in the titular city as they tried to not just survive, but actually thrive. The absurd adventures of Earn (Glover), his cousin Alfred/"Paper Boi" (Brian Tyree Henry), Al's best friend Darius (LaKeith Stanfield), and Earn's on-again-off-again girlfriend and baby mama Van (Zazie Beetz) exist in a world that's just tangential to ours, where magic is potentially real and even the strangest things could actually happen. (Seriously, there's an episode where people become trapped in the Atlantic Station parking deck forever, and while it's an absolute maze in reality, it's not a "Twilight Zone"-inspired nightmare. 

In an interview with The New Yorker back in 2018, while promoting the second season of the hit series, Glover explained that the dreamlike quality of "Atlanta" was intentional, and that the folks behind the series had a secret weapon when it came to creating the "effortless chaos" at the center of the series. Here's a hint: the characters are absolutely using the same thing, just for very different reasons. 

It's weed, duh

The characters in "Atlanta" smoke a lot of cannabis, in large part because they're self-medicating for PTSD, trying to escape from their miserable reality into something a little less awful. Glover explains that the entire tone of the series was shaped by weed:

"We do everything high. The effortless chaos of 'Atlanta' — the moments of enlightenment, followed by an abrupt return to reality — is definitely shaped by weed. When s*** is actually going on, no one knows what the f*** is happening." 

Whether he's talking about the characters always being high or the cast themselves, Glover does joke about getting high off of the fake marshmallow leaf joints used as props for the series, so my guess is on the latter. (I also think he's being a bit cheeky because cannabis is still illegal in the state of Georgia and they take the "war on drugs" very seriously.) There is definitely a quality to the series that's reminiscent of being high, even in the horror episodes, with reality just beyond everyone's grasp. Glover once said that he was trying to make "Atlanta" "'Twin Peaks' for rappers," and the show's surreal nature is definitely in tune with the weirdness of "Twin Peaks," though I don't think David Lynch and Mark Frost were passing a bong back and forth while coming up with their disturbing 1990 series. "Atlanta" managed to become its own strange, beautiful thing, and it's not a surprise that smoking the devil's lettuce was a part of that.

A tone that's 'majestic and ethereal'

The series' surreal tone is baked (haha) into everything, right down to the lighting. Director Hiro Murai, who directed quite a few episodes of the series, explained that there was just an idea of how hazy and weird was supposed to be, even when something as absurd as a pet alligator casually escaping happens onscreen:

"Donald's scripts, of all the ones we get, make the most visual sense to me. With the alligator scene, I can tell it's a tonal thing he wants to hit — it's not about story mechanics but about a quality of light and of the onlookers' expressions that's strange and majestic and ethereal."

Stanfield has said that he plays Darius as both a high version of himself and as a combination of all of the weirdness that "Atlanta," both the city and the series, has to offer. Considering that the series finale made viewers guess as to whether or not the entire show took place in Darius's stoned mind, Glover's desire to make the show feel like being high makes even more sense. 

"Atlanta" may be over, but fans will never forget this weird, brilliant series. Just don't ever watch "Teddy Perkins" high. Trust me.