Film and drama

Screen Themes: Happy vs Atlanta

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It’s time to take a trip into two very different small screen worlds as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out the decidedly surreal Happy and the all-too-real Atlanta.


Created by Grant Morrison and Brian Taylor (2018)

Starting life as a comic book written by show creator Grant Morrison, Happy tells the story of a former detective turned hitman who partners with an imaginary flying horse to rescue a little girl kidnapped by an evil Santa. If this all sounds a little weird to you, then brace yourself — things are only going to get stranger from here.

If you only know Christopher Meloni from his understated, bordering on soporific, performance in Law & Order SVU then you’re in for a surprise. Viewers who watched him as the manipulative Keller in Oz may be better prepared, but his performance in Happy is still remarkable. Meloni is magnetic playing the drug addicted, near psychotic Nick Sax, driven by personal demons and bad decisions yet still compelled to help the helpless.

Voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt, Happy the imaginary flying horse (or unicorn, if you prefer) is the perfect foil for the jaded Sax, blindly optimistic in the face of random ultraviolence and unrelenting in his desire to rescue his kidnapped friend Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo). Standing in their way is a Very Bad Santa (Joseph D. Reitman) and a whole family of angry mobsters, headed by the ruthless Blu, played with seething menace by Ritchie Coster.

Featuring frequent graphic violence, drug use, harsh language, adult themes and at least one authentic "what the fuck?" moment in each episode, Happy is ideal for fans of pitch-black comedy and twisted redemption stories. 

Atlanta, season two

Created by Donald Glover  (2018)

Created by rapper/actor/renaissance man Donald Glover, Atlanta was designed to show people what it is like to be black in America. Narratively loose (to say the least), the series juxtaposes the mundanity of daily minutiae with the ever-present threat of gunplay and random acts of shocking violence.

When we first meet Earn Marks in season one, he is a Princeton dropout trying his hand as manager for his aspiring rapper cousin Alfred, known professionally as Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry). Sleeping in a storage locker and spending his money before he makes it, Earn is a trying to be a better man and support his daughter while navigating the murky waters of the Atlanta rap scene. Challenging this goal is the increasingly jaded Paper Boi and his laidback stoner companion Darius, played to perfection by Lakeith Stanfield.

Season two sees Earn still living in the storage locker, but finally starting to make some money as Paper Boi’s star continues to rise. Of course, not everything goes smoothly and Earn and Paper must navigate a new world where everyone wants a piece of them. Some of the most painful yet on-target humour of the season comes from the meeting that Earn and Paper have with an ultra-cool digital startup, climaxing with Paper Boi performing to a barely interested corporate audience, one of whom is eating a banana.

And that’s what elevates Atlanta above other comedy/drama series — how accurately it depicts real life. Much like Seinfeld, Atlanta could be described as a show about nothing, but this would miss the depth of social commentary that informs every scene. You can draw a straight line from Atlanta to Glover’s incendiary video for This is America, showing that despite Trump’s tokenistic pardoning of America’s first black boxing champ, little has changed from the days of Jim Crow America.

The Verdict

This week’s TV shows are all about mood. If you’re feeling nihilistic and possibly slightly impaired, Happy will blow your mind. It’s irreverent, hilarious, wildly offensive and entirely original… at least as original as something based on something else can be.

If, on the other hand, you’re feeling that everything is pointless and life would be so much better if you were successful, Atlanta could prove the perfect antidote to your ennui.

Happy — 8/10

Atlanta — 8/10

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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