Donald Glover’s new show Atlanta is about two cousins scaling the Atlanta rap scene. ABC’s Scandal is about a red wine-loving political fixer who is having an affair with the President of the United States. On paper, these two series have very little in common; however, Glover, who created and stars in the former, looked to the latter for inspiration.
Premiering Tuesday on FX, Atlanta follows Earn Marks (Glover), an aimless and penniless Princeton drop out climbing the Atlanta rap scene with his rapper cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) and his cousin’s spaced out friend Darius (Keith Stanfield). At the same time, Earn must juggle his responsibilities to his best friend Van (Zazie Beetz) and the daughter they share.
The hit ABC drama particularly informed an episode Glover directed that’s entirely focused on Van and explores the difficulties many find in trusting people.
“The world that Scandal sets up, it’s all about: are you telling the truth; the intrigue of who’s telling what and the suspense that’s there of having to take someone’s word or not,” the Community alum tells EW. “But it’s a weird thing now to actually find people you can trust. I felt like that was a world I wasn’t completely inundated in, and that’s what Scandal and this episode speaks to. I felt like that was something sort of universal.”
Glover says he wanted to explore this trust problem with Van because it’s something he sees his mother and sister face, and he felt that having the perspective of black women from Atlanta was crucial for the show.
“Atlanta is kind of run by black women, so I tried to watch things that had a point of view that my mom and my sister connected with, because I felt like that was a voice that was imperative to the place,” says the suburban Atlanta native, who also watched everything from The Game to Game of Throne to understand what people were connecting to.
Apart from Scandal, the 32-year-old rapper-comedian also drew inspiration from internet culture. To avoid dating the series, Glover based the show’s characters more on internet personalities than people he knew growing up in Atlanta.
“I felt that time moves faster. It’s mostly people I see on the internet and Instagram and Twitter today,” says Glover, whose fascination with the effects of the internet was articulated on his Grammy nominated album, Because the Internet. “The characters that exist now on the internet speak with more truth than most people, because no one knows who they really are so they get to see what they want.” One episode is dedicated to a feud between Alfred and a Twitter personality who won’t stop bashing him.
Glover hopes that by drawing on many things, he’s created a series that’s relevant and will stand the test of time. “I always try and make sure it’s classic material. It’s very easy to make stuff that’s disposable. There’s very little room now to make classics, but I feel like I work very hard and I study how time works in order to make things that penetrate through the years.”