With Atlanta, series creator and star Donald Glover tried to do the opposite of everything he learned from his sitcom days. However, his time working with Tina Fey and Dan Harmon no doubt prepared him to run his own show.
Glover got his first big break as a writer shortly after graduating from NYU in 2006, when he was hired by NBC’s 30 Rock. He left the Emmy-winning series at the end of the third season, and soon after booked the role of the endearingly clueless Troy on Harmon’s Community, where he would remain for five seasons.
“It just helped you learn the rules of everything,” Glover tells EW of his time working on both shows. “Tina [Fey] taught me how to write, but also about the politics of television… All of them kind of helped in their own way as far as knowing how dynasties are run.”
He knew from his time on two NBC comedies and from watching a wide range of television that Atlanta would have to be something unique if it were to one day be considered a classic.
“I feel like I’ve been fortunate enough to have experiences that were kind of my job to try and get [a specific point of view] out there,” he says. “I’m glad that I got to see all that stuff because now I’m allowed to do certain things and people can be like, ‘We trust his point of view.'”
Atlanta, which is about two cousins navigating their way through the rap industry, is a far cry from the sitcoms Glover cut his teeth on. It more closely resembles his 2013 short film Clapping for the Wrong Reasons, which shares Atlanta‘s dreamlike quality and penchant for narrative digressions. In the pilot, Glover’s character Earn encounters a stranger on a bus who tries to force him to take a bite of a Nutella sandwich. The moment is never explained.
“I tried to touch on the meander of life,” says Glover, who also raps under the name of Childish Gambino. “Any time we would get to a point where it’s like ‘That feels like a sitcom,’ we would try not to do it.”
Glover wanted to avoid what he’d done before because he thinks audiences have already figured out the “hacks” for sitcoms. “‘These two are are going to grow together and yay!’ I didn’t do that because I tried to have the utmost respect for my audience,” he says. “People, at the end of the day, want something they’re not expecting. Most jokes, most things, come from that which you are not ready for.”