How 'Atlanta' Exemplifies Modern Comedy

Quantrell Colbert/FX

The long-awaited series from the brain of modern Renaissance man Donald Glover landed on FX this season to great acclaim. Atlanta is nominated for Best Television Series at the Golden Globes, following through on its critical success. Some may wonder why Atlanta is a comedy at the Golden Globes, since it sometimes deals with serious subject matter. And the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has publicly grappled with how to re-draw the line between its Drama and Musical Or Comedy categories in a time when so many "peak TV" series seem to straddle it. Atlanta has been designated as a comedy by the HFPA because it fits within the guidelines and also because comedy can be sharp, meaningful, and politically aware.

Last year, the kerfuffle about the drama vs. comedy decision erupted around a film, not a television show. The Martian won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Musical Or Comedy. And though there are moments of levity in the story of a stranded astronaut's survival and rescue, many moviegoers and industry folks found it strange that the Matt Damon was vehicle up for that award. The backlash prompted the HFPA to announce a rule change in April of last year. In a list of official revisions, the Globes promised that films would be placed "in the category that best matches [their] overall tone and content." Pretty subjective for a rule, wouldn't you agree?

The comedy series eligibility rules are similar. The Golden Globes website states that they will consider "programs where the majority of the running time of at least six of the total eligible episodes are primarily comedic for comedy series." Again, someone has to decide what "comedic" means; there's no full-proof calculation for it.

This year, the HFPA presents the following nominees for that Best Series - Musical Or Comedy Golden Globe: Mozart In The Jungle, Veep, Transparent, Blackish, and Atlanta. Among them, Veep and Blackish are probably the most aggressive in their pursuit of pure laughs. The others are either more subtle in their comedy or regularly include more dramatic moments. That's not to say that Veep and Blackish are shallow or trite; both shows have used their brand of comedy to make statements.

As shows on premium cable and streaming services continue to test the boundaries of genre, the line between these Golden Globes categories will become more blurry. Atlanta is exactly the kind of comedy that deserves to be recognized, in my opinion. It's layered, smart, and self-aware. It plays with convention and moves outside of what is regularly considered the form — and by doing so, it stretches the limits of comedy. It's been praised for its portrayal of police brutality, the stigmatization of mental illness, and the cycle of poverty. And it's tremendously quotable and laugh-out-loud funny.

I think that demanding that shows fit firmly and unquestionably into these categories cripples creativity. There will always be discussion, because the best comedy comes out of real places. And no reality is devoid of tragedy. Atlanta deserves to be considered for that Best Television Series - Musical Or Comedy Golden Globe and possibly to win it.