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The groundbreaking comedy series 'Atlanta' is ending after four seasons

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

Let's talk about "Atlanta." Nope, this is not another story about the runoff election in Georgia. We are talking about television - FX's groundbreaking comedy, which is ending tonight after four seasons. The show is centered on the lives of a group of Black millennials living in Atlanta. But it's also known for its sometimes surreal episodes about entirely different characters, like this one told as a mockumentary about a case of mistaken identity, leading Disney's board to elect a Black man as its CEO.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ATLANTA")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) We all voted for this guy named Tom Washington, but we didn't realize that Tom's first name was actually Thompson. Thomas Washington was an animator. People were pretty upset. They voted for the wrong man.

NADWORNY: Here to talk about this with us is Eric Deggans, NPR's TV critic. Hey, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Happy to talk with you about TV.

(LAUGHTER)

NADWORNY: Well, first, can you tell us a little bit about the history of the show and why TV critics consider it to be so important?

DEGGANS: Sure. Well, you know, this show debuted way back in 2016. It was the creation of star Donald Glover, who was then known as a co-star on NBC's sitcom "Community." And the central story features Glover as Earn Marks, a dropout from Princeton who winds up managing his cousin, an up-and-coming rapper known as Paper Boi, who's played by Brian Tyree Henry. And they have an oddball friend who's played by Lakeith Stanfield, and Earn has a daughter with his on again-off again girlfriend, who's played by Zazie Beetz. Now, "Atlanta" tells these stories about the lives of these Black millennials that kind of touch on racism, whiteness, classism, the perils of success, the sometimes odd rhythms of life in urban Black America. And early on, the show won Golden Globes, Emmys, Peabody Awards. It made stars out of the cast, especially Glover, who was a writer, producer, director and even music supervisor on the show.

NADWORNY: Yeah. So when the show first came out, there was a ton of buzz. But critics have said the show's more recent seasons have had less impact. Do you agree?

DEGGANS: Yeah, I kind of do agree. I mean, you know, one reason "Atlanta" had such an impact initially is because Glover and director Hiro Murai and the producers helped craft this show that often introduced these surreal stories and scenes that took viewers to new places. Now, some people have called this Afro surrealism. They had Paper Boi play in a celebrity basketball tournament against Justin Bieber, but they cast a Black actor as Bieber to show how jarring it might feel to see a Black star allowed to act out the way that Bieber often does. They had characters who seem like parodies of Michael Jackson and Tyler Perry. That episode about the Black man who was made CEO of Disney explored ideas about racism behind beloved Disney characters, even though FX is owned by Disney.

So I interviewed Glover, Murai and some of the other folks from the show at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin earlier this year. And I got the sense they developed these moments to be creative, sometimes just to see an amazing image or scene without much concern about how it connected to the other story. And when "Atlanta" first appeared, there weren't a lot of shows telling these kinds of stories like this about Black culture and Black people. Now there's more diversity on TV, and, you know, maybe it doesn't feel quite as unique.

NADWORNY: Yeah. That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Thanks, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.