Atlanta, FX’s finely detailed and gloriously unpredictable comedy about striving within and near Atlanta’s hip-hop scene, waited until the very final moments of its first season’s final episode to feature the godheads of Atlanta hip-hop: Outkast. Walking alone at night, the protagonist, Earn (played by the show’s creator, Donald Glover), puts on his headphones and listens to the duo’s 1996 single “Elevators (Me & You).” A dry, minimal beat gives Earn’s journey rhythm as André 3000 describes his rise in the rap world. Earn arrives at a storage yard, opens the door to one of the units, walks in, turns on a light, lays down on a futon, and pulls $200 out from his sneakers. Andre raps this:
True, I've got more fans than the average man
But not enough loot to last me
To the end of the week, I live by the beat
Like you live check-to-check
If it don't move your feet then I don't eat
Over the course of its 10-episode season, Atlanta has repeatedly shifted shape, driven less by plot than by its creators’ restless creativity. But one constant and crucial element has been the notion of not having enough loot to last to the end of the week. The stakes of so many of the show’s situations—whether about dating, drug tests, rap lyrics, jail, nightclub adventures, mansion soirées, or an inexplicably black Justin Bieber—has been in the question of whether the outcome would help ease the characters’ barely disguised financial desperation or only make it worse. In the context of TV sitcoms’ well-documented fondness for people who can afford spacious urban apartments or well-appointed suburban homes, this is one way Atlanta stands out. In the context of wider American social and racial conditions, it’s one reason why the show has come to seem so relevant.
The quietly magnificent season finale took the show’s long-running motif of money troubles to a new, moving place. Earn wakes up in the aftermath of a house party and realizes his blue bomber jacket is gone, kicking off a quest to regain it. Why does he need his coat back so badly? He doesn’t say, but by this point in the series, we know he can barely afford a restaurant dinner—losing outerwear, the viewer might assume, isn’t an option. But it turns out he’s in even direr straits than it first seemed. It’s only later in the episode that it’s revealed he believed the jacket contained the keys to his storage unit. And it’s only at the very end of the episode that we realize that storage unit is Earn’s home.