There are people whose work you respect. They appear on the scene, they put out good work, and you become a fan. Eventually, though, the passion cools. Perhaps they plateau creatively; perhaps they become predictable or boring; or maybe they slip and let reveal the odious persona that exists underneath the respectful and palatable surface. You still maintain a love for whatever it is they did that drew you to them, but you’ve seen the inevitable trajectory that adoration and admiration must follow.
Except sometimes it’s not inevitable, is it?
Because there exist in this world such people whose work never really seems to lag, never seems at risk of growing stale. Who, in fact, work creatively in a dazzlingy varied number of fields and roles and who with each successive iteration of stuff seem to get better at making that stuff.
You keep thinking they’re gonna bottom out. ‘Ooh, boy, this must their plateau coming right up!’ And you settle in with a drink and you prepare to watch nature take its course, as you know it always must. You launch that projectile into the air, you better believe its coming back down to the ground with a thump.
But it never fucking does.
And you love them because you love them, but goddammit you can’t help but hate them a little bit too. Because that effortless-seeming springboarding from one triumph to the next, with no signs of slowing down or visible wear and tear?
That’s a real bastard thing to do, dammit.
And, yes. I am talking about you, Donald Glover.
You shining gem of a hyper-talented bastard man.
Bouncing around in our very time-and-place-specific, Western, Americanised cultural milieu of ours we come across some very talented and hard-working individuals. You’d be hard-pressed though to find a better example of that cliched entity that is ‘The Renaissance Wo/man’ than Donald Glover.
Originally part of the NY University-based internet sketch comedy team, Derrick Comedy, Donald Glover has, at 33 years of age, accomplished a truly obscene amount, including:
- Getting hired as a writer on 30 Rock at a tender 23 years of age.
- Winning the WGA’s Best Comedy Series award in 2009 (he was 26 at the time) for his work on that show’s third season.
- Spending half a decade as a painfully essential part of one of the best ensemble casts in one of the finest shows on television.
- Birthing a hip hop alter-ego and through that releasing a number of critically acclaimed albums and mix tapes, as well as keeping up regular touring.
- Recording a fairly solid and insightful stand up special.
- BECOMING LANDO FREAKING CALRISSIAN.
- Creating, writing, producing, directing, and starring in a little show called Atlanta, which frankly is a show that makes life very difficult for a person whose job it is to describe things—effortlessly straddling genres and tones and assaulting you with thematic and visual richness as it does.
In the world of Donald Glover, achievements and benchmarks fly at ludicrous speed, and we can but sit back, enjoy, and seethe. We can consume, marvel at, and glow with a green envy. Because as the hackneyed saying goes: It is actually Glover’s world—we’re just living in it.
His writing on 30 Rock belied his age. It showed a lightness of touch and a deft, mature understanding of character—two of the main hallmarks of a show that was in its own, low-key way quite defining of its time, but which now seems a little bit less celebrated than some of its contemporaries.
Glover’s Troy Barnes remains, certainly for this writer, one of the greatest characters to ever grace a television show. I have watched Community quite an obscene amount of times. An educated guess would put it in fourth position in my league of Most Watched Shows, and coming up right behind Golden Age Simpsons, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and Arrested Development, is nothing to be scoffed at. In fact, considering my latter day Arrested Development viewing drop-off, Community may well overtake that show any day now. (It’s very important to keep track of statistics like this in one’s life.)
The point is that Community is—or was, once—a superlatively written show, and Troy Barnes was already on the page a wonderfully conceived character. But he only became the rich, colourful onscreen presence that we know and love thanks to Glover’s full and heartfelt performance. His commitment to the sincere sentimentality lurking within Community’s meta armour combined with his supremely gifted knack for physical comedy made Troy Barnes a standout among standouts. I still quote him all the time—verbally as well as physically. The show was never the same after his departure. That’s a killing blow you don’t recover from.
Meanwhile, last night, the Emmy Awards happened, and Donald Glover made history by becoming the first black person to win the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series—for, naturally, Atlanta. Glover’s work in Atlanta also bagged him the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series—making him the first non-white person to win the award in 32 years.
Boy’s being showered with accolades, basically. And it could scarcely be happening to a more deserving person.
For here stands Donald Glover of Atlanta, Georgia, son of a daycare provider and postal worker, and the gilded world of Hollywood lies at his feet.
The episode of Atlanta that won Glover the award for Outstanding Directing was ‘B.A.N.’ That’s the one in which Paper Boi is a guest on a Charlie Rose-like talk show.
You know the one.
It’s a pretty sublime 24 minutes of television that addresses a number of hyper-relevant real world issues, gives us a series of honest and funny glimpses into the inner lives of its characters, and that playfully toys with the medium’s form. In other words: It’s pretty damn representative of Atlanta as a whole. As it so happens, I came to the show quite late, which meant that my viewing of it took the form of one blissful weekend-long binge. In a very short time I was completely beguiled by it, and by the end it had wormed itself into my being. I thought to myself after it finished: What strange powers of alchemy Donald Glover wields, so as to create something like this, I don’t know. I just know that I admire the hell out of him for it; that I kinda hate him a little bit for it; and that I can’t fucking wait to see where he goes next with it.