After COVID forced production to pause in 2020, Donald Glover and the cast of Atlanta returned March 24 with the premier of the long-awaited third season, which takes place in Europe. Food plays a role in the storyline during the first episode of Season 3, but looking back, Glover’s powerhouse FX show has been telling food stories all along as part of its always-funny, often intentionally uncomfortable plotlines.
Right out of the gate in the second episode of the first season in 2016, there’s the famous “lemon pepper wet” scene, when the world, and more than a few Atlantans, were first introduced to “Fester” wings. Back then, people unfamiliar with these wings were wondering if sauced lemon pepper flats and drums really existed — and if they were even tasty. Today, it’s hard not finding an Atlanta restaurant with a version of the zesty, citrusy wings on the menu, or even dishes seasoned with lemon pepper flavoring.
Also in the first season, Earn (Glover’s character) tries — and fails — to convince a fictional employee of the former Little Five Points Zesto to sell him a kids’ meal. While rejecting Earn for being older than 14, the newly promoted young manager tells him she didn’t earn her job title by “handing out discounted meals.” The power dynamics are clear: Earn has none. The best he can do is sneakily fill the water cup she provides him with fountain soda.
The show has used beverages to push comedic boundaries, too. In Season 1, Episode 7, the show mocked alcohol companies’ upscale marketing strategies with a commercial starring a Black couple enjoying Mickey’s malt liquor in champagne flutes. Then, in Season 2 (“Robbin’ Season”), it explored the ahistorically Bavarian town of Helen in the north Georgia mountains, where Earn’s inability to order a beer in German frustrates the bartender, pointing out the awkward nature of trying to fit into a Southern faux-Germantown when you’re a Black Atlantan. There’s also the Yoo-hoo commercial starring fictional trap rapper Clark County. His endorsement of the chocolate drink includes admitting he drinks Yoo-Hoo “like it’s Dirty Sprite” — a nod to Atlanta rapper Future’s famed love (and problematic promotion) of mixing promethazine and codeine with carbonated soda.
Now, with Atlanta back for its third season, Glover and the writers have come up with another way to weave food into its opener, “Three Slaps.
Spoiler alerts below
The opening scene takes place on Lake Lanier in Georgia, a location with its own complicated and tragic history that includes submerging the town of Oscarville to create the lake, and ties to the forced removal of 1,100 Black people in Forsyth County by white mobs in 1912. Many Atlantans believe the lake is haunted.
The episode’s main character is a young Black class clown named Loquareeous, who eats a bowl of spaghetti his mother made him as she cleans the house.