TV Dad Review: Earnest Marks (Atlanta)
Welcome to our TV Dad Review series, where we will be reviewing our favourite TV dads on five key fathering metrics: quality time, sacrifices, Nurturing, life lessons and expressions of love. This week we're reviewing Earnest "Earn" Marks, the struggling music manager portrayed by Donald Glover on his hit show Atlanta.
Warning: The following contains spoilers from season one and two of Atlanta. If you don't want to be spoiled go watch that shit and come back. Also, why haven't you watched it yet?
Earn is the protagonist of the show, and father of Lottie, whom he coparents with his on and off partner Van (played by Zazie Beetz). In the first season, Lottie is a toddler (somewhere around 18-24 months) and in the second season she is on the fringe of starting kindergarten. She doesn't have much screen time, but she's a major factor for the decisions made by both Earn and Van, making her an important piece for the show.
It's difficult to analyze Earn without stepping back and looking at the broader view of the show itself. Atlanta is a show about nothing and everything. The show doesn't move in narrative beats or even have a clear focus on plot development. It keeps things murky. A lot is left up to the interpretation of the audience. It dives deep into specific characters, while at the same time broadening the lens to tell stories of America and culture as a whole. This makes it tricky, and perhaps unfair, to do a character analysis on Earn on something as specific as fatherhood. The truth is, we don't know what happens off screen. But we do see Earns tendencies, his motivations and his character. We see the decisions he makes. And we have enough pieces to look at the person Earn is and the impact it might be having on his daughter, Lottie.
Plus, critiquing is super fun. Let's dive in.
Quality Time 2/5
Again, we don't see how much time Earn is spending with Lottie off screen, but we can fill in the blanks. For most of the show, Earn and Van are not together, so he spends most nights away from his daugher. We don't see Earn picking up Lottie from daycare or taking her to the park. He's busy managing (or failing to manage) his cousin Paper Boi's (AKA Alfred, played by Bryan Tyree Henry) music career. We see Earn in strip clubs, in corporate offices, on Paper Boi's couch. Right from the pilot episode, we see that even Earn is aware of the rocky environment Lottie is being raised in, when he picks her up and says to her sarcastically "this is a great environment for you..." But the self awareness doesn't inspire change for Earn, as other than a few references and background appearances, we see a lot of Earn but we don't hear from Lottie until the final episode of the second season. Van and Earn are visiting Lottie's school for a parent teacher interview, where the teacher mentions that it's nice to finally meet Earn. Highlighting the lack of involvement he's had in Lottie's life.
On one hand, you can make an argument that Earn is working so hard so he can achieve financial success and provide a life for Lottie. You can justify that all of the work he is doing is for his family, and that he's sacrificing his time and wellbeing for this goal of a better life. The issue with this, however, is that Earn makes terrible decisions. His money management is awful. He is behind on all of his bills, fails to get paying gigs for Paper Boi and even when he comes across money he blows it (as he showed with the $8,000 windfall he got from breeding puppies, that he completely blew on a bunch of useless stuff at the mall after a failed credit card scam). He's always looking for the next move without protecting what he has. Instead of sacrificing his time and hard work by working a job that provides him the means to support his family, he risks it all and bets it entirely on Paper Boi's career taking off. The saving grace he has here is that he has money and providing for Lottie at the forefront of his mind. You see it throughout the series, the incredible weight that Earn carries with him. It's the weight of someone who moves with the impact of other people depending on him.
In the few scenes of interaction we get between Earn and Lottie, we never get any sense of hostility between either party. Lottie enjoys spending time with her dad, and Earn is attentive and nurturing in the moments they spend together. In the pilot episode, we see a baby Lottie and Earn on the bus, Lottie asleep in Earns lap listening to music together. In the finale of season two, we see an endearing moment between them before Earn goes on a tour to Europe. He tells her to be good for mama and that he loves her. She responds by touching his face and speaking to him in baby talk. A scene that shows that she recognizes who he is and that he's an important person in his life. You also sense the weight Earn is carrying on him, the weight of wanting to be there with his daughter and how much he needs to do for her.
Life Lessons 1/5
Earn is smart. He's a Princeton dropout. He knows a lot about a lot of things. But he doesn't share his wisdom. He never talks about Princeton. Nobody knows why he dropped out. He doesn't talk about the things that he knows. He's quiet and self loathing. He talks about his problems, the things he doesn't have, the things he needs (like money). He spends his time chasing his dreams instead of reading to Lottie. When Lottie asks questions, he listens but doesn't provide any information. The only life lesson he may be providing to his daughter is the one of following your dreams, but none of this is communicated. Lottie has no idea what's going on in Earns life, and conversely, Earn has no idea what's going on in hers. When he finally shows up to a parent-teacher interview at the end of season two, him and Van are notified by Lottie's teacher that she is gifted, which is a complete surprise. The teacher encourages them to enroll her in a gifted school and Earn's first reaction is about price. Instead of focusing on his daughters education and the best environment for her to learn, he's focused on his own pockets and stressing about what he needs to do.
Expressions of Love 3/5
By all accounts, Earn is a sweet father. He speaks baby talk to Lottie, he makes jokes with her, he listens. As mentioned, he tells her that he loves her at the end of the last season. He's not afraid to show her love and express it, which is more than a lot of fathers. This does not make up for the lack of time and attention, however. If he's only seeing her sporadically, it doesn't matter if he's saying he loves her each time. Kids need consistent acts of love.
Earnest Marks, 4.8/10