This review of Atlanta Season 2 is spoiler-free.
I loved the first season of Donald Glover’s FX show Atlanta, off and on. The setting and characters were all extremely unique, but the storytelling was scattershot. The first season was ever-willing, within the span of individual episodes, to jump between extremely dark and grounded to goofily comedic and surreal. Its fearlessness and wildly fluctuating tone were what drew me to it in the first place, but, by the end, I had to admit I was left wanting more consistent plotting.
That’s why I’m so excited for Atlanta Robbin’ Season. Creator, writer, and star Donald Glover; his brother Stephen who also writes on the show; and director Hiro Murai have said that this will be a less experimental season with a cohesive, continuous storyline (honestly, it’s amazingly not far off from what I once said I’d like to see for a second season). Donald Glover has stated that the crew didn’t really look back at the first season for inspiration in writing the second, instead forging ahead, trying to make something different.
FX kindly sent us the first three episodes of Robbin’ Season and I wouldn’t say it’s a drastically different show. The trappings of Atlanta are still there. It’s still a show unafraid to mix heavy drama with silly comedy. Like the first season at its best, it’s still got episodes that feel as though they’re meandering in random directions, but actually—like in any great sitcom—they’re driven by plot elements set up earlier and paid off later in brilliant and unexpected ways. It’s still surreal in places, though not to the level the first season was.
Actually, it might be more accurate to say it’s hyper-real. Where the first season saw no problem with including an invisible car or a man who miraculously appears in places to make people Nutella sandwiches, Robbin’ Season (at least so far) presents societal situations, but amplifies them. It’s not always realistic, but it still feels true. This groundedness fits well with the more somber tone. The season’s title refers the period before Christmas where people have more stuff and more cash, so robberies increase accordingly. There’s a desperation to all the characters now: there are people who need shit and there are those that have it and could have it taken from them at any time.
The desperation extends to Glover’s character Earn, who’s doing his best to remain useful as manager of his cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), rapper alias Paper Boi, as his star continues to rise. Much of Robbin’ Season expands on the theme introduced in Atlanta’s first season of fame affecting every facet of these characters’ lives. What’s it like to be recognizable? In Atlanta? During robbin’ season? Tied into this, the series retains another of its major themes: what it is to be black in a white-controlled society. For example, the characters come into more money these days, but it opens fewer doors than they’d hope.
The somberness and desperation is still tempered with comedy. Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) is still the hilarious weirdo he always was and new characters are introduced who provide added comic relief. Comedy is also found within the desperate moments; things may feel bleak but the series manages to recognize a funniness inherent to that bleakness. Finally, Atlanta always had its finger on the pulse of our technology-driven culture, riffing on texting, social media, and YouTube and I’m happy to report it continues to draw from that comedic well in smart and observant ways.
Though each episode is self-contained, apparently Atlanta Robbin’ Season is supposed to, in full, feel like one long movie. Though some elements certainly continue through the first three episodes, there’s not really one clear, driving storyline yet. However, there’s a definite cohesion to these episodes (that they’re all directed by Hiro Murai probably helps). For example, there’s a lot of muted colors that contribute to the aforementioned somber tone. Overall, there’s a strongly defined sense of place and time. The world feels real and alive as it builds and expands with each episode.
Atlanta Robbin’ Season keeps and builds upon what made Atlanta so unique and engrossing in its debut season, but freshens it up with a new vibe that’s entirely its own and, despite being a bit darker, it’s a vibe that feels really cool and fun. Really, the best thing I can say is I straight-up just had fun getting into the world of Atlanta Robbin’ Season. I can’t wait to spend more time there when it premieres on March 1st.