Written by Chris Walker (@cwlkr20)
Does anyone know what’s going to happen next on Atlanta? The brainchild of multi-hyphenate Donald Glover is finishing its second season (dubbed Atlanta Robbin’ Season) tomorrow and I have no clue. The adventures of Earn (Glover), Alfred/Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), and Van (Zazie Beets) tend to border on relatable, but wild. It’s the show’s best asset, balancing the ridiculous and unexpected with thoughtful and insightful commentary on the everyday life, giving way to innovative storytelling and television arcs.
The show has a Seinfeld meets Twin Peaks element, but with more Black people than either. Like the 90s NBC sitcom hit, Atlanta has always had a way of making the mundane easily entertaining. A rapper’s paid appearance at the club sounds routine, but the show has a way of peeling back at the layers of what’s going on in the background, like having to compete for attention, getting stiffed on agreed pay, and getting blamed for a nearby shooting because they were in the vicinity. All these avenues are ripe for laughter and deeper thoughts.
In accord, Atlanta equally trades on magical realism, akin to the 1990 mini-series, which included supernatural elements but grounded the show in a real mystery. There are many fantastic twists to play with the viewer, but work within the realistic realm of the show, because there is an underlying point. For Atlanta, that means in the same club appearance episode, there is a promoter who is slippery like an eel, complete with a false wall escape door, so he can evade paying Earn and Paper Boi. Oh, and there’s the prototype invisible car owned by a more famous basketball player, because of course there is.
These elements heighten the mood of inferiority that Paper Boi feels in this environment, as it is not the social norm he is used to. Glover and the other writers take viewers on a ride from start to finish, making its point as it goes, but you need to be there the entire time to understand it, because the details and their order matter.
The show’s second season has continued this balance, allowing for the eccentric to heighten everyday situations. The narrative has become more cohesive, focused on the hustle that it takes to succeed, but there is still a lot of room for the peculiar. From Katt Williams and his pet alligator to Darius’ bottle episode with Teddy Perkins (I’m still having nightmares), the show has stepped up the weirdness.
If anything, the best balance may be best found in Alfred’s visit to his usual barber, which leads lumber theft, a hit and run, and chasing down one of the barber’s children. Oh, and the invisible car makes a reappearance. Alfred is willing to put up with this, to a point, because having a good barber is important for Black men. You find a good barber, you stand by him. I still go to the same barber I’ve had as a kid because he knows how to deal with a stubborn cowlick.
All in all, Robbin Season has doubled down on the formula that made season one successful, making it a must view. Atlanta has continued to to tell the varied stories of Black people in Atlanta, while injecting eccentric elements to heighten situations or add a different view or context to what’s happening. At this point, with one episode left, there are still many twists to be thrown out. Earn is jobless after Paper Boi fired him for another screw up. Could he gets his job back? Is going back to Princeton possible? Will Earn rob Alfred? Honestly, with this show, anything is possible.