Multi-faceted artist Donald Glover’s Emmy and Golden Globe winning series, Atlanta, returned at the beginning of the month and is a series best defined as “hard to define”. In this first episode, we dive straight back into the lives of Earnest Marks, a budding rap manager, played by Glover, who also produces and writes for the show, and his cousin Alfred, an up and coming rapper who goes by “Paper Boi”.
The episode opens with a style of scene which has become a trade-mark of the show, an isolated and dissociated vignette of life in the eponymous city of Atlanta and the struggles its black communities face in an America of systematic racism. We are shown an authentic conversation between two young men talking about new mix-tapes and picking up drugs from a local fast-food place. Before we know it, the two find themselves in a shoot-out with one of the store’s staff-members who has armed himself with an assault rifle. They’ve attempted to rob the store and have paid the price. As they escape, a girl emerges from the back of their car, covered in blood and screaming.
This opening sequence seems to set the tone for the rest of the season, which has been dubbed “robbin’ season”, and leads the show in a darker and more dangerous direction. Darius, Alfred’s best friend and often hilarious scene-stealer, remarks, “It’s robbin’ season… Christmas approaches and everybody gotta eat”. This dark and violent opening contrasts with the scene in which Earn’s Uncle Willy, played by guest-star comedian Katt Williams, “unleashes” his pet alligator on two unwitting police-officers, which showcases what Atlanta does best, creating a blend of surrealist comedy and unpredictable and ambitious drama.
Part of Atlanta’s success may lie in the fact it feels very much like a lived-in world, with plenty going on outside the bounds of each episode. Between seasons, Paper Boi seems to have become much bigger on the rap scene, he and Darius are no longer on speaking terms and neither are Uncle Willy and Earnest’s mother. We still haven’t been shown the consequences of the fact Paper Boi shot somebody in the pilot of the first season. This is a show that doesn’t feel the need to immediately satisfy the audience’s questions and while this may be a negative feature for some it helps keep Atlanta fresh and the audience on its toes.
This was a large factor in what made the first season so popular, as it became apparent that Atlanta refused to be assigned to any one genre. This is a show that can try its hand at anything and still be evocative, grounded and hilarious all at the same time. If this opening episode is anything to go by, Glover seems set to adeptly avoid a sophomore slump and it would appear Atlanta still has a lot of interesting and important things left to say.