THE SERIES “Atlanta: Robbin’ Season”
WHEN | WHERE Season 2 premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. on FX
WHAT IT’S ABOUT With Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) under house arrest, and Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) tending his every need — from food to companionship — Earn Marks (Donald Glover) turns up at their door. He’s been evicted from a storage unit he’s been calling home and needs a place to crash. Well? He finds Darius and Al giving each other the silent treatment, so his timing is bad. Instead of sorting out living arrangements, Earn and Darius head to Florida, where Darius warns of an “alt-right Johnny Appleseed” known as “Florida Man” (He knows of this mythic figure from many newspaper headlines that begin, “Florida Man . . . ”). Meanwhile, Al tells Earn to look up his Uncle Willy — played by Katt Williams, the “Norbit” star and comedian, with a long list of legal troubles. There’s a problem at his house. Something to do with an alligator.
This season is subtitled “Robbin’ Season,” a reference to Christmastime when a spate of robberies typically occurs because, as Darius explains, “Everybody gotta eat.”
MY SAY One fine morning, traveling salesman Gregor Samsa woke up an insect. He was shocked at first, then disturbed, and finally resigned to a fate of six legs attached to a hard carapace. Gregor was an insect. So be it.
Kafka seems about as good a place as any to prepare for this new season of “Atlanta.” Glover’s world can be transformative, but you, the viewer, are supposed to be the one who’s transformed. It can make the experience of watching disorienting or dizzying. There is coincidentally (or not) a “metamorphosis” scene in the season opener, when a 12-foot alligator plods out the front door of Uncle Willy’s house. The cops waiting outside for Uncle Willy aren’t sure what to do. Cuff him? Earn stares, shrugs, then turns to walk away. Well, that made perfect sense.
The first season of “Atlanta” and, even more emphatically, the second, is Glover’s strange and uncompromising trip through a strange land of gators, robbers, “Florida Man” and rappers with a keen grasp of the con. As usual, it’s about an entire culture suffering from PTSD and trying to make sense of the haphazard puzzle pieces, none of which fit. If it’s a comedy, as it occasionally is, that’s only by happenstance, or accident. Less comedy, more slipstream — or realism mixed with the dreamlike — “Atlanta” can be intensely real one minute before tipping over into the surreal the next (Katt Williams as Alligator Man, for example). It unfolds in a thick haze of pot smoke, which by osmosis takes off the edge while offering a way to deal with what’s really going on — whatever that is.
“Atlanta” is still good and still roughshod, but there’s a tougher texture to this season. That’s mainly the robbin’ part. The opening minutes comprise a wild running gun battle at a fast-food restaurant that nicely reorients viewers to the closing minutes of the first season, when a drug dealer wearing Earn’s long-lost jacket is gunned down.
Glover doesn’t want you to get comfortable and certainly doesn’t care if you take offense. The white people of “Atlanta” remain feckless opportunists and appropriators of black culture, or just plain crazy. (Recall the agent last season who mistook Earn for someone named “Alonzo” and who told him “I’m gonna make sure that you die homeless.”) Black people plunder other black people, or worse, turn into white people. The first season had a “Black Justin Bieber,” while the second has someone named Clark County (RJ Walker), who does hip-hop Yoo-hoo commercials.
Glover’s view of humanity remains desolate, and Earn’s view of humanity remains quizzical. Gregor Samsa would feel right at home.
BOTTOM LINE Still bleak, uncompromising and (utterly) original. Also a little meaner and more embittered.