Robbin’ Season Starts Off Strong
Donald Glover is no stranger to success. Initially a sketch comic during his studies at New York University, Glover quickly gained traction with his writing work on the show 30 Rock. In 2009, Glover took a full-time acting gig with his portrayal of Troy Barnes on NBC’s cult classic Community. At the same time, he diversified his portfolio by releasing music under the Wu-Tang generated pseudonym Childish Gambino.
Fast forward years later, and Donald Glover hasn’t skipped a beat. He’s both an Emmy and Grammy award winner, putting him halfway towards the coveted EGOT at the age of 34. He’s set to star as Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo origin film, Solo: A Star Wars Story, immortalizing himself alongside the biggest film franchise of all time. He’s also lending his voice as Simba in Disney’s 2019 remake of The Lion King, putting his theatrical singing chops to the test. Stand-up, writer, actor, director, singer, performer… Glover does it all.
Atlanta is perhaps the greatest culmination to date of Glover’s lifelong work. An FX series created by, written by, directed by, and starring Glover that began serialization in September 2016, Atlanta released its premier season to rave reviews. As “Earn” Marks, Glover plays a reserved Princeton dropout who has returned home to Atlanta in order to get his life sorted out. Alongside his irritable cousin-turned-rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles and spacey wingman Darius, Earn spent the better part of Atlanta’s first season in pursuit of stability and security for him, his girlfriend Vanessa, and his daughter.
After a 2017 hiatus, Atlanta is finally back for Season 2. If the even raver reviews aren’t enough to whet your appetite for this sophomore season, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on each of the season’s episodes on Fridays after the show airs. First up? The Atlanta S2 premiere, “Alligator Man.”
Steady Mobbin’, Steady Robbin’
In what has become the norm for Atlanta, “Alligator Man” begins with the unexpected. Curtis and Droop, a pair of new characters, make plans to score some weed by way of ordering a “number 17” at Mrs. Winner’s, a nearby fast food drive-thru. Initially suggested over the casual sipping of Powerade (“Hey, n***a. A cup.”) and playing of FIFA on Xbox (“Boy, you trash.”), the scheme made between the two friends comes across as harmless, if not a little stupid.
The scene at the drive-thru reinforces this fact. After Droop orders a laundry list of food items ending with a number 17, the man at the speaker rings up the order as totalling $60.85, much to the relief of Curtis and his pal (weed doesn’t come cheap, after all). As the pair rolls away from the camera towards the pick-up window, this scene seems oddly ordinary. As we would soon find out, something is up.
As the young adults (possibly even teens?) pull up to the 2nd window, a camera change switches perspectives to the worker manning the register. As he opens the window to hand over the food (and hemp), he is met by Droop in a panda mask and Curtis pointing a gun in his face.
Curtis fires off a few shots and heads into the restaurant. After finding the cashier’s stash of the drug, he makes for the door again. To his surprise (and to ours), the cashier fires back with a fully-automatic assault rifle. After an intense gunfight causes Curtis to make a duck-and-run, he and Droop pull away in their car, the cashier shooting after them.
Again, with Atlanta, we expect the unexpected. Rather than the getaway vehicle, er…. getting away like at the end of a typical B-movie action scene, the cashier’s shots land. The car stops abruptly, and a bloodied young woman hops out of the car before shrieking about something we can’t see. It’s unclear whether she’s traumatised, or hurt, or something completely different. It’s also unclear how she ended up in the car in the first place (I double-checked, and the car the boys arrived in is the same as the one they pulled away in).
Regardless of the unanswered questions that this opening scene leaves us, one thing is certain: it’s “robbin’ season” in Atlanta, and that means a much darker, much more brutal Atlanta the show for Season 2.
Tension Among Friends
Following its unorthodox opening, “Alligator Man” continues by catching up on our central three characters. Earn, having been kicked out of his temporary storage pod home, makes his way back to Paper Boi’s place to see if his cousin will let him stay for the time being. There, he finds that his two friends are in the middle of an argument, complete with the silent treatment, although neither friend will explain why.
In fact, “Alligator Man” doesn’t do much in the way of explaining at all. Earn is on parole for having possessed illegal drugs with intent to sell (a half a joint), and yet like the fight between Alfred and Darius, we don’t know why.
Still, the tension between the two friends and hazy predicament surrounding the group made for some hilarious moments throughout the episode. From Al and Darius both coldly replying “I don’t want to talk about it” when pressed by Earn, to Al sharply barking “N***a, take me off speaker” after an innocent attempt to bring the two together, “Alligator Man” brought some classic Atlanta humor that felt right at home during the season premiere.
Punctuating this episode of Atlanta is the appearance of Earn’s uncle (and presumably Paper Boi’s father), Willy. Played by the ever-phenomenal Katt Williams, Uncle Willy brings both a lot of questions and a lot of side-splitting moments. First, there’s Earn’s amical relationship with Willy’s girlfriend Yvonne, whom Willy later describes to the police by saying, “No. She don’t live here. I’m fucking the bitch.” Then, there’s the dramatic buildup to the moment where Earn explains to the cops that he’s Willy’s nephew. And, of course, there’s the alligator in the closet.
The appearance of the feisty Alligator Man and his confrontation with Earn immediately sets up an interesting dilemma: is Earn still a welcome part of the Paper Boi crew? As Al’s fame and reputation continue to mount, will the cousins’ bond as rapper and manager strengthen, or weaken?
Though Willy brings a lively energy to “Alligator Man,” he and Yvonne’s introduction were perhaps a bit too much all to juggle in the Season 2 premiere, especially following the dramatic scene with Droop and Curtis. Who are all these people? How do they advance the plot? Still, a lot of character development early on is hardly a bad thing for a show as ambitious and as far-reaching as Atlanta. We’ll have to see what lies in store in future episodes.
While “Alligator Man” struggles in finding a satisfying balance between its old characters and new ones, the Season 2 premiere of Atlanta offered enough entertaining moments to keep me satisfied throughout. Golden nuggets I didn’t mention above include Earn talking his way out of mistaking Al’s girlfriend, Tara, with a side-chick named “Regina,” Darius’ absurd telling of the legend of “Florida Man,” and Uncle Willy comically booking it down the street like the end of an old Western.
At the end of the day, it’s just good to have Atlanta back again. And while “robbin’ season” looks set to bring more drama and tragedy to the show than ever before, it also looks to offer the same ridiculous, off-the-wall humor that made Season 1 such a big hit. Buckle up for the ride.