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FX's 'Atlanta' season two will be darker but quirky humor remains

Posted Tuesday, February 27, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

While the success of season one of award-winning FX comedy "Atlanta" in 2016 helped elevate the stars of the show into the stratosphere, the characters on the show are still very much stuck on the couch at the start of season two, returning Thursday, March 1 at 10 p.m.

Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) is still riding high on his hit single but has serious doubts about how to commercialize himself, especially for a white audience. His manager and cousin Earn (Donald Glover) is homeless, on probation for possessing pot and kind of lost, not far off from where he was at the beginning of season one. Their friend and muse Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) is weird and ethereal as always.

RELATED: My interview with Donald Glover about "Atlanta" from 2016

RELATED: A recent New Yorker profile of Donald Glover. The writer notes: "He is attracted to people who don’t seem to want his approval, but, increasingly, everyone does."

There's an undercurrent of menace and dread threading through the first three episodes as the issue of race always hovers in the air. Indeed, the show title has the phrase "Robbin' Season" for a reason: it's set during the Christmas holidays when people are more desperate for cash. It's also a thematic where the characters seem to be getting "robbed" in various ways.

"Money is more complicated when you're somebody like Alfred," said Hiro Murai, who directs most of the episodes and helps shape the vision created by Donald and Stephen Glover. He was at this week's screening of the first two episodes at Starlight Drive In. "As for Earn, you'll see his journey with Alfred and the tension coming from Alfred not knowing what to do with his career and how Earn fits into it."

He said there won't be episodes quite as off-the-beaten path as last year's "B.A.M.," in which Paper Boi is interviewed on a fictional talk show with pointedly satirical ads thrown in.

"There's less experimentation in form this season," Murai said. "We basically take a more linear approach and stretch it as far as you can."

But don't worry. The signature quirkiness is baked into the show's DNA.

There's an alligator, a viral video of a tearful white mom complaining about "Paper Boi" lyrics, a girl doing an acoustic guitar version of "Paper Boi" and a stigmatized, seemingly jinxed $100 bill. ("It's legal U.S. tender!" Earn says at one point when questioned why he is even carrying $100 bills.)

Plus, it's clear that Earn - despite a Princeton education - is not going to win any prizes for financial management. There's a reason he opens the season sleeping in his storage unit.

When Earn does end up with some cash, he blows a big chunk at Onyx strip club on Cheshire Bridge Road. "I don't even know why I'm here," he complains. "This place has been finessing me all night."

Darius notes dryly, "It ain't like you're here saving money."

During the first episode, a fourth dude shows up in the mix, a friend of Alfred's who just got out of prison and is ready to find his next hustle. "He's that guy who is a really fun hang and a really good guy but is kind of crazy and gets you in a lot of trouble," Murai said. "He's going to be prodding at their dynamic a little bit, especially Alfred and Earn."

And while "Atlanta" doesn't live or die by celebrity appearances, troubled comic Katt Williams - playing Earn's uncle - shows up and utters self referential comments about cops while former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick makes an unexpectedly strange appearance as himself.

As for shooting in Atlanta, the show's success has a downside: the actors can no longer can just walk around Lenox Mall anonymously, Murai said.

Is there any chance of a sophomore slump? Not according to critics who viewed the first three episodes. So far, on Metacritic, "Atlanta" season two gets a perfect 100 score from eight reviews.

"Glover and friends seem to have hit on a new way to surprise the audience: by making Atlanta, at least for a while, into a more conventional TV show," writes Alan Sepinwall of Uproxx. "Atlanta can be great because you never expect what it might do next. But that’s far from the only reason it’s great, as the start of season two so potently demonstrates."

And as Brian Tillerico of Roger Ebert's website notes: "Earn Marks may not be that confident in his life, but it takes an amazingly assured creative voice to calibrate comedy, drama, and social satire to such perfect degrees on shows like this one. In just three episodes, there is a typical season’s worth of character, commentary, and humor. I can’t wait to see more."


"Atlanta," 10 p.m. Thursdays, FX


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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.