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TV critics loved FX's 'Atlanta" even more season two

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Posted Friday, May 11, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

FX's "Atlanta" season two has been fraught with violence, bad decisions and swirling tension between two key players: rising rap star Alfred "Paper Boi" Miles and his cousin and manager Earn Marks.

But while there was a gold-plated gun featured in the finale episode Thursday night, nobody was shot. In fact, the bonds of family and loyalty endured.

It also gave TV critics a chance to rhapsodize about the show's entire second season even more than they did for season one.

Critics noted how the producers Stephen and Donald Glover managed to make an already fascinating show deeper and darker. Among the highlights: Katt Williams' 'Alligator Man' character,; Van luxuriating in Drake's house (but no Drake); bizarre German games in Helen, Georgia; Michael Vick racing for dollars outside a strip club; a flashback focused around a real-or-not-real yellow FUBU shirt; naked frat-boy shenanigans involving the song "Laffy Taffy" and a crazy homeless dude in the woods chasing Alfred.

"There were ups and downs, but the lows were better than virtually ever other series' peaks. and, in the end, everything came full circle," said Bryan Washington, who wrote insightful weekly recaps of the show for Vulture. 'I really do think it's easily one of the most intuitive shows on television."

Todd VanDerWolf of Vox said it just may be the best show on TV. "It feels bigger than itself," he wrote in his latest column, "with every episode spinning off into new tangents and chasing down additional rabbit trails." He notes that the show is about "the intricacies of identity" and "Glover’s attempt to create a series that underlines the black experience in modern America, but it’s also about attempts to transcend one’s own identity, to figure out what it means to be an individual in a world intent on quickly pigeonholing everyone."

The episode that got the most buzz this season was "Teddy Perkins." Darius, seeking a free piano, comes to an oddball recluse's home and what happens is more horrifying than funny.  "Atlanta" is ostensibly a comedy but goes in all sorts of directions.

Eric Deggans, the NPR TV critic, noted that this particular episode amped up the craziness from season one's more conventional Justin Bieber (who is now black but nobody says anything) episode.

Deggans saw this season as a way for Donald Glover to address his own rapid rise onto the A list e.g. hosting "Saturday Night Live," starring in an upcoming "Star Wars" film, releasing a music video "This is America," that has been the buzz of the week, viewed 77 million times in six days.

"I felt like I was watching Donald Glover deconstruct what was happening to himself in the wake of 'Atlanta's' success but through the lens of a fictional world.," Duggans said. And his co-stars Lakeith Stanfield and Bryan Tyree Henry are going through a similar situation of going from relative unknowns to being recognized everywhere.

Stephane Dunn, Morehouse College associate professor and Director of the Cinema, Television, & Emerging Media Studies program, watches each episode of  "Atlanta" at least twice simply because she enjoys the film-making, the dialogue and story structure. She and other professors at Morehouse who teach film and TV show clips of "Atlanta" frequently to students.

"It's not a perfect show," she said. "It's imperfectly perfect. I love it for the freedom and the courage of it."

She also liked that the show this season actually resolved some issues at the end of season two, unlike season one. We get some sort of closure regarding Earn and Alfred, as well as Earn and his baby mama Van. "However experimental it is, it still plays with the staples of good storytelling," Dunn said.

Her favorite episode revolved around Alfred and his favorite barber, who kept getting distracted from actually giving Alfred his haircut. "The whole denial of that haircut was so freaking genius," Dunn raved. "In some ways, it's like the Black 'Seinfeld.' It takes generic nothing moments and turns it into something brilliant."


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About the Author

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