“Robbin’ season. Christmas approaches, and everybody got to eat.” – Darius
“…or be eaten.” – Earn
In addition to starring as a young Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story and releasing the jaw-dropping track “This Is America” as his musical alter ego, Childish Gambino, Donald Glover also closed out the sophomore season of his FX series Atlanta — and likely changed the course of television in the process. Where Glover, Atlanta’s creator and star, shaped the first season as both a droll look at the ins-and-outs of the Atlanta hip-hop scene with an undercurrent of scathing commentary on American culture, its second outing, dubbed “Robbin’ Season,” has managed to be denser, sharper, and even more reinventive than its predecessor.
It’s the latter characteristic that makes it so difficult to explain what Atlanta’s “about” in just a sentence or two, but also what drives you to do so. It’s gritty while being over-the-top, and subversive without being arrogant.
Sure, it’s billed as a comedy, but it’s a wry, understated, and often uncomfortable one. It’s only fitting then that “Robbin’ Season” begins with an innocuous drive-thru order that turns into a robbery that turns into a violent shootout in the kitchen of a fast food restaurant. It sets the stage for the season’s backdrop: a neighborhood that’s annually driven into desperation in order to provide for the holidays.
It’s that backdrop that lets Atlanta do what it does best: pack every episode with scenes that other shows would adorn atop a “very special episode” podium. But instead of moments that would grind another show’s narrative to a halt, here they’re shrugged off as incidental moments, merely the side-effect of life as a black person in modern America.
Whether its Earn (Glover) unable to spend a $100 bill or Al (Brian Tyree Henry) being robbed and beaten by fans, moments like these show the ugly reality with unflinching detail. They don’t come with any sort of revelations, moments of clarity, or lessons to be learned, but simply taken at face value, and accepted as part of the reality Atlanta’s characters reside in.
However, what “Robbin’ Season” will be remembered for, even years from now, is how it managed to reinvent itself week after week, veering into different genres and following stray narrative threads for entire episodes like a wanton embrace of Chekov’s untidiness. There are several examples of this throughout the second season, but it’s the horror-themed episode “Teddy Perkins,” which follows Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) as he goes to pick up a used piano from the titular Perkins (played by Glover in whiteface), that stands alone as the most pronounced example.
On a surface level, it’s easy to compare the character of Teddy Perkins to Michael Jackson to the point they’re all-but-inevitable. He’s a reclusive former superstar with a high voice and a self-described skin condition that makes him appear white, but beyond the simple caricature, the episode cuts through to deeper commentaries about what people are willing to do for fame — as well as how that fame can irreversibly warp them over time.
But looking past its daring reinventions, “Robbin’ Season” never did anything at the expense of its characters. While Al’s rap career as Paper Boi starts to take off, Earn struggles to be the kind of manager he needs, and often fails when doing so. Even Earn’s relationship with Van (Zazie Beets) starts to deteriorate, it’s handled with such delicate nuance that it still resonates long after their scenes together conclude.
With such unfettered ambition, it’s worth noting that Glover opted to bring “Robbin’ Season” to a quiet, unassuming close. Earn readies Al and Darius for a two-month European tour, while he and Van have to decide what to do after learning their daughter, Lottie, might be gifted. It also bookends the season by not only addressing Al’s frustration with Earn’s “learn-as-you-go” management style but also brings back a key prop that was introduced back in the season’s premiere episode. And, in doing what Atlanta does best, it does so without any definitive resolutions.
Simply stated, Atlanta is operating on another level. It’s not certain exactly what that level is, but it’s definitely a level that didn’t exist before Atlanta came around.