Atlanta is breathing rarified air after its season two premiere. That’s not just because it builds upon a great show but the way it goes about itself.
Series creator, star, and director Donald Glover has always taken the unbeaten path throughout his career. He’d reject the notion, but between his acting, standup, and music career, the next Lando Calrissian is really a renaissance man. His character, Earn, is assuredly not that but he at least lives in the same in the same mindset that’s defined Glover’s blossoming career: He’s on the verge of recreating himself while holding onto what makes him Earn.
The season premiere functions the same way. With the shadow of the first season finale looming large, the show starts with a bang much like the pilot episode did. Just as Earn is separate but connected to Glover, the show’s latest 22 minutes holds the same fingerprints that started the series off with a bang, it’s just been slightly rearranged. Even the title addition, Atlanta: Robbin’ Season suggests a changeup.
If you only catch the first five minutes, you’d be forgiven for thinking this takes the same path as Ryan Murphy productions. The episode starts off in a house disconnected from characters from the previous season. They’re followed as they go rob a fast-food chain and peel off, only pausing to let out someone in the back who was shot during the getaway. It’s a jaw-dropping sequence as the camera holds wide on the catatonic victim looking through her bullet-pierced hand as the title card fades in.
The cold open functions just as the shootout that spurred the first season did and holds a similar note as the finale, “Alligator Man” takes a minor detour from its established ensemble to set up something bigger.
But this is decidedly not an anthology series following a collage of robberies. After the first scene, it’s back to Earn waking up in his storage unit. From there, this might as well be an anthology season or could easily function as a re-pilot. All the character dynamics appear changed. There’s unexplained tension between Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) and Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) that we’re experiencing for the first time just as Earn does as he pops in on Paper Boi who’s on house arrest. All the character introductions are shrouded in mystery while telling enough about each character to move on to more interesting points.
At the top of the list is Katt Williams’ appearance as alligator-owning Uncle Miles who has the police knocking on his door investigating a domestic disturbance. Rarely does a single character (a brand new character nonetheless) embody a show as well as Uncle Miles does. From his one-liners, eccentric characterization, his unashamed identity that reflects the darkest timeline Earn is afraid of his future becoming, Williams’ performance feels completely lived-in. Considering he interned at a gator farm to get the role, it’s completely earned. He truly goes toe-to-toe with Glover. With each scene being limited to two to three characters, every performance has a chance to shine.
The episode’s whole atmosphere is truly sold by Uncle Miles. We’re not told everything that he’s done in his life, we’re just shown the end result when Earn has to take his gold-plated pistol so the police won’t find it, fitting for robbin’ season as Darius says as sirens pass by at a gas station. “Alligator Man” handles dealing with the past to change the future in a way the show hasn’t yet broached. It’s certainly welcomed.
Van (Zazie Beetz) has yet to show up but when an episode is this layered and serves as a vehicle to set up a new direction, the fewer the characters the better. One of the most exciting rides of 2016, Atlanta is perfectly setting itself to climb even higher.
Overall Rating: 9 out of 10
Atlanta: Robbin’ Season airs Thursday nights on FX.