Earn Marks (Donald Glover), a Princeton drop-out turned manager of his rapping cousin, ponders a familiar question in Atlanta’s season two premiere. Standing at a gas station holding a bag full of MSG deliciousness, Earn asks, “What flavor is a Flamin’ Hot Cheeto?”
Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), the conspiracy-loving, third-eye equipped best friend of Earn’s cousin Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) replies confidently, “Hot.” Atlanta, perhaps television’s most versatile “comedy” of all-time, misses not a single beat in its highly anticipated second season as creator Donald Glover’s finger remains firmly on the pulse of culture with moments far beyond stoned snack reflections.
“The Race,” 17-year-old Tay-K’s viral tale of felony evasion, plays from the car of baby-faced robbers in the season’s first episode, “Alligator Man,” before RapCaviar staple Jay Critch’s “Did It Again” soundtracks a section-by-section view of the titular city. It’s “Robbin’ Season” in Atlanta, the words in quotes being the official name of the show’s second season, and a permeable tension looms.
Earn’s “Robbin’ Season” introduction begins with his being woken up and evicted from the storage closet he was sleeping in, with essentially all money he earns going to his on-and-off-again girlfriend Van (Zazie Beetz) and their daughter Lottie. Alfred, still yet to turn his Paper Boi success into financial stability, is first seen sitting dejectedly at home on house arrest. He and Darius are beefing, and while Earn tries to mediate, melancholy reigns.
Moments of brilliance make the sadness captivating. Katt Williams deserves serious Emmy consideration for his role as Earn’s Uncle Willy, who serves as a washed up and frustrated representation of a future Earn hopes to avoid. Glover’s Seinfeldian ability to turn a single common event into an episode-length storyline shines bright in “Sportin’ Waves”(episode two) and “Barbershop” (episode five) with elite-level acting from Brian Tyree Henry.
“Sportin’ Waves” finds Alfred struggling to find a reliable weed guy while his attempt to get a haircut before a photoshoot in “Barbershop” turns into a day-long ride of borderline-to-definitely criminal activities with an all-time scheme master and barber named Bibby (Robert Powell). After committing a felony hit-and-run with his own high-school age son and Alfred in the car, Bibby explains why he had no choice but to flee.
“I don’t fuck with no jails,” says the quick-tongued Bibby whose Bluetooth set is always on-ear. “Just passing by the Atlanta pen make my boy hymen hurt.”
“Money Bag Shawty” and “Helen,” the season’s third and fourth episodes, focus on race in society. In “Helen,” Van, who is biracial, takes Earn to a traditional German celebration that leaves him uncomfortable and their relationship in doubt. Clark County (RJ Walker), an archetypal industry plant of a rapper, goes into the booth to record a verse after turning down both weed and Hennessy from Alfred and Darius.
“Swerve, swerve, swerve off the curb, curb, curb,” raps Clark County. “Hennessy plus the herb, plus the herb, herb, herb.”
Five episodes in and Atlanta’s second season is cementing the show’s place amongst the best of all time. The Emmy’s will come in September and if Atlanta’s cast and crew isn’t reward plentifully, the month will be disassociated with fall and instead belong under the unfortunate umbrella of “Robbin’ Season.”