You don’t have to wade too far into Atlanta‘s sophomore season to realize it feels a bit different.
The opening five minutes of the show’s Season 2 premiere, which aired Thursday on FX, doesn’t choose to center on the vibrant characters it created in its critically adored debut season. Rather, it follows two men from Atlanta who find themselves in a robbery-gone-wrong.
As the two try to make a getaway, an employee from the fast food chain they robbed trains an AK-47 on their car and unloads. The car stops, a woman hops out of the back splashed in blood, freezes in horror, and screams until inaudible.
It’s hardly like the sun-drenched scenes that filled Season 1. In fact, it’s far more noir than comedy. But it’s an apt scene that describes “Robbin’ Season,” a moniker Donald Glover and co. chose deliberately to differentiate this season of TV. It’s also one that also captures the theme of the season in more ways than one.
Robbin’ season refers to an actual period of time in Atlanta, the city, right before the holidays where theft and robberies increase. But its use as a title for the show is both literal and metaphorical, executive producer and writer Stephen Glover said at a Television Critics Association Panel in January, per Vulture.
“People have gifts, have more stuff, and money … You might get your package stolen off your front porch. While we were there, my neighbor got her car stolen from her driveway. It’s a very tense and desperate time. Our characters are in a desperate transition from their old lives to where they’re headed now. And robbin’ season is a metaphor to where we are now.”
That metaphor comes through a few times. This season centers on how Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), Earn (Donald Glover), and Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) come to grips with newfound fame and success. Rather than show the glamour, Atlanta depicts division and alienation. It’s not enough for Paper Boi and his entourage to make it, they now have to fit into the world that fame projects them into.
“Robbin’ Season. Christmas approaches, and everyone’s gotta eat.”
That means having someone at a movie theater refuse Earn’s $100 bill, only to accept it from the next white patron in line. Or making an appearance at a Spotify-like startup’s offices for the exposure, even though its employees may not know Paper Boi’s music.
That also means Paper Boi being robbed by his own drug dealer, but in the most polite way possible. He flashes a gun, apologizes, and then says, “Appreciate it, bruh. You can head out.”
That’s how the true essence of Robbin’ Season comes through this year. In its new, eerie world that its created, Atlanta trades its former world filled with summer vibrance to one filled with darkness and people doing anything to get ahead — almost always at the expense of the show’s core group of characters.
“Robbin’ Season. Christmas approaches, and everyone’s gotta eat,” Darius says in the show’s premiere.
“Or be eaten,” Earn retorts.
Donald Glover as Earnest Marks, and Zazie Beetz as Van in the third episode of ‘Atlanta Robbin Season.’
Image: Guy D’Alema/FX
If that doesn’t sound anything like Season 1, it’s because it’s not. And that was pretty much intentional. Donald Glover said at that TCA panel in January that naming the show Robbin’ Season was a way for it to distance itself from Season 1, as opposed to trying to compete with it.
Atlanta’s first season unfolded so unconventionally that it probably should have been labeled an anthology series. It flipped from drama to comedy seamlessly, and all of it worked so well in concert that there’s almost no way in replicating it. This is the same show, after all, that created a black Justin Bieber and a ‘trans-racial’ black man who identified as a 35-year-old white dude from Colorado.
Through the three episodes available for screening, Robbin’ Season isn’t anything like that. But don’t take that to mean it’s any less creative than its ambitious debut. You could call this season a bit more formulaic, as many critics have, but that really wouldn’t the right way to describe it. It still remains unlike anything on TV. And while it follows the main signposts of a basic season-long story arc from start to finish (as it previously did not), it takes wildly creative curves to get there.