It’s odd when television actors become international superstars. Yet, the fact that we’re talking about Donald Glover makes it somehow less surprising. He’s flexed his considerable talent into a variety of projects, giving him Emmys, Grammys, Golden Globes, and realistically making him a potential EGOT recipient someday. “Atlanta,” which had an immaculate first season, is a big reason for his success. It’s a critical darling that many, including myself, consider the best show on television. The season 2 premiere picks up that momentum and continues to run with it, giving its characters more depth and growth as the episodes progress. It continues to be one of the best on television, and while the first 3 don’t have a “B.A.N.” or “Nobody Beats the Biebs,” it remains one of the coolest and most exciting shows on TV.
We pick up right where we left the characters of Atlanta, with Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) on house arrest. Earn (Glover) is living out of a storage unit and Darius (Stanfield) is running errands with Earn for Alfred. We also establish early that Earn is still on probation, which instantly raises the stakes of the first episode. With Alfred being unable to take care of a problem with their family, Earn has to go check on his Uncle to make sure he didn’t kidnap a woman. Also, their Uncle Willy has an Alligator.
As always, the show’s absurdist style makes everything more insane than a normal viewer might expect. In this show, anything is possible, which allows it to take detours that can lead to deeper meaning. For example, the opening of the season dubbed the “Robbin’ Season” after a time of year in Atlanta, follows two characters unrelated to Al and Earn trying to rob a fast food restaurant for drugs.
The robbery goes sideways, ending with a bystander getting shot. The episode feels extremely poignant in the wake of Parkland, where the robbed individual pulls out an assault rifle and tries to defend himself, instead hitting a bystander in the process. The show likely made this statement to show the folly of gun proliferation in society but ends up making an even more powerful statement in the process. Violence happens in this city. Darius and Earn’s blank reaction to a separate and unrelated act of violence later in the episode highlights how that violence is part of their everyday life.
The show is absolutely tacked with talent, especially from its core four. Glover is phenomenal again, and should easily grab accolades for his naturalistic performance. It feels real with each second, and as the season progresses, sets up a potentially distressing fight to come. Brian Tyree Henry continues to be an absolute force to be reckoned with, pairing subtlety and ambition into a single character. Henry might be giving the best performance on the show, especially given the nuance he provides to each character.
We don’t get a lot of Zazie Beetz as Van, in these first few, but when she does show up, she’s dynamite as ever. Finally, Lakeith Stanfield is simply the funniest performer on this show. He doesn’t skip a beat in his comedy, and instantly plays up the humor in every scene. Whether he’s talking about the flavor of Hot Cheetos (obviously Hot) or asking talking about Florida Man, he kills every scene he’s in.
There are other things going on in this season that really bode well for the season. First, guest stars are lining up to give strong performances. Uncle Willy is played by Katt Williams in what has to be the favorite for Best Guest Actor Comedy. It’s an outstanding performance and instantly makes me want to watch a show about his character and his life. Other characters emerge later in the season that may dramatically shift the tone of the series, making for exciting plot development alongside the inventiveness of the show.
Finally, a word has to be said about Hiro Murai. It was very exciting last season when Glover won an Emmy for directing “B.A.N..” That was very cool. However, Murai might be the single best director working on television right now. He sets up the entire show’s visual aesthetic, making it one of the prettiest shows to watch on television. It’s visually stunning, making Atlanta into a visual landscape worthy of exploration. The camera movement is superb, the pace is perfect. Murai brings performances out of actors that you wouldn’t expect. He is a superb talent that is worthy to be included in the pantheon of television directors like Vince Gilligan, Jill Soloway, or Michelle MacLaren. If he continues to direct this show the way he does, get ready. He’s going to be a household name in the next 5 to 10 years.
Overall, “Atlanta” comes back on fire. It may not have the inventiveness of the first season in the first few, but don’t worry. It’s still very early, and we didn’t get Black Bieber until episode 4, or “B.A.N.” until 7. The show is simply full of life and populates itself with worthy stories to tell. The first season may already be one of the greatest seasons of a television show to date. With the setup we get in Season 2, watch out.