The first three episodes of the second season of Atlanta — formally known as Atlanta Robbin’ Season, for the spike in armed robberies before Christmas — are laced with a palpable excitement. Creator, writer and star Donald Glover has, with the help his co-stars and co-writers, honed a rare and unique voice for this rare and unique series. It’s incredibly special. There’s a fine precision evident in every scene and it lets the show seesaw from wacky, fantastical gags played for laughs to authentic musings about poverty, racism and social media. The struggle is real — but it’s surreal, too.
It would be easy then to throw Atlanta Robbin’ Season in with what appears to be a trend of the mainstream accepting and loving stories that focus on black lives from the perspective of the black people living them. It would be even easier to boast that black popular culture is having a moment right now, with the recent influx of critically adored fare like “Black Panther,” “Insecure” and “Get Out.”
But the word “moment” suggests that this time is fleeting.
“I don’t want anything to be a moment,” Brian Tyree Henry (aka Paperboi) told The New York Times in an interview with the rest of the cast. “I want to be here and have our place in the pantheon. Avenues are finally open.”
Open indeed. Thanks to the current state of peak TV, stories have gotten more interesting, less prosaic. And Atlanta is a series that goes above and beyond, setting itself apart from its peers and seamlessly blending the real and the fantastical. Case in point? In the premiere tonight, we meet Earn’s uncle who keeps a golden pistol under his bed and a pet alligator in the spare room.
It is weirder and bigger than many series before it, black-led or otherwise. And that it’s a bona fide hit confirms what we’ve been saying all along: We want more of this. We want original stories from different perspectives. Give us more Atlanta, and less reboots (Roseanne, looking at you).
It’s more than a trend. It’s a long awaited shift. There have always been excellent stories about black people. As a person whose childhood was filled with soundtracks to every Whitney Houston starring vehicle — The Bodyguard and Waiting to Exhale remain favorites, 20-odd years later — plus constant viewings of films like Boomerang and series like Living Single, I can attest that this isn’t new. Perhaps what’s new is the critics paying attention — and the powers that be finally acquiescing to giving the people what they want.
And thank Dumbledore. “Our job is to make great things and happen to be black,” Glover said in the same New York Times interview. “That’s it.”
With Atlanta, he’s done that and then some.
Atlanta Robbin Season premieres tonight on FX at 10p.m.