Donald Glover’s ‘Atlanta’ Is Back And More Surreal Than Ever [Non-Spoiler Review]
The game’s most wholly original television show, Atlanta, is back and our own Danielle A. Scruggs breaks down just how good “robbin’ season” really is.
Atlanta, one of the most wholly original shows on TV is back — and this time it’s Robbin’ Season. What I appreciate about Atlanta is that it makes smart observations about race and class without bludgeoning you over the head with their point.
We see several recurring themes: how it’s expensive to be poor, how easy it is to be railroaded by the criminal justice system, how gaining fame is not the same as earning money, the subtle ways white people exert their power over others, and how certain black people pander to that power dynamic as a means of survival.
And this is all done in a way that is not judgmental, it makes you laugh, and is beautifully shot with an impeccable soundtrack to boot.
“Robbin’ Season” refers to an actual phenomenon in Atlanta when robberies increase during the holiday season leading up to Christmas. And in the first three episodes made available for review, we see people we know and love—and some new faces too—illustrate what it means to be the robbed or the robber.
So far, Atlanta’s second season, which brings back Earn (Donald Glover), Al, aka Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), Van (Zazie Beetz) and Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), continues exploring those issues that made season one so resonant and ramps up the surreal nature of the show.
FYI: This is not the Atlanta you see on the Love and Hip-Hop or Real Housewives of Atlanta.
Lensed by cinematographer Hiro Murai, who also directed episode two, “Sportin’ Waves,” Atlanta is presented as a city of contrasts. Through patient, languid camera movements, we see clubs, recording studios, and movie theaters shot in warm tones and rich contrasts, while a Spotify-esque tech start-up, malls, corporate offices and humble low-rise apartments are shot in cool blues, greys and raw light. There are also overhead shots full of grit and texture that explore the city from a bird’s-eye view, showing how so many parts of the city are connected yet disparate all at once. The way it’s shot gives Atlanta the look and feel of an indie film, and further pulls you into the story and the world of Atlanta the city.
The soundtrack does this as well, as it is full of contemporary faves that range from the drill cadence of Tay-K, whose rise to infamy makes him a fitting addition to a season dedicated to exploring the desperation that drives “Robbin’ Season,” to the nu-metal of Death Grips to Atlanta stalwarts like Jeezy, Gucci Mane, and Migos, to the carefree funk-inspired vibes of Steve Lacy. The soundtrack also boasts soulful classics by Curtis Mayfield, LTD, and Rene and Angela. Each song, which often appears as interstitial music—meaning the characters themselves are playing them—further enhances the story and fits each episode perfectly.
Reviewers have been asked not to reveal any plot points but suffice it to say, there is certainly more tension now between our heroes and between them and the rest of the city than last season and thrillingly, there is no way to tell where the rest of the season will go from here.
Atlanta airs on FX every Thursday night at 10:00 p.m. ET / PT. Peep the gallery below and make sure to chime in with your thoughts on Twitter @Okayplayer.
Danielle A. Scruggs is a Chicago-based photographer and writer who runs the website Black Women Directors and is also the Director of Photography at the Chicago Reader, an award-winning alt-weekly newspaper. Follow her on Twitter at @dascruggs and view her site at daniellescruggs.com.