WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
Over a year has passed since Donald Glover‘s critically-acclaimed television series Atlanta made its debut. Now the show has returned, its second season premiering Thursday night with “Alligator Man.”
The title hints at the surreal and bizarre atmosphere of Atlanta and although that’s present in the premiere, there’s a large dose of poignant reality that serves as a reminder that the seasons have changed. Summertime is gone and robbin’ season is quickly approaching.
The episode’s opening is a testament to this, as viewers watch two friends rob a fast food employee of his weed, only to realize they picked the wrong assault rifle-packing dealer to mess with. This is the first example of robbin’ season in full effect but there’s other ways the episode explores this idea. From Earnest “Earn” Marks (Glover) being robbed of his belongings and home (the storage shed he lives in that was revealed at the end of season one) to Uncle Willy (masterfully portrayed by Katt Williams which we’ll get into soon) being robbed by his girlfriend Yvonne, everybody’s getting robbed to varying degrees, and some worse than others.
Now, to Williams. Williams’ Uncle Willy was arguably the star of the episode. Owning a pet alligator named Coach (on second thought Coach may actually be the star), Willy is a charming but troubled character. Ultimately, Earn is tasked with going to see his uncle by his cousin Alfred aka Paper Boy (Brian Tyree Henry), after Yvonne tells him that Willy kidnapped her. Tensions rise as Earn confronts Willy about his behavior, along with police officers arriving at the latter’s residence. The scene comes to an absurdly comical head when Willy unleashes Coach out of his home (soundtracked by The Delfonics‘ “Hey Love”) and runs out the back door to escape the cops.
Uncle Willy is such a compelling character for Williams to portray because he feels so real. In recent years Williams’ life has played out in headlines: “Katt Williams Jumped After Sucker Punching A Random Guy At A Beanie Sigel Concert” and “Katt Williams Punches Seventh Grader And Gets Beat Up.”
There’s something meta about Williams’ Atlanta appearance, an extreme commentary on what the comedian seemed to be spiraling toward in the past two years. (His personal transition seems to be well, considering he released a Netflix special earlier this year.) As fictitious as Williams’ “alligator man”is, the story of comedians (especially black ones) losing their sanity is a poignant reality. Richard Pryor, Martin Lawrence, Dave Chappelle — surely this wasn’t a commentary Glover was trying to provide but it’s hard not to think about.
But the highlight of Williams’ performance is his confrontation with Earn. After egging him on about needing to please Alfred, Willy receives a harsh critique from his nephew.
“What I’m scared of is being you. You know, somebody everybody knew was smart but ended up being a know-it-all, fuck-up Jay that just lets shit happen to him,” Earn says, with Willy only being able to utter a surprised “Damn” in return.
Earn tries to apologize and reconcile with Willy, which the uncle seems to accept as he offers his nephew these parting words of advice: “If you don’t wanna end up like me get rid of that chip on your shoulder shit. It’s not worth the time.”
Atlanta deals with exploring the complexities of humanity and for its second season premiere the series is off to a beautifully somber start.
Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) listening to Death Grips’ “Hot Head” at max volume while driving Earn around.
Darius explaining “Florida Man” which is the human manifestation of some of the most bizarre news headlines to come out of the state in recent history
Coach walking out to The Delfonics’ “Hey Love”
A police officer asking Earn if Coach was friendly to him
The Soundtrack For “Alligator Man”
Tay-K, “The Race”
Jay Critch & Rich the Kid, “Did It Again”
Death Grips, “Hot Head”
Rene & Angela, “I’ll Be Good”
Breakwater, “No Limit”
LTD, “Love Ballad”
The Delfonics, “Hey Love”
Curtis Mayfield, “When Seasons Change”