In the opening scene of the Season 2 premiere of “Atlanta,” two unnamed kids are chilling in an apartment complex. One plays a game of “FIFA” while chastising the other for drinking his Powerade straight out the bottle instead of a cup, which may be one the of blackest moments ever aired on television.
After a brief conversation about local rappers and wanting to smoke a J before work, the two decide to hit up Mrs. Winners, a drive-thru chicken shack that’ll sell you an eighth if you order a No. 17. Somewhere along the way, the two kids decide to rob the chicken shack and get into a shootout with one of the employees. Before the robbers peel off, they open the back door. A woman steps out covered in blood and screaming.
If you’re not watching Donald Glover’s “Atlanta,” you should be. Black as hell and relatable to everyone, ratchet and serious in equal measure, “Atlanta” is a dark and funny show, but not that kind of funny. It makes something fascinating out of the mundane aspects of daily life, which is to say it’s a show about nothing — a sort of Southern black nephew to “Seinfeld.” There’s a social conscience at work here, though, and Glover has a knack for addressing systemic American issues without getting didactic.
Plus, the music is damn good.
The new season, “Robbin’ Season,” started last week. The two of us — race reporter Julia Craven and Black Voices editor Taryn Finley — are gonna have a lot to say over the next two months, and we’ll be saying it here weekly, via Slack chat. What follows is our conversation about Episode 1.
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A little background: Earn (Donald Glover), Al (Bryan Tyree Henry) and Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) are on the same shit in Season 2, but the stakes are even higher. Everyone around town — even the feds — is ready and willing to hit a lick in the lead-up to the holidays. In the first episode, we get a glimpse of just how much the trio will have to protect their necks from robbers, old friends and the criminal justice system.
Some of the biggest takeaways: Katt Williams is the GOAT, Earn’s backpack is hella tired and the hood deserves good cinematography, too.
Warning: Spoilers galore.
Julia Craven: Aight — so Episode 1. First impressions!
Taryn Finly: NIGGA! Earn still on his broke, dumb, tryna get it shit. I admire his hustle but he’s stupid about it. Earn really let himself down. I think he feels like he’s a bigger disappointment than his parents do. And I love how Al and Darius fell out but we never found out what happened and they just popped up at the end like “you tryna smoke” and everything was gucci.
Julia: Earn gotta let all the hurt go. Like, WHO HURT YOU?! (I know who hurt him. He hurt himself.) And, yeah, I wanna know what two niggas like Al and Darius could have possibly have fallen out about. I really do. Did someone eat all the Pringles? What happened there?
Taryn: LMAO! I feel like Darius was mad cause Al kept on leaving only a swallow of milk in the carton. That’s not enough for Darius’ Cinnamon Toast Crunch or the cookies he loves making. Selfish ass. I’d be mad too. And Al don’t care about anybody but himself ... and the nigga on house arrest so he has all the time in the world to lay up, eat all the food and piss someone off.
Julia: asdfghjkjhgfdsadfghj. Wait, I wanna talk about the opening scene and what it meant to me.
Taryn: Please do.
Julia: It’s Robbin’ Season, right? So we’re in the lead-up to holiday season in the hood which means everybody is getting jacked for their shit. But the opener was sooooooooo .... casual. Granted, that made it realistic but also FUCK. I read in The Ringer that it was a metaphor for the stakes being a bit higher in the same ATL and I’m obsessed with it. I also wonder what the overall meaning of the theme will be. Like, what will Earn and crew be robbed of? Not in the literal sense but, like, how Van lost her job, Paper Boi lost his freedom, Earn ain’t got his storage locker no more. What in the fuh-duck could be left to take from them?
Taryn: The whole theme of “Robbin’ Season” is so real on so many levels. I also wonder if they’ll be doing any of the metaphorical robbin’. (Hell, Earn robbed Van of a lot last season so maybe he already had his Robbin’ Season.)
Julia: He has taken so much from Van. I want her to find a better man to occupy her time.
Taryn: I do too but she’s so in love with the good parts of Earn (which don’t appear that often). I’m interested in seeing how their relationship evolves or devolves. Who knows?
Julia: I like Earn but he’s so jaded and broke. But I’m not as open-minded or warm-hearted as Van. “If you ain’t talking money, I don’t wanna talk.” — The Lord’s Prophet Young Dolph.
Taryn: Me neither, sis. Like dude got kicked out of the storage unit he was living in. HOW?!
Julia: RT HOW?! I mean, I know I’m supposed to feel for Earn ― and I do ― but come on bruh.
Taryn: He walking around ATL with this tired-ass backpack looking for a place to stay Episode 1. This is familiar af, bro.
Julia: LOLLL THAT BACKPACK IS DUMB TIRED! IT’S BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH!
Taryn: I wanna see some growth. I see it in everyone else but him.
Julia: Sometimes, I think that’s the point of Earn’s character. But it can also be exhausting.
Taryn: Same. He’s corny and a bad liar and that makes me sad. But I’m laughing at his dumb ass in the same breath.
Julia: Omg when he called Tara “Regina” I fell off the couch.
Taryn: And when he tried to have that kumbaya moment with Al and Darius, I lived for how Tara laughed IN HIS FACE and said “get your boy.” EYE LIVED!
Julia: See, I hated that 😂
Taryn: LMAO why?
Julia: Sis, your man’s cousin just called you by another woman’s name because he can’t keep your man’s women sorted out. Bigger issues than Earn loving his peoples.
Taryn: You right. But since none of them ever have their priorities together anyway (except Darius) she just said what was already on my mind lol. Let’s talk about Florida Man.
Julia: The connection between that story and Alligator Man blew my mind.
Taryn: Let’s explore that ― cause Alligator Man took me clean out in the best way.
Legendary comedian Katt Williams plays Earn’s erratic Uncle Willie. For some reason, he has a pet alligator, and is called “Alligator Man” by the neighborhood kids.
Julia: I took it as just like, Florida Man is seen as a wild muhfucka who commits all these wild crimes in Florida, but he’s actually just a collection of disturbed individuals in the news and looped under the umbrella of “Florida Man.” The Alligator Man is a more realistic look at “Florida Man.” Do I sound high? Because I’m not, but that’s what I took from it. Alligator Man, like Florida Man, also had urban legend status in the neighborhood, which was fun.
Taryn: Lol no, you don’t at all. I think that’s on the nose, actually. And a good reason why the Florida Man reference was in this episode, of all episodes. Also, I loved that Katt Williams was Alligator Man. I read that he interned at an alligator farm for three weeks to prep for this role.
Julia: KATT WILLIAMS 2020! When that door opened and I saw Katt Williams, I screamed. I knew I was about to get one hell of a performance and EYE DID!
Taryn: LMAO this man is a comedic legend. Katt Williams was the quintessential hood uncle in this role.
Julia: He really was. All black people have an Uncle Willie. I think I got two.
Taryn: I have four. One shot a white man who threatened his family in the Jim Crow South and we ain’t seen him since. I believe he, too, owned an alligator.
Julia: Help me Father God in Heaven.
Taryn: Uncle Willie (the one in “Atlanta”) opened the door with a merlot-colored robe on, smelling like cloves, daring the cops to try him on his own property. He was in the wrong for holding that nice lady hostage, but this scene felt very familiar. It felt like home in the hood. And it’s shot so beautifully. I love Donald so much because he sees that the hood deserves good cinematic framing and lighting. It shows the hood in a raw, yet elegant way.
Julia: And that’s the beauty of “Atlanta.” It feels like home. The mundaneness of it all is what gets to me and how that’s really what life is like in the hood. Like, these niggas robbed the chicken shack after they wrapped up a game of “FIFA.” Come on. Your cousins could have easily did that. Maybe they have. Who knows?
Taryn: I’ve seen the chicken shack get held up before. I also witnessed the manager come out bussin’ because this ain’t the first time.
Julia: LOOK! And I love how the music corresponds so well with what’s happening too. We all have a family member who is depressed, drinks too much, smokes, is abusive and plays amazing oldies as the abuse is playing out and other family members are intervening. Uncle Willie’s house could have easily been any internal family drama I saw growing up.
Taryn: L.T.D was playing on a quiet storm mix in the background while Uncle Willie was planning his escape. Iconic. And the fact that he gave Earn a GOLD GUN and Earn took it knowing he’s on probation really made me mad.
Julia: I was real over that. As Darius said, “You holding a gun for a nigga while 12 outside?”
Taryn: But it was also a good reminder that people don’t sit up looking for shit to get in. It happens by circumstance a lot of times and black people are usually villainized for those circumstances ― on-screen and off. Earn is still dumb for taking that gun, though. Darius, the prophet, got out of the house just in time. He said, “It’s starting to feel more and more like jail in here,” and hit the door.
Julia: Darius is me. I love tuning into the vibe and getting on out of there if it’s too real.
Taryn: Uncle Willie let that gator out and turned into a track star. I wonder where he went and if we’ll see him later in the season.
Julia: All while in his robe. I want to see him again but I don’t deserve to.
Taryn: And that’s the honest truth.
Earn, a first-time offender who got picked up for narcotics possession with intent to sell last season, is now on probation. During a meeting with his probation officer, he is informed that his mandatory anti-drug classes are $375, a warrant will be issued for his arrest if he doesn’t pay and that he can’t get arrested again. Earn had half of a joint on him when he was arrested.
Julia: Oooh — the probation scene perfectly laid out the jig. You need all this money to pay for state-mandated classes over a trumped-up charge and then you can get arrested if you don’t pay but most employers don’t hire felons? The gag.
Taryn: It sure did. You gotta pay to be on probation. Can’t afford the mandatory classes? Sucks, see you in jail. It’s the biggest catch-22 funding the American justice system today.
Julia: “Atlanta,” within all its layers, shows us the jig while also showing us average everyday people ― like you said.
Taryn: God, this show is good.
Julia: This type of shit really just happens to regular black people. It’s like when Van lost her job over smoking a blunt. It’s perfect and I’m obsessed with it.
Taryn: I’m still pissed about that. I hope there’s another episode (or five) focusing more on Van this season. I feel like we may see more of a dive into black women’s perspectives. (At least I’m praying.)
Julia: Me too. I wanna know how she is and I hope she has a new man.
Taryn: I also love the role weed plays in “Atlanta” because it’s so real. The same thing that got Van fired it the same thing that served as an olive branch for Al and Darius. I hope she finds better, too. I want her bougie friend to come back this season and remind her that Earn still ain’t shit.
Julia: Weed is the real MVP.