Atlanta is the smartest show on television. I’m unoriginal in that sentiment—for the entirety of its first season, which emerged in 2016 with the marvel and depth of an art-house indie film, it was regarded as such—but that doesn’t make it any less genuine, or true. Depending on how you color it, that view does present its creator-star Donald Glover with a high-stakes dilemma for the second season: How do you reinvent the most inventive show currently on TV?
In the lead-up to last year’s Emmy Awards—where Glover won for Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series—I wrote about Atlanta's expanding narrative parameters. For the whole of its first 10 episodes, Glover introduced viewers to a universe that was familiar to some, and imaginatively new to others. There was a cultural knowingness alive in his telling; one that, until its debut, had never been granted room on TV (partially due to the racial and gender conservatism Hollywood refuses to assess properly, even now). But, ultimately, a magician has only so many tricks and trap doors at his disposal.
Looking back, it seems ridiculous to think that a series of such tender truths could ever fail in a climate besieged by such baroque distortions and deliberate misbeliefs. Yet, even Glover was prepared for the show to do just that. Thankfully, powerfully, it did the opposite. The TV landscape benefitted from Atlanta’s refusal to be made small and indistinguishable from its contemporaries.
During its 15-month sabbatical—remember, the Season 1 finale aired two Novembers ago—fans wondered if Glover could deliver magic once again. Would he be more daring in Season 2? What unpaved direction would he take us in? Would black Justin Bieber