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‘Atlanta,’ the weirdest, blackest show on TV, finally gets a return date

Television Critics diary: The second installment, called ‘Robbin’ Season,’ was inspired by Tiny Toons

PASADENA, California — The weirdest, blackest show on television is finally coming back for its second season March 1 with 11 new episodes.

And in true, wonderful Atlanta form, nothing is quite what it appears to be on the surface. At least, that’s what it sounds like. None of us here at the Television Critics Association press tour can be quite sure because we haven’t actually seen season two yet. We’ve just heard creator Donald Glover and the cast, along with director Hiro Murai, talk about it.

From what Glover would tell us at Friday’s panel discussion, it sounds as if Atlanta may end up being something like a limited series, but reusing the same characters each year. This season is called Atlanta: Robbin’ Season, referring to the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when folks, regardless of whether they’ve got much money or not, will buy the nicest gifts they can afford. And then, if they live in the trap, they’ll get jacked. Hence the name.

“We didn’t want to come at the second season in terms of how do we beat last season, rather how do we make this another season of a show I want to watch,” Glover said.

Robbin’ Season is centered on themes of economic and social mobility and what happens when you’re suddenly able to leave the trap.

Brian Tyree Henry and Zazie Beetz

Maarten de Boer/Getty Images

“You can’t be famous and be a drug dealer,” explained Brian Tyree Henry, who plays rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles.

It’s a common theme in the lives of America’s most visible rich black celebrities (rappers and ballers), which is why it comes up in shows such as Survivor’s Remorse, which was also set in Atlanta, or tons of songs. (See: Jones, Mike, for what has to be the most concise summation of this change: Back then hoes didn’t want me/Now I’m hot they all on me.)

Donald Glover and his brother, Stephen, who is a writer on the show, said the second installation of Atlanta was inspired by Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation. Several writers tried to ask for hints about the plot, and the Glovers giggled as they steered the conversation back to Tiny Toons. The room at TCA is mostly (but not exclusively) white, and I think they got a kick out of screwing with white people knowing there would be no negative consequences for it. (I mean, really, how often do any of us get to do that?) Basically, they said, all the separate bits of the 1992 Warner Bros. video are great and can be consumed on their own but work even better as a whole.

The Glovers did talk honestly about what it’s like to suddenly discover that you’re successful and famous. So did Zazie Beetz, the actress who plays Van and is also starring as Domino in the Deadpool sequel. She can’t go to AfroPunk without getting mobbed, she said. Henry realized the same when he tried to go to Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta on a whim.

“Nope! Can’t do that s— anymore,” Henry said.

Hiro Murai, Stephen Glover, Paul Simms, Brian Tyree Henry and Zazie Beetz

Maarten de Boer/Getty Images

Donald Glover said the specificity of those discoveries opened his eyes to just how much black identity is tied to lack of resources. Paper Boi’s journey this season is influenced by the one in his and Beetz’s and Henry’s lives because they’re honestly trying to figure it out themselves. After all, Glover had a hit album in Awaken, My Love! and had to postpone work on Atlanta’s second season to play Lando Calrissian in the new Star Wars franchise. The Atlanta crew is using the show to work through their own stuff.

It’s not all serious, though. The other side of being famous is that people give you cool stuff for free, and Henry walked out in a notable pair of sneakers. His right shoe read “BREATHE” and the left read “WALK.” Mostly, Henry said, he was wearing them because they were free, but also because he has a habit of looking down when he walks instead of straight ahead. They’re a reminder to himself to be comfortable with who he is.

Soraya Nadia McDonald is the culture critic for The Undefeated. She writes about pop culture, fashion, the arts, and literature. She's based in Brooklyn.