What if Robbin’ Season was a red herring?
Wait, I’ll come back to that.
One of the most exciting and unexpected TV moments we’ll see all year is the screen door of a dingy Atlanta house opening to reveal Katt Williams. The reveal set the stage for an Atlanta season that’s been an adventure where we never see what’s coming next. Williams’ performance as the Alligator Man is a remarkably layered turn for the comedian with a turbulent career. But the moment that defines the episode — and the season of the genre-disrupting FX show — is Donald Glover standing in front of Williams, deriding him for being a star who threw it all away. In that moment, Glover and Williams stop playing roles. They’re themselves, bare and vulnerable in front of the camera. We see Glover face-to-face with the worst case scenario of his future: an infinitely talented comedian who had the world and let drugs and cynicism ruin it all.
I didn’t understand until this past week that the treatment of Williams would be the beginning of a theme that runs across the entire second season of Atlanta. That’s because every episode this season so far has been about tearing down our heroes and revealing the darkness that hides inside of all of them — beginning with Katt Williams and ending with the cryptic, bizarre Teddy Perkins. Look:
“Alligator Man” contains aforementioned confrontation between Earn and Katt Williams, including hints at Williams’ history of drug use and domestic violence. It doesn’t pull any punches and forces him to face his demons as a character and a celebrity.
“Sportin’ Waves:” The second episode dismantles the notion of what it means to be a successful rapper in 2018, from the obnoxious start-up meetings to the faux-Tiny Desk performance in an office that doesn’t give a damn, all the way through the rest of the show with Paper Boi trying to restart his weed business with the trappings (no pun intended) of fame standing in his way.
The final scene of “Money Bag Shawty” sees Michael Vick racing people outside of the strip club. Vick, of course, became an Atlanta icon for the way he tore through the NFL while redefining the quarterback position. Vick was a walking urban legend, doing things on the field we didn’t think was possible. For Black America, he represented a reframing of the discussion around the whitewashed position of NFL quarterback. He was a video game god and a freak of nature. Then, it fell apart thanks to a dogfighting scandal that almost ruined his career. And now we find him racing random people for money outside of strip joints. It’s the epitome of a fall from grace: brief, painful, and hilarious.
“Helen”: Earn. The protagonist turns out to be an asshole. He’s petty, manipulative and insecure. Atlanta has left him without much in the way of redeemable qualities as a boyfriend.
“Barbershop:” There isn’t a more revered black hero in neighborhoods than the barber. The episode takes the mythology of the barber as hairline savior and community and complicates it. Bibby, a newly-minted iconic character, is a barber who’s also a two-timer, a schemer, and a liar. He’s not the hood hero we grew up with. He’s just a guy. Who lets us all down.