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‘Atlanta’ Review: A Shocking First Scene Sets the Table for ‘Robbin’ Season,’ But Let’s Not Forget ‘Florida Man’

Donald Glover's return to "Atlanta" is sharply funny for 75 percent of the Season 2 premiere, but that other quarter is unforgettable for opposite reasons.

ATLANTA -- "Alligator Man" -- Season Two, Episode 1 (Airs Wednesday, March 1, 10:00 p.m. e/p) Pictured: Lakeith Stanfield as Darius, Donald Glover as Earnest Marks. CR: Guy D'Alema/FX

Guy D'Alema/FX

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Atlanta” Season 2, Episode 1, “Alligator Man.”]

Welcome back to “Atlanta,” where the more things change, the more they stay the same. While the premiere offers a bounty of enticing new developments — namely a tragic, telling, and seemingly disconnected first scene — the episode as a whole matches its distinct tone with the insightful comedy we’ve come to expect from Donald Glover’s Emmy-winning series. It still feels like “Atlanta,” even if we’re entering a darker season.

Just look at the title: The second season isn’t just “Atlanta” anymore. Nor is it “Atlanta” Season 2. It’s “Atlanta: Robbin’ Season,” and in case anyone was wondering why that’s the title or how it would affect an already outstanding show, Glover & Co. answered the second question right off the bat and explicitly addressed the former shortly thereafter.

As Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) waited on his tank to fill up and Earn (Donald Glover) filled up his tank with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (“I am tasting hot.”), sirens wail as police investigate an incident across the street. What appears to be a break-in gone bad has one man in handcuffs and another under a white sheet, presumably dead. Four Fulton County cops cover the area, and Darius gives his take on the situation.

“Robbin’ season,” he says. “Christmas approaches, and everybody gotta eat.”

“Or be eaten,” Earn adds.

Though that line was the last alluding to “Alligator Man’s” standalone opening sequence, it was more than enough to indicate similar tragedy isn’t off the table in the future. The brief moment confirmed the foreshadowing from earlier in the episode without disrupting the episode’s arc as it steamrolled toward funnier and more outrageous situations. But before we get to “Florida Man,” Katt Williams, and his alligator, let’s take a look at the opening to “Robbin’ Season.”

Donald Glover, "Atlanta"

“Robbin’ Season” Gets Rough

Before Earn and Darius spotted any trouble from the gas station, Robbin’ Season kicked off with unexpected gunshots and an unintended victim.

Curtis (Jasun Jabbar) pops over to his friend Droop’s (Frederick Williams) house to steal some Powerade and complain about how he couldn’t get any “gas” earlier. (“Gas” turns out to be both slang for high-grade marijuana and a subtle way to tie this scene to when Earn and Darius get gas — regular gas — later on). Droop tells his friend he can get an eighth if he orders the No. 17 meal at a local fast food joint. “The custodian is in on that shit,” he claims, so the two decide to swing by after Drew finishes his soccer game.

Pretty low stakes, right? Even if you weren’t sure what they were talking about exactly, their relaxed vibe and basic goal — to get some food before work — leant to a relaxed air immediately shattered when the cashier opens the window and sees a gun pointed in his face. Firing a round over the employee’s head, Curtis (I think — he’s wearing a mask) runs inside, finds the weed stash, and tries to walk out with it.

The only problem: The cashier has a semi-automatic of his own behind the counter, and the two get into a shoot-out that leads all the way out into the parking lot. As the car tries to pull away, the cashier shoots off his last few rounds. The red jalopy suddenly stops, but rather than Curtis or Droop stepping out, a young girl crawls out of the back seat, clutching her bleeding head. She screams, and the camera cuts to an overhead shot not unlike the one used in the first episode of Season 1 — right after Alfred’s (Brian Tyree Henry) gun went off.

Earn, Darius, and Alfred, let alone any other known characters, aren’t included in the scene, nor is it referenced explicitly later in the episode. So what does it all mean? If anything, it sets a serious tone for the season overall, at least when it comes to the backdrop. Nothing in “Atlanta” is ever done without a purpose, and the five-plus minute opener feels too significant to be ignored. Dramatically, it’s haunting. Thematically, it could reference a time jump to come, similar to how the series premiere started with the gunshot, backtracked, and worked through the preceding timeline to get back to that point.

We’re not there yet, though. And before we start thinking about the future, it’s important to remember…

“Florida Man”

This is… an outstanding joke. Even before Katt Williams’ Uncle Miles dropped an oh-so-brilliant callback, Darius’ interpretation of multiple news reports about the many insane antics of men who live in Florida is a highlight among the character’s many off-kilter understandings.

“Florida Man is responsible for large number of abnormal incidents that occur in Florida,” Darius tells Earn. “Think of him as an alt-right Johnny Appleseed. No one knows his true identity, date of birth, what he looks like — that’s why headlines always say ‘Florida Man.'”

At this point, fans should be in on the joke, but the examples Darius uses to illustrate what he’s talking about are almost as funny as how his mind rationalized the belief in the first place (“To prevent black people from coming to and/or registering to vote in Florida, Earn!”):

  • ‘Florida Man Shoots Unarmed Black Teenager’
  • ‘Florida Man Breaks Into Delivery Room and Fights Ex as She’s Giving Birth’
  • ‘Florida Man Steals a Car, Drives to Checkers’
  • ‘Florida Man Found Eating Another Man’s Face’

Now, the concept of “Florida Man” isn’t new. There’s a popular Twitter account dedicated to Florida Man, and a Google search of the term results in headlines you can’t make up. Hell, if you plug the name into Shutterstock (an online photo library of stock shots and images to use in news stories like this one), you’re bound to find some pretty wild stuff. (See the gallery above.)

But what “Atlanta” does with the concept goes above and beyond in its explanation, development, and (again) Katt Williams’ callback — which, one could argue, acknowledges the existence of Florida Man outside of Darius’ brain. Williams deserves 1,000 words or more to properly chronicle and admire his performance, but we don’t have the room here, so know this: His key toss, reaction to the cops, and run down the street are all instant comedic gems that will hopefully circulate via gifs for years to come.

For as hilarious as “Alligator Man” is in its first, second, and third acts — and it is hilarious — the preface plays an equally important role. Season 2 may be just as funny as the first, but “Robbin’ Season” is changing the game.

Grade: A

“Atlanta” airs new episodes Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

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