Even before “Atlanta” premiered, creator and star Donald Glover had said that he wanted the show to help people understand what it feels like to be black in America. His brother Stephen Glover went one further and said that Season 2 would give a better impression of what living in Atlanta is like, which includes being black.
“We get to see daily slices of people’s lives and what makes living in a city like Atlanta a weird kind of experience,” he told IndieWire in an interview this past January. “Atlanta is very weird, because it’s a super-black town, but at the same time, there’s other cultures there, there’s history there. There’s all these things that make it unique. I think you’ll get to hopefully get immersed in what it is to live in that place on a daily basis, or to meet some of the people that you would meet.”
This experience, this state of being is too abstract to describe in concrete plot terms. So much of “Atlanta’s” appeal goes beyond the usual character trajectories and narratives. The words chosen, the words unspoken, the delirious humor, the underlying danger, the humdrum routine, the dreamy incidents – all of these conspire to embed the viewer in the Glovers’ reading of the city.
With that said, Stephen Glover did his best to give an idea of what to expect once Season 2 premieres:
Earnest “Earn” Marks (Donald Glover)
Last season, the Princeton dropout found himself at loose ends without a regular income or even a home. Naturally, that’s when he decided to take on the task of managing his cousin, up-and-coming rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry).
“With this season, we’re showing where everybody picks up and what happens over the next few months that give you a perspective on where they’re heading with the rest of their lives,” said Glover. “Earn, he’s still managing his cousin, but it’s getting harder. It’s become more of a full-time thing.”
Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles
In Season 1, Alfred found insta-fame with his hit song “Paper Boi” and even earned some “gangsta” cred after a shooting incident. The show picks up with that notoriety.
“Alfred, he’s become a bigger star than he was last time we saw him,” said Glover. “It’s progressing that story a little further and seeing where everybody wants to end up.”
Vanessa “Van” Keefer (Zazie Beetz)
Van has dated Earn on and off, and also has a daughter with him. Last season, she lost her job after failing a drug test and then tried to network at a Juneteenth party.
Glover wouldn’t say much except, “Van, she and Earn are still together and working out their stuff.”
Darius (Lakeith Stanfield)
Perhaps the most mysterious member of the group, Darius seems to just be present and drifting along.
“We’ll get a little Darius backstory here and there, but he’s kind of an entity,” said Glover. “He’s fine no matter what, so it’s not even like, ‘What do you do for money?’ Alfred sells drugs, and he’s there for that. He’s doing music, he’s there for that. He’s also got his own life with another million things going on, so he’s just a guy that’s floating through just fine. That’s Darius.”
Paper Boi is by no means the only rapper in town, and this season, the show will introduce a younger artist to the game.
“There’s going to be a rapper on the show named Clark County (RJ Walker) who’s there for a couple of episodes,” said Glover. “He’s not from Atlanta, but he’s a young rapper who’s kind of upcoming and just represents what Alfred isn’t. The guy who’s like the real industry rapper. Somebody who’s doing all the things that Alfred’s not. He’s a good foil to him.
“We had an original name, but there’s a real rapper with it, so we couldn’t use it,” he added. “We came up with five other ones and then Stephanie Robinson came up with Clark County and I said, ‘This is perfect.’”
While Clark County is an apropos reference to Georgia’s Clarke County, it’s a shame that the show didn’t decide to use one particular name that had been brainstormed. “Denzel Guapington was one of them,” Glover revealed.
The show will also experiment with new combinations of characters, including established ones and new faces.
“With this season, we do a lot of episodes that focus on specific two characters or just the character. You’ll get to see everybody have their moments,” he said. “Sometimes you’ll meet characters or new people that will stay around for the whole season too. You’ll definitely meet some characters throughout the season.”
An Episode That’s a Cut Above
Although Glover wouldn’t ruin the surprise of any upcoming episodes that might rival Season 1’s satirical “B.A.N.” or “Nobody Beats the Biebs,” he did tease, “We have some good episodes. We have an episode that focuses on the barbershop. What’s funny about it is that we get to see it in a different way than people have gotten to see it.“
What a difference a season makes. After the first season, the show nabbed two Emmys and two Golden Globes, in addition to a warning by a fellow performer.
Glover said, “Chris Rock called me last year and he told me, ‘Everybody is going to want to be on this show. Don’t let anyone be on it. When people like me start asking you to be on it, that’s when you don’t let them be on it.’ And that was good advice.”
That doesn’t mean that the show didn’t reach out for specific guest stars though. Glover said that they tried to get “everybody, it feels like: 21 Savage, we wanted to get him on. He wanted to be on. We didn’t get him. We got some good comedians this year that people will like to see, maybe some people you haven’t seen in a while or people you don’t know yet.”
As was revealed in IndieWire’s review, the first episode features both comedian Katt Williams and an alligator, both in scene-stealing turns.
Although much of the music hadn’t been added to the show yet at the time of the interview, Glover was able to say this much: “We get some good stuff, I think. We had the ‘Paper Boi’ song last year. With Alfred, it’s been a little bit longer since then so he has new music. The Clark County kid, he’s got music. Maybe something of mine will slip in like last time.”
“Atlanta” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.