“Atlanta” won two Emmys for Donald Glover last season, but the Outstanding Comedy Series trophy slipped through his fingers. This year, the show is looking to take home more statuettes after garnering 16 nominations, leading the comedy category. There’s stiff competition, ranging from returning nominees “Black-ish,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Silicon Valley,” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” to first-timers “Barry,” GLOW” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
But with incumbent winner “Veep” out of the race this year, “Atlanta” is a frontrunner.
The FX comedy is pinning its hopes on six episodes that have been submitted to Academy members to watch, according to GoldDerby. While 11 episodes comprise Season 2, these six have been singled out to present specific, special elements, in addition to creating an overall impression of the year’s offering. How well do these episodes succeed? Here’s a breakdown of each with additional insights from the cast and crew interviews with IndieWire and an FYC event earlier this year.
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Episode 1: ”Alligator Man”
Synopsis: Earn (Glover) and Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) pay Uncle Willie (Katt Williams) a visit, during which Willie gives Earn a gold handgun and then loses his pet alligator as a diversion for the police. Earn is also officially homeless after getting evicted from the storage facility where he was squatting. A new friend, Tracy (Khris Davis), joins the group.
Importance: As the first (and hilarious) episode of the season, it sets up the atmosphere of danger for the entire episodic run with its opening robbery scene. It also establishes Earn’s descent into dire straits.
Relevant Nominations: Writing for Glover, single-camera picture editing, music supervision, and guest actor for Williams.
Additional Insights: Director Hiro Murai spoke to IndieWire on the red carpet about working with Williams in the episode: “I didn’t know what to expect. I honestly thought I was going to have to ground him or slow him down a little bit because just based on what I’ve seen him in, in his stand-up specials and things, he has a very heightened, fast rhythm to his speech,” he said. “But it wasn’t the case at all. He came in knowing that he was going to play, sort of a naturalistic version of his persona, and he really calibrated his performance really well, even before I stepped in.”
Episode 2: “Sportin’ Waves”
Synopsis: Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) gets robbed by his drug dealer and gets frustrated by a failed meeting at a start-up. With Tracy’s urging, Earn tries to flip his money from a dog-breeding operation into a mall gift card, but the fraud is discovered. Tracy fails to land a job after an interview.
Importance: The episode continues the trend of Alfred not really embracing what it takes to make his Paper Boi image take off, while Earn continues to make bad decisions. This is also a very Tracy-centric episode.
Relevant Nominations: None.
Additional Insights: ”Tracy represented a lot of people that me and my friends knew in Atlanta, and that just everybody in Atlanta kind of knows,” said Stephen Glover. “This guy who kind of represents … the people you’re supposed to leave behind when you become famous, that sort of thing. But we really just wanted to tell both perspectives of that, of why somebody like that might be your friend, and why there’s bad to him but there’s also a good side, and the loyalty to that, and also not leaving your roots. So I think really what we wanted from him was just to be a kind of cool guy, lovable, who you really liked and could relate to and was funny, who was also kind of a screw-up and a little bit of a problem to be around.”
Episode 3: “Money Bag Shawty”
Synopsis: Alfred and Darius sit in on a Clark County (RJ Walker) recording session that turns frightening. Meanwhile, Earn tries to celebrate Paper Boi’s newest single being certified Gold by a night on the town. But after encountering racist incidents, he ends up blowing money at a strip club, and then challenging (and losing to) Michael Vick in a parking lot foot race.
Importance: The episode contrasts Alfred and Clark County’s style of pursuing their careers, while Earn proves he is the absolute worst when it comes to responsibility and judgment.
Relevant Nominations: None.
Additional Insights: Stephen Glover explained how the Michael Vick cameo came about. “We were in the writers’ room just pitching stuff and talking about ideas, and it was actually me and another writer, Jamal Olori. We both came up with this idea for Michael Vick that we just thought was hilarious,” he said. “It was very weird, but we were like, ‘We have to do this. Man, it’s a show about Atlanta, it’s Michael Vick. If we could have Michael Vick in an episode of “Atlanta,” what’s more Atlanta than that?’
“So we were able to get in contact with him through some people who knew him, Atlanta connections. I didn’t know if it was gonna happen at first… but he was on board and he came through and actually did it. He was really cool, and he was just glad to be a part of the show.”
As for whether Vick’s history of dog fighting is related to Earn’s windfall in Episode 2, Glover said, “No, it’s a complete coincidence on that one.”
Episode 5: “Barbershop”
Synopsis: Alfred goes to get his hair cut, but his barber Bibby (Robert S Powell III) keeps getting distracted and hijacks Alfred’s day, taking him on a wild goose chase around town.
Importance: This is perhaps one of the most purely comedic episodes of the season and builds off of the dynamic between the increasingly frustrated by taciturn Alfred and the loquacious and careless Bibby.
Relevant Nominations: Stefani Robinson was nominated for writing the episode.
Additional Insights: ”I was actually surprised by how many people knew a Bibby in their life, more than anything else,” said Robinson. “That just really made me laugh and tickled me the most, that we all have dealt with this annoying asshole in our lives. Pretty universal, I think.”
She also revealed that she had crafted the dialogue specifically for Powell, who had not acted to this extent before. “I think we had an idea, we had seen some of his stand-up and really inspired by his voice and the way he talked, and his energy,” she said. “So when I did write the character, I wrote in his voice, not necessarily knowing if it was gonna be him or not. But I’m so happy it was because he’s incredible.”
Powell added, “Brian kind of helped add to the panic attack in that he’s such a professional and he only had me to work with that day,” he said. “I’m the guy that didn’t get the script. And he’s such a well-trained professional actor that it made it that much worse that I was working with someone like this now, right? I know he was injured a little bit while we were filming because we had done the ‘Woods’ thing before and he had hurt himself so he struggled a lot when I was there filming because he was dealing with this injury. But he was a consummate professional and helped me out along the way.”
Henry had kind words for both Robinson and Powell as well. “I swear to god it was hard. The season was all about restraint for Alfred; he couldn’t really do the things that he wanted to do,” he said. “I can’t reach out and strangle this guy? Oh, that’s right, I can’t. I can’t just yoke him up, nope I can’t. And it’s also like, ‘You’re my barber, I’ve known you forever.’ And all of a sudden, these situations are changing because of who I am. But [Powell] did a great job, he really came in there and committed, he brought out things in me that I didn’t know were there. So big ups to him for joining us for that.”
Episode 6: “Teddy Perkins”
Synopsis: Darius goes to a dark mansion to pick up a special piano and encounters Teddy Perkins (Donald Glover), a creepy former child star who dealt with an abusive showbiz dad.
Importance: The episode pushed the boundaries for how a comedy should look or sound and brought elements of gothic horror to an unforgettable 40 minutes. It also showcased Stanfield in a departure from his goofier persona and Glover in the most bizarre whiteface prosthetics.
Relevant Nominations: Best Actor for Glover, directing for Murai, production design, single-camera picture editing, sound editing, and cinematography.
Additional Insights: ”It’s all sort of a blur because it happens really fast, but once we started getting … We shot ‘Teddy Perkins’ and ‘Woods’ together because, you know, we block shoot our episodes,” said Murai. “It was deep into the season and we were getting pretty beaten up just with the pace of the show, and also the content was very dark. So I remember that being really fun, but also extremely hard.”
Beetz, who only watched “Teddy Perkins” for the first time at the FYC event, declared it was her favorite episode of the season.
“I remember reading the episode and thought, ‘This is the shit,’” she said. “I thought, ‘This is sad and dark, and God, just the bowels of humanity.’ It’s creepy but I feel him. Do you know what I mean? I get the darkness of that.”
Episode 9: “North of the Border”
Synopsis: The guys go to Statesboro University so that Alfred can perform in the Pajama Jam, but while there, a situation escalates quickly that involves Tracy pushing a woman down a flight of stairs and the guys fleeing to a fraternity where Alfred and Earn witness a bizarre hazing ritual. Alfred blames Earn as his manager for the whole trip going sideways, and Earn challenges Tracy to fight but gets beat up instead.
Importance: The episode reveals the turning point for the cousins’ relationship, when Alfred communicates that he really means business when it comes to his career, and that so far, Earn has not met expectations.
Relevant Nominations: None.
Additional Insights: The episode was one of Henry’s favorites of the season.
“It had this thing of so fun and so over the top, but at the same time it would come to a head,” Henry said at the FYC panel. “Watching getting your ass beat, Donald, was really funny. It was just kind of the same, the week before I’m getting my ass beat and then next we’re going to watch you get your ass beat. But it’s all while we’re in these silk pajamas running through a college campus….It was just really fucking fun to film, running through the halls of these colleges. It was insane and for me it was a great throwback to those movies you watch back in the ‘90s like ‘House Party II.’”
The episode also featured an unforgettable scene in which Alfred and Earn sit in front of a Confederate flag at a fraternity while several white pledges who are naked with burlap bags over their heads begin to dance as part of a hazing ritual.
“There is a sea of white dicks in that. Three black men smoking a blunt in front of a Confederate flag,” Henry said.
Donald Glover added, “People don’t watch the show for actors’ dicks. People like how many [there were] over one [on screen]. But [this show is] fighting the internet. You can see anything you want on the internet at any point. So you better be giving people something they’re not usually going to see. And I would never have seen that. I could have died after a long life and been like, ‘That’s something I would have never saw,’ and I think that’s important for us, the tone of it.”
Miscellaneous Bonus Episodes
Although the following episodes were not submitted to represent the series as a whole, they were submitted individually for their categories:
Episode 4: “Helen” The episode that Zazie Beetz submitted that earned her a supporting actress nomination. Van (Beetz) and Earn go to a nearby Germanic town where they participate in a local celebration and then eventually break up.
Episode 8: “Woods” The episode that Henry submitted that earned him a supporting actor nomination. In it, Alfred gets mugged and then flees to the woods where he meets a mysterious man who threatens him and then challenges him to shake free of his inertia and be more proactive about his life and career.
Episode 10: “FUBU” The episode that Glover is nominated for writing. This flashback episode reveals the genesis of Alfred shielding his cousin Earn back in middle school and the importance of presenting the right appearances in the community.