The freshman season of FX’s “Atlanta” taught its audiences to “expect the unexpected” in not only the stories it would tackle but also the format of the storytelling, pushing past typical boundaries with the “B.A.N.” episode that took on news, talk show, and commercial parodies. The 11-episode second season is poised to further such stylistic choices when it premieres this spring.
“What we liked about Season 1, and what we got right, was we wanted to make it so each episode, you didn’t know what you were going to get. We wanted to keep people off-balance about what type of show it was, and we’re going to do more of that this season,” series executive producer Stephen Glover told Variety at the cabler’s Television Critics Assn. press tour event.
Entitled “Atlanta Robbin’ Season,” the second season of the 2017 Emmy winner will take place during a time when the city Earn (Donald Glover) and Alfred aka Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) is going through some changes. “Robbin’ Season” refers to the time around Christmas when, for the first time, there is an influx of money in an impoverished area, and people are trying to get that money and also get holiday gifts — which makes people very “tense and desperate” and often causes crime to increase.
“It’s a very dangerous, uncertain time in the city. So everybody’s shaken up a little bit this year, and everybody has to make important decisions,” Stephen said. “‘Robbin’ Season’ is kind of like a metaphor for all of our characters.”
Both Glovers were inspired by the “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” episodes of “Tiny Toon Adventures,” which were technically individual episodes that could be watched individually but were more enjoyable when strung together, noted Stephen. That is how they want “Atlanta” to be watched and enjoyed.
While Stephen shared that “B.A.N” is probably the most overtly topical the show will get, the second season will touch on “kernels of truth” from the real world that affect the characters within the show. Everything is framed with the idea of commenting on it from the “real, everyday people” that the show follows.
“It’s a real issue that’s happening right now, but how does it impact these characters and how are they responding to it? Especially when you live in a town like Atlanta, a lot of the big problems [of the world] are not that big to you, but some smaller things are,” Stephen said.
Alfred is going to continue to become more successful in the music industry, but he will encounter another artist (played by RJ Walker) who challenges what he thinks about the rap world. “Alfred isn’t the typical rapper by today’s standards. The word ‘rap’ has changed, and he’s completely different. There’s not necessarily a rivalry, but it’s him understanding what he has to do and who he’s supposed to be and deciding if that’s something he wants to [change],” Stephen explained.
Alfred’s second mixtape is highly anticipated within the world of the show, and his journey with it will parallel the trajectory of the season in general, said Donald, noting that an artist has all the time in the world to create that first mixtape but people still expect the follow-up to be just as amazing, even with more pressure and less time to create.
“Are you going to eat or are you going to be eaten? You kind of have to make a choice, and that choice defines you eventually,” Donald said. “This season for [Alfred] it’s ‘Am I going to sell drugs or am I going to be a celebrity?’ You can’t be a famous drug dealer! We tried to make the first season feel like you don’t really know what’s next because that’s what really living is and that’s what we’re being paid to do. But then you get pushed farther and farther away from what real life is, and that’s what we’re trying to stay away from. We’re still trying to have some ties to the culture because quality is what we want to give to the people.”
Meanwhile, Earn is not achieving nearly the same level of wealth or success, and the show will continue to further explore that perspective, which Stephen shared is born from his own as he has watched his brother Donald “blow up” in his music, acting, writing and producing career.
“Atlanta has a lot going on, and a part of that is the social upward mobility of the people living there,” Stephen said.
Donald noted that is a big part of Earn’s ongoing struggle, representing many who don’t have information trickled out to them about how to come up in a world like entertainment but see one person from their community break through.
“They say ‘put me on’ because they don’t really know how to become something,” Donald said.
In addition to watching Earn and Alfred navigate their current different paths, Season 2 of “Atlanta” will dive deeper into their shared history. “Even from the first episode, you get some backstory, which is nice. You’ll understand where they were before Season 1 and where they are now. We have some tidbits, some old memorabilia they find that give you the [answers],” Stephen said.
And despite the long stretch of time between seasons (Season 1 concluded in November 2016), Stephen feels when the show does return, it will still feel fresh.
“We took a lot of time first [before writing scripts], thinking about the types of episodes we wanted to do,” Stephen said. “Donald is really conscious about keeping it super concise. We went through a lot of episodes where we were like, ‘This is good, but maybe this episode isn’t as important [as others].’ We wanted to get down to the ones that we felt were most necessary. The story we’re telling this season, it takes place around Christmas time, and the show is coming out [in March], but it’s OK to see these slices of the world at a different time. The story is still super current.”
“Atlanta Robbin’ Season” premieres Mar. 1 at 10pm on FX.