After making fans wait a wee bit longer for a new season of one of the hottest new shows, Donald Glover’s excellent Atlanta finally returns next month — and sports will play a major role.
The creator and star of FX’s hot show about a Princeton-educated dropout trying to boost his cousin’s would-be local rap career had to postpone the series’ return because Glover is also starring in the soon-coming hotly-anticipated Han Solo Star Wars prequel. But finally, he and his cast and crew were celebrated Monday night at the show’s Los Angeles’ premiere at the Ace Theater downtown.
And the latest installment of the Golden Globe-winning series — according to the robust applause and cheers from the celebrity-filled premiere — was for sure worth the wait.
“We kind of looked at it like a mixtape,” Donald Glover told The Undefeated before the event began. “You come up with a first good mixtape and people say you have your whole life to write a good album, and then the second one you got eight months! But you can’t think about it in those terms.”
Indie film star Lakeith Stanfield — who also as the comic-relief truth-teller Darius, was one of show’s biggest breakout characters last season — flew in directly from Germany, where he’s filming a new movie. Because he was wearing a black ski mask and a bedazzled black jacket, initially no one knew it was him as he walked the blue carpet.
“There were a lot of new challenges,” Stansfeld said, mask still on. “I think we were less concerned about the eyeballs watching and more with the material that was departing from what we had done before it was stepping into new terrain. It was a lot scary, a little bit.”
The event was peppered with famous folks such as Oscar-nominated director John Singleton, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Sterling K. Brown and Emmy winner Lena Waithe. They were part of a stream of celebrity and accomplished faces giving the cast kudos after seeing the first two episodes of the new season.
This new season is a bit of a sharp turn from the show’s inaugural season so far, vastly different from what the first season gave us.
“A lot more exploration of darker themes,” said co-star Zazie Beetz, who portrays Glover’s ex-girlfriend Van. “We explore death and major transitions within all of the characters — each character sort of has a bent. Within that, there’s still humor and comedy, but I think this season in general has a much more somber feel.”
The show’s break gave her the chance to come back to the table with a bit more confidence to help take Van to new terrain.
“I felt so happy to go back and at ease. The first season I was kind of a wreck. I was such a bundle of nerves and I felt so much pressure. For me at the time, it was the biggest thing I had done and I just wanted to do a good job and I was very, very nervous. And coming back, because we had established our characters, I felt much more room to play and improvise. I was like, ‘I’m going to have a good time.‘ And I did.”
The time off — in some ways — is reflected in the new season. This new season is called Robbin’ Season, and we’ll see that theme explored throughout this new offering.
“I think us having that time off was really important. We got to watch the world change and shift underneath us without our permission most times. I think it was great to go back at the time we went back because I feel like this year all of us feel like we’ve been robbed,” said show’s co-star Brian Tyree Henry, who portrays local rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles. “Things have lost value that we thought was valuable. Having that time off coming back when we did was absolutely what we needed. Sometimes you need a moment to really take it in. [The show is] very different. Our lives are in the same area, but it’s not in the same area. It’s become a dangerous place to have these relationships and be in the area we are. There’s an exposure that’s happened. There was a nervousness about ‘Where is Alfred? Will I know who Alfred is anymore?’ But that’s life. We don’t know who we are on a given day either. It was nice to figure that out with them. But it was good to do that together. Nobody was out there left astray on their own.”
The real trepidation comes from how the show’s loyal audience will take to the shift in direction (“My brother was like, we’re the ones who are our worst critics. We shouldn’t be sitting here trying to outdo the audience,” Glover said of his brother Stephen, the show’s head story editor and a writer on the series. “We should be trying to outdo ourselves. It’s really up to us. We put the boundaries on us. We tell ourselves what’s good and what we think is cool will translate. And if it didn’t, we did what we were supposed to do.”)
One thing that will develop in this new season is a sports theme — but how it comes about is shrouded in secrecy. It’d give too much away to talk about it, both Glover brothers insist. (Though Donald Glover hints that Serena Williams is referenced somehow in this new season.)
“Atlanta rappers and ballplayers — they call it Black Hollywood. Just being in the South in general, sports is a big part of black culture and Southern culture and identity,” Stephen Glover said. “You can’t really tell the story of Atlanta without talking a little bit about the ballplayers.”
And as for the time off? It’s only made the show that much better, Stephen Glover added.
“It was good that we had some extra time. I think there’s always the thing of topping yourself for next time. There was definitely the thought of we gotta come back and do better. People liked this first season, let’s try to top that,” he said. “But at the same time, we didn’t want to chase anything and try to get the easy win. We just approached it one day at a time and luckily we had some time on our side to help with that.”