Review: ‘Atlanta’ Is Back and as Surprising as Ever

Assessment: ‘Atlanta’ Is Again and as Stunning as Ever

The final we left “Atlanta,” it was practically 4 years in the past, and likewise a thousand years in the past, and likewise simply moments in the past.

Season 2 ended on FX in 2018. This was an extended hiatus, even for a collection that has all the time moved with its personal fluid sense of time. Since then, there was (for starters) a pandemic, an assault on the Capitol and the racial reckoning after George Floyd’s homicide, which echoed a theme of this richly drawn present: what life is like for Black People just like the present’s characters, for whom fortune can flip in a second.

If “Atlanta” has all the time been exhausting to pigeonhole — it’s comedy, besides when it’s drama, besides when it’s horror — which may be as a result of it’s about sophisticated folks whose circumstances are all the time only a nudge away from any of those. And the two-episode Season 3 premiere, airing Thursday, is “Atlanta” in high kind, going to new locations whereas sustaining that unsettling sense of by no means realizing how the bottom may shift.

After we meet up with Alfred, a.okay.a. the rapper Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry); his manager-cousin, Earn (Donald Glover); and their buddies Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) and Van (Zazie Beetz), life appears to have turned for the higher, not less than materially. Alfred is touring Europe, however it’s not the tour he was starting on the finish of Season 2, when he was nonetheless an aspiring artist at a make-or-break second in his profession.

As he will get able to play a present in Amsterdam, he has returned to Europe as a headliner. He can ask for a 20,000-euro advance on his payment, get it with out grievance and toss handfuls of money to the followers thronging him on the street. There are drivers and fancy inns and one-night stands in these inns.

The characters are in a distinct place now, in additional methods than one. The time leap manages to concurrently choose up the place the collection left off and transfer the story ahead in time.

However earlier than we get to that, there’s a detour. The spectacular and haunting first episode picks up on a ship, seemingly someplace in Georgia, removed from the primary characters. The lake, we’re advised, covers the smash of a self-sufficient Black city, flooded when a dam was constructed. (There’s a shameful real-life history of such communities being eradicated for dams, lakes, even Central Park.) Underneath the murky floor, the story goes, vengeful ghosts await.

Then the story shifts, to Loquareeous (Christopher Farrar), a troubled Black baby who’s made to reside with two white girls after a college staffer witnesses a scene of corporal punishment and calls baby providers. (This premise additionally borrows components of a disturbing true story, the murder-suicide of two girls and their six adopted kids.)

His hippie-ish new mothers shorten his title to “Larry” and lecture him in regards to the unhealthiness of “the meals that you just’re used to.” They encourage their children, with none self-awareness, to sing subject songs as they labor within the natural backyard. The home is shabby, the meals scarce, and Loquareeous remembers a warning from his beginning mom: “These white folks, they going to kill you.”

This being “Atlanta,” the story takes a number of surreal and surprising turns. Then it drops us in a lodge room in Europe. “Atlanta” has all the time been a digressive collection that will get the place it’s going by the again roads. However what does the one story need to do with the opposite? Instantly, not a lot. Thematically, every part.

For Alfred, Amsterdam seems to be the other of a horror story. After we discover him within the second episode, he’s been arrested, recalling his and Earn’s arrest firstly of “Atlanta.” However right here, the police are solicitous. He’s provided a connoisseur meal in his comfy cell and shortly launched. In Europe, as Paper Boi, he’s welcomed, accommodated, revered.

However wait. It’s December within the Netherlands — Christmas season, and the season of “Zwarte Piet,” the helper to Sinterklaas (Santa Claus), historically depicted in blackface. Right here, there and in every single place are sooty-painted macroaggressions — a toddler on a motorcycle, a porter at a lodge — which the Dutch dismiss as innocent enjoyable.

Alfred’s exhaustion — Henry can play irritated weariness with a thousand totally different inflections — says all of it. Immediately, we’re again on the lake, the place irrespective of how secure you assume you might be in the present day, these ghosts of historical past can come up to tug you underneath. We’re in a distinct sort of horror story, the place the unexamined cluelessness of supposedly tolerant folks can hit as exhausting as overt hostility.

My colleague Wesley Morris wrote final week in regards to the awards-show incident by which the Black tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams have been the collateral harm of an off-handed slight by the white director Jane Campion. “They have been invitees turned, all of a sudden, into interlopers,” he writes, “presenting one minute, plunged by a entice door the following.” It might have been a prescient description of Alfred’s expertise on this “Atlanta” episode. You may have fame, accomplishment, the V.I.P. ticket. However it seems that even quaint cobblestone streets have entice doorways.

In line with FX, most of Season 3 will happen in Europe, which raises questions. What’s “Atlanta” with out Atlanta? And what, to the characters, is their dwelling metropolis? Is it a spot that they will go away, or a historical past that they all the time carry as a carry-on?

The premiere episodes, familiarly disorienting and strikingly shot by the longtime “Atlanta” director Hiro Murai, counsel a solution. Atlanta is the place these characters are, as they search contentment, objective and stability. The 2 episodes despatched to critics for evaluate are a mere peek, however they offer no signal of the present’s having misplaced a step up to now 4 years. Possibly the pause merely gave the long run time to catch up.

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