Photo: Guy D’Alema/FX/FX Networks

Talking to someone earlier on Thursday, I mentioned that I’d be watching the season premiere of Atlanta.

Her: I still haven’t seen that show. It’s a comedy, right?

Me: Yeah. I mean, kinda. It’s funny. But not, like, totally. It’s really good though.

In retrospect, every attempt I’ve ever made to describe the show sounds something like that. The first season was equal parts life and dream. The city of Atlanta was both real and imagined — as much a living cityscape as surreal Southern kingdom.

But this is Robbin’ Season. And it’s pretty damn real.

The episode opens with an unnamed duo who rob a drive-thru chicken joint that is known for selling weed along with the wings. (Fun fact: the first dispensary I ever saw in Los Angeles was inside a converted KFC.)  That leads to a shootout in the kitchen when the manager unloads with a semi-automatic.

This isn’t exactly the Good Guy with Gun versus Bad Guy with Gun scenario. Unless you find drug dealers more sympathetic than stick-up kids. Maybe you do. Who am I to police your emotions?

It is a raw opening scene as you see the hubris of the poorly-conceived plan met with ultimate violence while fumbling through a clumsy escape. When a screaming woman is tossed from the bullet-riddled backseat of the getaway car, you take a moment to inhale and wonder what the rest of the episode — and season — have in store.

When we reunite with Earn, he’s being evicted from the storage space where he’d taken up residence. He also has a meeting with his probation officer, stemming from his arrest for possession with intent to distribute (“half a joint” as he reminds his P.O.). Earn does his best to downplay the seriousness of the situation, saying that it will go away if he isn’t charged again.

“Arrested,” replies the P.O. “One is easier than the other.”

Those words not set the stakes for the rest of this episode and the rest season. It’s a moment that earns an extra beat of silence to allow it to sink in. It’s a weight that’s not lost on Earn. But those stakes are compounded moments later when Darius notes that it’s “robbin’ season. Christmas approaches. Everybody’s gotta eat.”

Those last three words could double as the throughline for the entire series. It’s fitting that they’re spoken by the character that has served as the audience’s spirit guide.

Before Earn can figure out where he’s sleeping tonight, Alfred has asked him to check on his uncle Willie, who’s in the midst of another spat with his lady friend over a missing $50. Earn does his best to diffuse the situation but it’s amped up again when the cops show up asking Willie to step outside, leading to a standoff.

As with all things family-related, it gets personal. When Willie accuses Earn of being Alfred’s lap dog in order to stay close to Paper Boi, Earn instead unloads on his uncle. While my eyes watched Donald Glover shouting down Katt Williams, I was left with a feeling that this was Donald Glover saying aloud the fear that he could go from being The Smartest Guy in the Room to That Guy Who Was in That Thing Once. It felt confessional.

Similarly, when Willie tells Earn that he’ll never survive by walking around with a chip on his shoulder, it was the writer espousing his own new outlook on life after a couple of years that have seen his star rise.

While Donald Glover may have figured some things out, Earn is still searching. Uncle Willie will get to return home at the end of the evening, thanks in part to a decoy alligator that allowed him to escape the cops. Earn still has no place to lay his head. Staying with Alfred is out now that his friend, Tracy, just got out of prison and needs to crash. Another night on the streets for Earn.

Robbin’ season is hard.

  • Part of what makes Atlanta so real is the thin level of disappointment and annoyance that Donald Glover wears like a hoodie. Earn always feels like a right-handed man trying to cut open a plastic bag in a room full of left-handed scissors.
  • Alfred and Darius weren’t talking to one another. And they didn’t want to talk to anyone else about it. This makes perfect sense to me. By the end, they shared a blunt and that alone seemed to be enough to (ahem) clear the air. I get all of this.
  • Florida Man gets his own storyline and the makings of his own legend (?). The description of him as an “Alt-Right Johnny Appleseed” made me giggle endlessly.
  • The alligator’s appearance to The Delfonics’ “Hey Love” qualifies as the early leader for Best Thing I Might See on Television This Year.
  • At this point we should start the “Will Earn get arrested this season?” poll. Putting that on a character who works in an industry with unsavory types in a time of year called “Robbin’ Season” suggests this could be a minefield for him. Will our hero survive? Stay tuned.