In 2016, when the first season of Atlanta debuted, Donald Glover was relatively famous. He’d been nominated for two Grammy Awards for his 2013 album, Because the Internet, he’d starred in the NBC sitcom Community, and he’d had smaller roles in hit movies including The Martian and Magic Mike XXL. But post-Atlanta, which became a critical and commercial hit and won Glover two Emmys, and two Golden Globes, he became really, really famous. He was cast as a young Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo prequel (a single shot from the trailer of Glover sporting a fur coat and blinking sent the internet into hysterics). He was cast as the voice of Simba in Disney’s live-action The Lion King. And Glover and his brother Stephen are helming an animated TV adaptation of Marvel’s Deadpool for FXX, set to debut in 2018.
All of which is to say, Glover’s life has probably gotten stranger. The long-awaited second season of Atlanta, whose first episode airs on FX Thursday night, is as surreal and ingenious as the first, which featured a black Justin Bieber, a satirical episode framed as a TV talk show, and the final revelation that the constantly broke Earn (Glover) was essentially homeless and living in a storage unit. But the first three episodes made available for review also seem to respond to the weirdness and the anxiety of making it big, as the career of Earn’s cousin, the rapper Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), takes off, and both he and Earn—his manager—start to make more money. In the third episode, “Money Bag Shawty,” the pair is harassed by a waiter who’s trying to monetize his famous guest, and in the second, “Sportin’ Waves,” Paper Boi can’t even find a new drug dealer who won’t secretly photograph him and Instagram their encounters.