It’s been over a year since Donald Glover’s award-winning comedy ended its first season on FX, and the wait for Atlanta’s return is finally over. With the launch of Atlanta Robbin’ Season, fans can expect the story to take a darker turn—more on the meaning of “Robbin’ Season” later—as it explores what success looks like in an environment where everyone is constantly hungry and hustling.
Atlanta follows the story of Earnest “Earn” Marks (Donald Glover) and his rapper cousin known as Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) pursuing a career in music. According to series director Hiro Murai, our current political environment was one of the inspirations behind the new season’s starker tone. While the stakes will be higher this time around, the series is also aiming to break up its expected narrative structure, taking inspiration from an odd source: a certain ‘90s straight-to-video animated movie.
Playboy spoke to the Atlanta cast and crew—Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Hiro Murai, actress Gail Bean and executive producer Stephen Glover—on living up to fan expectation and depicting the fear of the title city’s crime surge.
Season 1 was all about Paper Boi’s struggle to be recognized as a viable artist while staying true to himself and his community. Success has started coming his way. How has that affected him?
Brian Tyree Henry: He is now recognized everywhere he goes. He’s exposed in a way he wasn’t exposed before. And this is his town! Now he has to figure out how to traverse that land where everybody is coming at him and wants something off his plate. It’s not easy. He has to show a lot of restraint this season. He has to figure out how to play the game, but also figure out the rules. He has to figure out how to navigate all that, and the ice is real thin.
I think he’s also realizing who his friends are, and how family changes. It’s that whole thing, you know, fame and exposure. If you don’t want it, you really don’t have a say if it gets you. And when it does, what you gonna do? I think he’s realizing there are consequences to his life now, and he’s trying to figure out who’s in his corner—and it might not necessarily be who you think it is!
Donald Glover: This season, we tried to parallel Paper Boi’s career with the show. After you come out with your first mixtape, and everybody’s like, “Yo, you’re awesome! Yo, when’s that next mixtape comin’?” You know … it better be better or just as good. You kind of realize that: Oh, you can’t even give people that feeling that you gave them the first time!
Now, there’s context. That first season—or that first mixtape—has context. So you have to decide: Am I in this to make money? Or, am I in this to make this thing? Am I going to be as free as I was the first time? It’s just like the music industry in that, you feel the same pressure. I felt like this season was us kind of being like, instead of chasing it, us examining what that is.
“In the summertime, someone might get shot, and you can be like, 'Oh, that was crazy!’ It’s different in the winter.”
In the sixth episode of season 1, titled “Value,” audiences were given a closer look into the life and struggles of Vanessa [Zazie Beetz], away from Earn and his friends. Will we be getting more of her story in season 2?
Gail Bean: The whole show typically follows Earn and his friends, family, cousins … his life. It occasionally interacts with Van, his baby mama. So now, we’re taking a look into the girlhood: Van and her best friends, and what it looks like on her side, a night out with her and the things she’s going through in her life.
It’s only right because we’ve always seen things on so many levels from the man’s standpoint. We finally get to see life through the eyes of Van, how everything is affecting her, what her friends think and their input into her life choices. You get to see a lot of who she might’ve been before Earn, who she is without Earn, who she is without her baby daddy identifying her—or her child identifying her.
During the Television Critics Association winter tour, the influence of Tiny Toon Adventures came up multiple times. Can you give more insight on the role the '90s cartoon series plays with season 2?
Stephen Glover: We just liked the cool idea of how Tiny Toons did the  Summer Vacation movie. It was a movie, but they break it up into episodes. It was a fun idea that we all enjoyed as kids. We want to keep the same spirit for the show. Every single episode is different—we didn’t want to make it like Game of Thrones, where you have to keep up with it week to week to know what’s going on. But how do we also do something different where we do tell that linear, cohesive story? I think that’s like the perfect marriage of the two.
Hiro Murai: What we liked about it was the idea of putting a bunch of different characters in their own stories and then packaging it together under one theme for the whole season. The Tiny Toons thing is so interesting because it’s all the characters you love seeing bounce off of each other, but they’re all doing their own thing—it’s almost like a collection of short stories. That’s something we really wanted to play with this season. There’s also something kind of fascinating about seeing characters you’re used to, taken out of environments that you’re used to watching them in. This season is all about that.
Last season, Atlanta regularly featured quirky interstitials and odd pop-culture parodies in its episodes. The fake commercials, Marcus Miles’ invisible car and the fake news series are a few examples of this. Will there still be those weird elements this time around? How has the tone of the series changed for “Robbin’ Season”?
Hiro Murai: Given the political climate and the feeling in the air, it just felt like the right theme for us. Things are a little more anxious and desperate, and it just happened to coincide with the real robbin’ season in Atlanta, which is when there’s an uptick in crime. It just felt like the right move for this season.
Donald Glover: It’s not summertime like it was last time. I feel like there’s weird things. In the summertime, someone might get shot, and you can be like, “Oh, that was crazy!” It’s different in the winter. There’s nowhere to go. You can’t hang out outside, so I feel like it’s a little more … a little more scary.
Stephen Glover: I think it’s a darker time in the season that we’re focusing on, but there’s definitely some very weird kinda things that’ll stick out to people. They may not be as noticeable because of the tone of what’s going on. But you’ll definitely see some crazy stuff throughout the season.
Upon watching the first few episodes of season 2, it feels like the stakes are higher for everyone—which also ties back to the whole “Robbin’ Season” theme. What exactly is robbin’ season?
Gail Bean: You ever hear the term “hitting licks”? So … in Atlanta, some of the things that people do is hit licks. That’s like robbin’. There’s ways that people get money and stuff—they kick in doors, they take things. We don’t really have gangbangers like a lot of cities may have high gang rates. It’s more like we’re hungry. It’s just part of the culture there. Everybody’s tryin’ to hustle, everybody’s tryin’ to grind. Robbin’ may not always be running into somebody’s house and taken their stuff. It’s a drill.
Stephen Glover: You start off this one way. You start off hungry. You’re the one who’s out here trying to make this money. And then, you get to a point where there’s maybe a target on you. That’s something that people in Atlanta definitely can relate to. People in any major city who feel that kind of thing about, “We’re all hustling together, but we’re also competing against each other at the same time.”
Gail Bean: One time, somebody was going to sell me a laptop. It was for $300—a Macbook. I was like, “Let’s go!” With Atlanta being the culture of juggin’ and robbin’, you kind of know it’s probably stolen. But you also want to make sure no one’s getting one over on you. So … I called my homeboy to meet me in downtown Atlanta, where I was going to meet the guy to get the laptop. I gave him the $300. My homeboy hadn’t gotten there yet.
I pulled over and … it was a notebook and an extension cord. But it was wrapped up in Best Buy packaging to make you think it was a MacBook! It was not. It was a notebook. And I gave him three hundred dollars. That’s part of robbin’ season. That’s part of the culture: hits ’n licks.
Atlanta Robbin’ Season premieres Thursday, March 1, at 10/9c on FX.