Atlanta Premiere Recap: What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been — Plus, Grade It!

After an agonizing four-year layoff, Atlanta is finally back on FX — and it’s reminding us why it’s one of the best shows anywhere on TV.

Thursday’s Season 3 premiere is actually a two-parter, and the first half is one of Atlanta‘s trademark detours, leaving Earn and company entirely to tell the unsettling story of a young Black boy named Loquareeous. After a prologue with two men fishing on a lake that’s haunted by the souls of a Black community drowned by a government-built dam, we meet Loquareeous, who acts out in school and gets sent to the principal. His mom is tired of his antics and tells the school to just give the kid detention, and the guidance counselor sees the kid’s dad slap him across the face, so she promises to “get you out of there.” Next thing we know, child services is at the family’s door, and Loquareeous’ mom angrily throws the boy out with them, with his dad telling them: “Take this boy before I kill him.”

Loquareeous ends up in a foster home with two hippy-dippy white moms who make their own kombucha and cook fried chicken in the microwave (!). They have three other Black kids, along with a scruffy dog named Corn Pop. They start calling the boy “Larry,” and when he complains about the food, they send him to bed early. The moms put the kids to work in their garden, taking them to the farmers’ market and using them as props to sell their wares. Loquareeous runs to a cop and tells him he’s starving and just wants to go home, but the cop just laughs it off. When a Black child services rep comes to their door, she seems concerned at the state the kids are living in, but one of the moms pulls her aside for a private chat and later announces “everything’s fine.” Suddenly, the moms are packing everyone up in the family van for a surprise road trip — and Loquareeous spots the case worker’s clipboard in a trash pile outside.

The kids know they’re in serious trouble, and the moms set Corn Pop loose on the side of the road, with one telling the other, “We’re doing what needs to be done.” They speed off in the van — approaching the same haunted lake from the prologue — and look back to make sure “Larry” is there. But they only see Corn Pop. Loquareeous tumbles out of the back of the speeding van just before it careens into the lake. He walks all the way home, and his mom scoffs that he finally decided to come home as he settles back into his old life… and sees a news report about a trio of Black orphans abandoned on the side of the road.

That whole story was just a dream Earn was having, and in the premiere’s second half, we catch up with him on tour with Al and Darius in Europe. Earn wakes up in Copenhagen and has to rush to the airport to meet Al and Darius in Amsterdam… where Al has been thrown in jail, Darius reports. Paper Boi’s star is clearly rising: His Amsterdam show is sold out, and when Earn demands a $20,000 cash advance from the venue manager, the guy doesn’t blink before handing him a fat envelope full of cash. He does need Al’s music laptop before the show starts, though — which Earn apparently left back in Helsinki.

Van arrives in Amsterdam and meets up with Darius, telling him she didn’t get a job she wanted and came here to “figure it out.” They go shopping, and when Van finds a coat she likes, she also finds a slip of paper in the pocket with an address on it. “It’s destiny,” Darius declares, and they go to the address, where a white woman tells them, “You’re right on time.” She and a bunch more white people dressed in white pile into the van with Darius and Van, taking them to a ceremony of sorts where people are mourning a man on his death bed. Van strikes up a conversation with a “death doula” who is there to help guide the dying man into the next realm. Van seems to have an epiphany as she holds the man’s hand and tells him it’s going to be OK — just before the death doula presses a button and lowers a rubber sheet over the man’s face, violently suffocating him until he dies. Well, then!

Earn bails Al out of jail, but the jail cell is actually nicer than most apartments; Al even opts to stick around a little longer to have lunch. He takes selfies with fans gathered outside the jail, and life is good — but they also spot a Santa Claus-looking dude with a baby wearing blackface. A local explains that’s “Sinterklaas,” the Dutch version of Santa who’s traditionally accompanied by a helper in blackface. (“Feels like Santa’s slave, but I appreciate the rebrand,” Earn says.) Al’s hotel room is trashed, and we see what led to his jail stint: He brought two girls back to his room, and they started arguing with each other in Dutch, getting into a vicious catfight that led to a chair flying through the window. Meanwhile, Earn has a stroke of genius: He dials up one of those surgical organ delivery services and has them pick up the laptop in Helsinki and bring it to the venue.

It arrives on time, but Al refuses to perform once he sees the crowd is full of Dutch youths in blackface. (It is Christmas time, after all.) Earn tells him he’ll handle it and informs the venue manager that Al is sick and won’t be performing. (He’ll still get paid, though, thanks to insurance.) The venue guy is furious and tells Earn, “I will destroy you,” chasing him through the crowd. But he gets confused by all the people in blackface and ends up beating up an innocent white guy while Earn slinks away undetected. (Thanks, Sinterklaas!) Earn gets back to the hotel and says hi to Van, who seems rejuvenated after her weird encounter. He collapses into bed — only to be jolted awake by Al texting him and demanding “300 pieces” of fried chicken, “all legs.” Welp… a manager’s job is never done.

Was the Atlanta premiere worth the wait? Give it a grade in our poll, and then hit the comments to share your thoughts.

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