What is “Atlanta,” exactly? It’s a fair but limiting question.
Fair, because, look, if one week you were watching a show about a couple who might have broken up at a German-culture festival, and then the next week they’re gone and you’re watching a road comedy about an exasperated rapper and his pathologically distractible barber, and the episode after that is a mini horror film built around a different character trapped in the mansion of a kooky human mannequin, the changeups might feel destabilizing. But the question is limiting since so much TV in general right now resembles no TV that’s come before it.
“Atlanta,” whose second season wrapped up on FX on Thursday night, proudly embodies that development. No episode looked or felt the same as the one before it.
The show has four central characters — Earn; Alfred; Darius; and Earn’s sometimes ex-girlfriend, Van — who veer in and out of friendship, selfhood, personal clarity and, often, the show itself. In a classic television sense, “Atlanta” is about them. But it’s also increasingly about itself: what its makers can do with the medium, yes, and also what’s possible for the twinned comedies of race and status. It knows the assorted bars a half-hour “sitcom” faces and sets out to raise, vault over and demolish them, to prioritize “sit” over “com.” “Atlanta” is like a rapper obsessed with his own brilliance. You want to see if the show can top itself because that self-regard is part of the hook. But loving this show means worrying that it might be devoured by its own genius, that it’s too great to last, that, eventually, conceit will cannibalize concept. This second batch of episodes was more obviously, aggressively ambitious. The show became cinema (one ominous aerial shot of a vegetal forest canopy made me want vinaigrette) and appeared to have on its mind the ideas in “Get Out,” the moods of “Moonlight,” the hypnotic ambiguities of David Lynch. Some of that reach toward movie-ness nudged the show into self-conscious precocity, the equivalent of skipping a grade.