Sunday, April 21, 2024

A Long Strange Trip through Atlanta for a Haircut

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Sometimes Atlanta really has something important to say. Last week went for hard drama in dissolving the relationship between Earn and Vanessa. Other episodes cover financial hardships, the perils of fame, the disease of racism, or the intimate struggles of growing up poor and marginalized. Donald Glover and crew often have something to say in these episodes.

Then you get episodes like this one. “Barbershop” was just pure fun from start to finish. But hey, we wouldn’t be The Fandomentals if we couldn’t find a deeper message even in a totally comedy driven episode of a show.

Can’t Pull a Con without Confidence

You know how you can spot a practiced, effective con man? When you know they are conning you every step of the way and you go along with it anyway.

It was clear from the start that Bibby was full of it. He was going to drag Alfred around running his errands and if he could get through the day without cutting his hair, oh well. Everyone they came across knew Bibby was full of it, too. His girl knew he didn’t pay the bills and that he was lying his ass off about his reasons for running late. The woman he stole lumber from knew he was lying. Obviously his son knows he lies.

Yet Bibby had just the right amount of smooth talk, leverage, and luck to get away with it. It was funny to see every single person react to him the exact same way Alfred did. Bibby knows the game, but he was also lucky enough that every single person he screwed over was too damn busy to cut through every single layer of bullshit he put up.

The result is probably the funniest episode of the season so far. I’d love to know if the actor for Bibby improvised some of his lines. If not, the writers of this episode deserve a ton credit. The dude never, ever shut up, never stopped succeeding, and was completely irritating and overwhelmingly fun to watch. Whether it was Bibby talking about Alfred’s carburetor having jaundice, telling Alfred to put his seat belt on and then telling him it doesn’t actually work, making up the story about Al being a magician…it just never stopped.

He was so damn believable in everything he said. It’s hard to act both full of shit and one-hundred percent believable at the same time. Somehow Bibby managed to always be both. He was really incredible. I’m not sure Atlanta has ever made me love and hate a character so much. This episode honestly felt like the first season’s “The Streisand Effect” on steroids. Both feature one character being dragged around by a well-connected hustler and were purely funny episodes. Bibby never felt as trustworthy as Darius, though, and Darius didn’t have to carry that episode like Bibby does here. It was really remarkable to watch the man run his mouth almost non-stop for over twenty minutes.

It helps when the delivery is spot on. The majority of what makes a good joke is timing, and the timing was spot on throughout the entire episode. Brian Tyree Henry continues to prove he is an excellent actor with serious range. I know most of the attention towards acting comes with dramatic performances, and Henry always knocks those roles out of the park, too. But the timing involved in a good comedic performance is just as tough. When Alfred wrestles with the seatbelt and gives up, it was one of those small, funny moments that really made the episode.

Plus his scowl continues to be one of my favorite parts of the show. The man knows how to scowl.

Bravo to everyone involved in making this episode. They know how to make you laugh. And damn do they know people like Bibby. Who hasn’t dealt with the kind of person who says they’re taking you to go get something and ends up dragging you along to help with their errands all day? If you haven’t, I envy you. For everyone else, I hope those errands were more legal than Bibby’s.

Stuck Between a Rock and Real Fame

“Barbershop” also gave us more of Alfred’s struggle with Paper Boi being just famous enough to attract attention but not famous enoughto reap the benefits he wishes for. Everything in his life has changed. Everyone around views him differently. It’s clear how much this bothers Al, and can you blame him?  All season it has felt like people just want to use him.

His blowup at Bibby’s son has been a season-long buildup. Fame changes things and right now Al has only seen bad changes. He can’t just go about his life anymore. Every time he leaves the house, someone harasses him. They all want some favor. If he tells them no, they immediately accuse him of selling out and forgetting his roots. When he showed impatience with Bibby’s nonsense, Bibby immediately went all “oh, look at you going Hollywood”. Tracy comes back into his life and you know he only came to Al because of his fame.

It has to be frustrating because Al hasn’t changed in the slightest. He’s the same man he was when Atlanta premiered. I know it sounds like petty complaining to mention the struggles of fame, but Al proves how bad it can be. It’s not right when someone can’t even walk outside without random people bothering them the way the restaurant worker did earlier this season. It’s not right how old friends just assume he changed and always want favors from him.

Even Earn just uses him as a meal ticket. No wonder Al and Darius are so close. Darius is the only person in his life that treats Al the same since Paper Boi made it big.

You have to believe Al will crack at some point. If not for probation, he probably would have already. Whatever benefits he has gained from fame, the negatives have easily outweighed them. Some people would at least enjoy the attention but Alfred comes across as intensely uncomfortable with attention. His finances haven’t changed much. His rap career has improved, but not enough. What gigs he’s landing right now have not satisfied him.

Fans increasingly believe Alfred will drop Earn as manager, and episodes like this make it more believable. Something has to change in Alfred’s life and soon. I hope Earn figures it out how he can personally help before something bad happens. I hope Al can also figure it out for himself.

Final Thoughts

What a great season Atlanta is having so far.

While I really liked season 1, it often felt like more of a collection of good episodes featuring the same characters than a thematically cohesive season. I know I mentioned this before, but a couple more episodes have passed and this improved cohesion remains a huge improvement for this season and the show. Not that I don’t appreciate shows focusing more on fun, separated episodes, but it’s a huge plus in my book if you can connect those separate episodes in some fashion.

It’s not like it has ruined Atlanta’s accessibility, either. You can immediately jump into any episode and enjoy it without needing context from previous episodes. Context helps but it isn’t necessary. Why not celebrate Atlanta’s ability to both tell a connected story while also making each episode individually enjoyable?

I also think Atlanta has settled into a unique style running across every episode here in season 2. Season 1 could often feel like an entirely different show from episode to episode. Sometimes it was surreal, sometimes comedy, sometimes it was your stereotypical rags-to-riches story about a struggling rapper. One episode would feel like an entirely different show from the next. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. Like with the thematic cohesion, though, I think it helps that Atlanta is managing to feature many different styles into a single, unique style running across the entire season.

I’m loving this season. It’s everything I hoped for in a succession to season 1. We may have had to wait a while, but the wait was well worth it.

Images Courtesy of FX

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