There’s this one episode on the new season of Atlanta called Teddy Perkins. If you’ve seen it then you already know that it’s about the freakiest, strangest, most discomforting and completely compelling 41 minutes of telly that you’re likely to see all year. So good that FX played the extended ep in full without a single ad break (not that you nor I watch Atlanta with ad breaks anyway).
The premise is that Darius is trying to… nah better not spoil it. Best that you watch the thing with as little pre-knowledge as possible. Atlanta isn’t really a show you can spoil too much but this one episode, it’s just like, yeah… best to keep that slate clean. It’s a belter. It’s the sort of episode that’ll either make you want to write a 100-page thesis paper or it’ll leave you utterly speechless with nothing in between.
Remember when Donald Glover was the slightly wacky black guy on Community? Then he had this music career and he got written off the show near the end so he could pursue that? Then Childish Gambino had a bit of a breakthrough and the dude was thriving? Then along came Atlanta, written largely with his brother, and it was one more monumental shift in his engrossing career (not to mention the last Gambino album and the Star Wars movie that followed). Dude’s been busy, that’s for sure. And full credit to him for refusing what could easily have been a comfortable life as a comedy actor, playing the funky friend in Hollywood shows, maybe getting a sitcom down the line.
Nah, Donny had bigger plans. He’s taken inspired risks the whole way and you’ve gotta respect a person who refuses to be confined by expectations. Atlanta came upon the scene and it was immediately clear that we were watching something superb. It was at once entirely authentic and entirely hilarious. The cast is outstanding and the writing is brilliant. Just a top notch show, really.
The second season got delayed because of Glover’s schedule and it’s safe to say that there were some doubts as to whether that might lead to a compromise in the show’s quality. Whether they could possibly repeat the dose a second time around, the sophomore curse. Then here came Atlanta Two: Robbin’ Season with an extended sequence of an armed robbery at a fast food drive-through, featuring none of our main characters, and, yeah nah, turns out they wouldn’t be compromising a damn thing.
Within the first five episodes of the second season there’s an uncle with an alligator living in his spare room, there’s an ambitious take on a Footlocker’s no-chase policy and an $8000 spending spree using slightly less than legal gift cards, there’s an online acoustic cover of Paper Boi as well as a vid of a tearful white mother upset at the lyrical content of Paper Boi’s latest jam, there’s a footrace with NFL legend Michael Vick, there’s a terrifying German folk monster and the most eventful wait for a haircut ever known. Then there’s Teddy Perkins in episode six and there are still five more to cover but you’d be better off watching them than reading about them.
Atlanta’s Robbin’ Season doesn’t necessarily raise the stakes but only because those themes of race relations and financial struggle and creative fulfilment were there from the start. So were the more surreal elements that make this show so memorable (the invisible car!) but Robbin’ Season seems to be pushing them to the front. There’s a loving weirdness to the city of Atlanta within its namesake telly programme where oddness is treated as commonplace. Like, it’s not as if the characters are fully at ease with Earn’s uncle possibly having an alligator in the house but nobody goes running wildly out the door in panic either. More like a bemused curiosity.
That’s the same way in which the world is viewed through the eyes of these characters too. Darius doesn’t believe in the concept of time while and while Alfred’s out there selling drugs and rapping about it, building up a minor celebrity status along the way, it’s the superstar sellout pop-rapper who turns out to be the ruthless one.
Sometimes the show treads upon violent territory and other times it’s as safe as a warm blanket. Sometimes it’s the funniest thing you’ve seen in weeks and other times it’s terrifying, especially this season which has had a few more of those nail-biting moments. Atlanta keeps you on your toes and that’s no small achievement, there. It’d be rude not to mention the stunning direction on display here from Hiro Murai, Donald Glover and also Amy Seimetz who helms a couple episodes, making sure the experiments all work as well as they do.
Donald Glover talked about this show being like a black Twin Peaks when it came out so it’s no surprise that he’s getting more into the weird and wonderful of this world as it unfolds. Atlanta is still gritty. It’s still raw and honest and sympathetic and endearing. What sets it apart from pretty much everything else on the telly right now is that you never quite know what you’re going to get.
Which brings us back to the funhouse of horrors that was Teddy Perkins…
Mate, smack an ad to support The Niche Cache, sweet as