FX’s Atlanta is the kind of show that takes chances, and the latest episode, “B.A.N.”, may be the most ambitious yet. After last week’s Van-centric episode, “Value“, viewers may have anticipated a return to the misadventures of Earn, Alfred, and Darius. Instead, the episode is a fake half-hour talk show on the B.A.N. network (likely modeled after BET) called “Montague”. Complete with fake commercials for real products, the episode is chock-full of social commentary while still being very, very funny.
The episode of “Montague” features special guests Dr. Deborah Holt, a specialist in transgender issues, and Paper Boi. Paper Boi recently got in trouble for some tweets he made about Caitlyn Jenner, saying that he wouldn’t have sex with her. His tweets apparently sparked outrage, and he took to the show to try and set the record straight. He also expected to be paid, and when he finds out he won’t be paid for the appearance, he just looks at the camera and calls out his cousin/manager. “Earn?!” he says, clearly irritated. None of the show’s other main characters appear, and it provides Brian Tyree Henry time to shine. His reactions to the things others say on the talk show are brilliant. From wide-eyed shock to bouts of laughter, he doesn’t try to hide how he feels about any of it.
The first issue Montague discusses with Holt and Alfred is Alfred’s tweets regarding Jenner. Alfred tries to explain that it doesn’t matter to him because Jenner is just “another rich white man doing what rich white men always do — whatever they want.” It’s a brilliant little bit of social commentary. Montague brings up some of Paper Boi’s lyrics and asks if he finds them offensive. Alfred laughs and says “man, that isn’t even the worst thing I’ve said.” He agrees that rap is bad for young people, but counters that rock and roll is just as harmful. For the first time in the interview, Holt agrees with him.
The second issue features a young black man who believes that he is actually a 30-year-old white man named Harrison from Colorado. There is a mini-featurette about “Harrison” and his trans-racial identity. Alfred finds the entire concept ridiculous, and when the trio have a conversation with Harrison via Facebook messenger, he can’t stop laughing.
Alfred continuously pokes fun at Harrison’s appearance and his insistence that he’s white. After all of that, however, Harrison tells them that he hates gay people and is against transgendered individuals. It’s finally too much for Alfred, who leans back and then begins to laugh so hard he can’t speak. Holt tries to discuss the issue with Harrison, but only gets angrier as the interview goes on. It’s awkward and weird and fits right into Atlanta‘s bizarre take on social issues.
In addition to the “Montague” segments, the episode also features fake commercials. Some are for real products, though with a distinctly Atlanta twist. One set of ads featuring the Dodge Charger shows a man driving around Atlanta. The tagline is “Make a statement without saying anything.” Later, he is seen at a gas station with no pants, filling his car and speeding off. Two men watch him, and one comments on how his wife took everything from him in the divorce, but he begged to keep the car. Since then, he’s just been driving around in circles, waving at people. The payoff is great. It’s only slightly surreal, and the way the commercials build to the final gag is perfect.
Another ad is for Swisher Sweets, a popular brand of cigarillos. The people in the commercial all empty the swishers of their tobacco contents, however, to fill them with weed. They even have “pre-dumped” swishers available in the show’s world. The way Atlanta comments on black culture by creating a world where it’s completely normalized is unique. It’s daring, it’s more than a little subversive, and so far, it works.
There are two commercials for fake products, and they’re on opposite ends of Atlanta‘s comedy spectrum. The first features a typical cartoon scenario of an anthropomorphic animal trying to get a bowl of cereal at any cost. He tries to take it from some kids, and is subsequently arrested and roughly handled by a cartoon cop. The kids try to stop the officer. They try to explain that they don’t want to press charges, that the wolf can have some Coconut Crunch, but the officer just isn’t having it. It’s unnerving to see this kind of critique in the form of a children’s cartoon, and the message gets across pretty clearly.
The other commercial is a call-back to the first episode. It features the creepy guy who tried to make Earn take a bite of a Nutella sandwich on the bus. It’s unclear what he’s selling (he promises “answers”, but that’s it) and the commercial looks like something from Tim & Eric. These little moments definitely fit creator Donald Glover’s description of the show as “Twin Peaks for rappers”. There will be more of the strange man with the Nutella sandwiches, though his role in the series is still uncertain.
It’s refreshing to see a series where the format isn’t the same every week. Atlanta plays with its half-hour of time, giving viewers something completely different every week while still maintaining a unique and complete universe. This show just keeps getting better, and that’s one hell of an accomplishment.
- Alfred’s reaction to seeing “Harrison”: “This is dumb. This is dumb. Did you power up, cuz you look Super Saiyan right now.” He also calls him “the fifth Beatle they don’t talk about” and “Felon Degeneres”.
- The Nutella-man commercial. It’s so awkward and weird.
- The incredulous looks on everyone’s faces when Harrison declares that a man becoming a woman is “unnatural”: