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TV Review: Atlanta (Season 1, Episodes 7 & 8)

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This week’s Atlanta changes the layout a little, providing us with one of the most innovative 20 minutes of television ever!

Brian Tyree Henry’s Al makes a guest appearance on the Black American Network’s Montague, as part of a discussion about trans issues. What starts out as Paper Boi being taken to task for transphobic comments about Caitlyn Jenner quickly develops into a complex discussion of oppression and intersectionality — homophobia and transphobia in black communities, and why white people think they’re the experts on it; tone policing, and freedom of speech.

The scenario is played out to a farcical extreme as guest star Niles Stewart makes an appearance as a ‘trans-racial’ black teenager who identifies as a middle aged white man. The comedy is tinged with discomfort — is Atlanta mocking liberalism and ‘political correctness,’ or is the satire pointed at the other end? Much like Childish Gambino’s This is America, the episode is open to interpretation, and starts a conversation through provoking statements.

Littered through the programme, as if watching the actual B.A.N., there are mock adverts, each making a pointed societal comment. The most memorable is undoubtedly a cartoon ad for cereal that starts out with kids trying to protect their cereal from a wily coyote, and devolves into an incident of horrific police brutality, complete with the kids taking out their phones and filming the incident. Juxtaposed against the child-friendly cartoon visuals, the power of the point is extremely hard-hitting, walking that line between absurdist humour and horror.

The show-within-a-show devolves into chaos, with people on opposite sides of the argument agreeing, oppressed people spouting bigotry, and the host trying his utmost to paint Paper Boi as the bad guy. It makes a salient point about how politics is conducted today, with social media giving everyone the platform it does to have their ideas gain a following, and their out of context comments spark vitriol. This is the episode for which Donald Glover won his director’s Emmy, and it was well deserved!

Episode 8 returns back to more familiar territory, with Paper Boi making a guest appearance at The Club, only to be upstaged by Meek Mill equivalent Marcus Miles (Jason Simon). The club itself is some sort of Odyssean island of the Lotus Eaters, with no sense of time passing, and wily natives looking to trick our heroes. Lucius Baston is a standout guest star of the season as slippery club owner —- — who just does not want to give Earn the money’s he’s owed. Donald Glover is at his exasperated best as this episode tests the very limits of Earn’s apathy towards everything except money.

LaKeith Stanfield’s Darius doesn’t have too much to do this episode, but as always every one of his lines is delivered to perfection. This week’s winning gag is without a doubt the ‘invisible car’ that somewhat materialises at the end of the episode!

Paper Boi’s dissatisfaction with being upstaged is soothed by a flirtation with Dear White People star Antoinette Robertson, who has great chemistry with him until she delivers the killer punchline: “You can follow me on Instagram. I have a boyfriend.” Absolutely savage! It’s a condemnation of a culture that values sex over genuine human connection, but it’s also just absolutely hilarious to watch Paper Boi absolutely lose his cool.

The climax of the episode is a ode to direct action, and it’s unbelievably satisfying to watch the gang get what they’re owed finally … but of course, this is Atlanta — no victory could last too long! They’re quick to sober up after Paper Boi is once more wanted for questioning over a shooting, but this time he had nothing to do with it. It’s a perfect demonstration of the double-edged sword of being labelled a gangster, going from one extreme to the other in the last five minutes of the episode.

Catch the last two episodes of the season on Sunday at 10pm on BBC2.

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