After Some Experimental Episodes, ‘Atlanta’ Heads To ‘The Club’

A quick review of tonight’s Atlanta coming up just as soon as I stay home and finish Amadeus

After a couple of experimental episodes in a row — one focusing on Van, the other presenting a satirical sketch comedy show under the Atlanta title — “The Club” is a pretty straightforward outing. The guys hang out, Earn and Alfred each brush up against the limits of Paper Boi’s modest celebrity, and there are a few surreal touches — notably the hilarious, unexpected payoff to the running gag about the invisible car — Darius is mostly off marching to the beat of his own drummer, and the cops may have to get involved again. If a show so determined to defy expectations could be said to have a formula, “The Club” is a clear — and entertaining — example of that formula.

Plenty of recent comedies have done episodes about how noisy and annoying it is to be at a club, but this one moved beyond the familiar jokes with subtitled dialogue to get into some sharper and more specific points about how Alfred and Earn each feel about the experience. When the woman who spent the night hanging with Alfred points out that he essentially got what he was hoping for out of his time in the club, she’s not wrong, for instance, even though he obviously wanted her number and more. And while Earn is technically stuck at the club trying to get the elusive manager(*) to pay him what he’s owed, the bartender’s also not wrong about Earn: He often tries to view himself as above other people (Alfred and Darius included) that he’s devoting a lot of time and energy to being around.

(*) Earn’s pursuit of Chris began to take on a Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner quality after a while, and the moment where Chris disappears through a secret panel in the wall while Earn’s back was turned was delightful.

I love that Atlanta can do something as crazily far afield as “B.A.N.,” and that it’s smart and gifted enough to put Van front and center for a week. But those experiments are possible in part because the show has a strong baseline setting in episodes like this or “The Streisand Effect.” Deviations from the norm can be great, but if the norm itself isn’t interesting, why bother?

What did everybody else think?