A review of tonight's Atlanta coming up just as soon as I'd like to be as smart as a baby dolphin…
If last week's episode was Donald Glover and company demonstrating that they could find both comic and dramatic value in a previously minor character like Van, then “B.A.N.” is the creative team proving that they can make a show that only vaguely even takes place in the Atlanta universe and still make it work.
“B.A.N.,” named for a fictionalized spin on B.E.T. (with some TV One thrown in for good measure) is essentially a lost episode of Chappelle's Show or Key & Peele, presenting a series of sketches under the umbrella of being part of an episode of the fictional Montague talk show, or the commercials the air during it. (Some of them – the early Dodge ones in particular – are so convincing that I fear some viewers may fast-forward past them.) Paper Boi appears, and at one point calls out to Earn who is just off-camera on the Montague set, but he's mainly there to be the straight man, and to help provide a spine on which to place the different ideas. Some of the sketches spin off the discussion of trans awareness and tolerance – like a long filmed piece about a “transracial” black teenager who identifies as a 35-year-old white man – while others were riffing on products targeted to black audiences (no one cares about the family-grown tobacco in Swisher Sweets, because they're just dumping it out to fill the cigarillos with weed) or just expanding on ideas or characters the show found interesting, like the return of Ahmad White, the weird guy with the Nutella sandwiches who met Earn on the bus in the pilot.
On the whole, I found the fake ads funnier than the Montague segments, and the payoff to the recurring Dodge Charger ad the funniest of those. But the episode's most remarkable – and darkest – segment was the animated cereal ad that starts off as a Trix parody and then turns very ugly as a cop not only arrests the wolf for trying to eat the kids' cereal, but then physically abuses him while the kids protest and take camera phone videos. It was such an effectively brutal juxtaposition of kids' TV tropes and depressing current events that it almost felt like the rest of the episode was that Swisher Sweets ad, spending lots of time on a subject unrelated to what the product is really about.
Still, Brian Tyree Henry made a series of marvelous exasperated or incredulous faces as Alfred endured his time on Montague, and the moment where he and the trans rights activist briefly came to agreement, much to the frustration of Franklin Montague, was an amusing acknowledgment of how many modern “discussion” shows rely on argument at all costs.
I love that Atlanta is (like some other recent FX half-hours) so willing and able to transform itself from week to week. “B.A.N.” was, by its very nature, more uneven than some other episodes, but it was one of the show's funniest installments so far, while also furthering the idea of Alfred's rising, if still modest, level of celebrity. Good stuff.
What did everybody else think?