Atlanta Review: Al vs Paper Boi
Atlanta’s selling point thus far has been its ability to provide comedy through hyper-realistic situations. The show achieves this through banking on its audience’s understanding that mundane, everyday situations can be and often are quite funny. The characters are not presented as mere punch lines; rather they are regular people who manage to find respite in their lives despite the constant tensions.
The second season of Atlanta has undoubtedly carried a lot more tension than the first, with the episodes leaning slightly towards horror. Similarly to the two previous episodes, the 6th episode of season 2: Teddy Perkins, was a character episode. It featured Darius in his journey to pick up a used piano, which formerly belonged to a musician by the name of Benny. As soon as Darius arrives at the musician’s home we start to notice all the common horror movie tropes. The menacing mood, the door cracking open even before Darius has a chance to knock, the poorly lit house and the deafening silence, right before Theodore (Teddy) Perkins unexpectedly appears behind him. At this point we are already aware that, unlike previous episodes, this one might not offer the typical humour we are accustomed to, but we are still not sure what exactly is going on in.
And it is for this reason that the drive-through scene that takes place about halfway through the episode stood out for me. Darius steps out to make a phone call that lets us see what Earn, Al and Tracy are up to; the trio is at a drive-through getting some food. This phone call is significant for many reasons. Firstly, it confirms that the bizarre situation Darius has found himself in; however nightmarish it may seem is indeed real. It also gives us a much-needed break from the disturbing scenario and when the trio looks up Darius’ description of Teddy as “Sammy Sosa in a dryer,” we can’t help but laugh at their priceless reaction. In this way, the episode is able to maintain an endurable amount of tension, which allows us to stay attentive to the layers of messages provided once the frame returns to the musician’s house. Now to further home into the scene: Al’s music career is growing and he now has to deal with more people recognising him everywhere goes. Fans are constantly trying to be nice to him so they can gain favour and it is entertaining to say the least. In this case despite his clear instructions that he did not want fries and is willing to pay extra, the drive through cashier still insisted on including them in his order as a courtesy: “I put some extra fries in there,” “…Take ’em out,” “Just don’t eat ’em, damn.” Tracy tries to explain to the cashier why Al insisted on ‘no fries’ when he offers that “That’s rich n***a shit, man. You don’t know nothing about that.”
Therein lies another reason why the comedic relief side-bit is significant. It offers an insight (however small) into Al’s character development. We see how the he (still) hasn’t quite reconciled with the idea of being a ‘celebrity’ and how this would sometimes entail him humouring his fans. There is still an apparent inner conflict of whether he wants to be the ATL rapper: Paper Boi or regular Alfred. To fully transition into a full time entertainer Al might have to quit dealing drugs in the street, which at this point of the season seems to be more about preserving the regularity of his life than making extra cash (one would think getting robbed by his dealer would be the motivation to stop). But we know this is no simple task for the rapper. He has expressed his disdain for the way money and fame seems to change rappers several times. Al’s discomfort with complying with rapper tropes is by no means some kind of mask for his fear of success. He quite literally just wants to remain himself.Yet again we see Atalanta bringing up the recurring theme: how do you seek success while staying true to who you are?
Even in the harrowing Teddy Perkins episode, the show still managed to include a purposeful and genuinely funny comedic relief side-bit. The drive-through scene hit home just right, helping to further the narrative in the particular episode as well as in the whole season.