‘Atlanta’ Was the Blackest Thing on TV, Which Made It Best of 2018
It was a season that was bold in the way it chose to be the inside joke for black audiences everywhere.
Atlanta’s “Teddy Perkins” was a masterful piece of entertainment. No one can dispute that. But when I think back to the surrealist and unapologetic state-of-blackness report of season 2, much of my love came in the most ordinary explorations around my own culture.
Season two began by holding onto its season one tenants. Earnest “Earn” Marks (Donald Glover) was still that dropout from Princeton, and still desperate and broke. Cousin Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) remained the come-up rapper better known as Paper Boi. And sage Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) continued his Twin Peaks audition on the low. Having explored the shape-shifting nature of cultural meme-ery (ala Black Bieber) in episodes previous, this season chose to grip the wheel, and swerve a hard right into the authentic and grim. Though much of it was around the visceral violence of black experiences. There were some special moments that personified my own life, in the most mundane ways.
Episode “Barbershop” may have been a perfect example of this. Plot wise, it played out as a tug and war between Paper Boi and his barber Bibby. The setting was simple: Al had a shoot to head to, therefore a fresh cut was necessary. He headed for his go-to guy, but like most barbers, an appointment with Bibby was more theoretical in concept. Whether Al pre-scheduled a cut or not, he wasn’t getting a shave anytime soon. What followed was a series of errands that in was meant to last in Bibby’s words, “just a minute,” but instead endured for an entire episode. It’s really shit like this that elevated Atlanta to the stratosphere of amazing television . It’s in the details.
I still remember the sanctity of my own barber-to-hair relationship. My first introduction to Mr. Lloyd came by way of my father (who’s no longer in the picture), who held my head, and from that moment the haircut that spoke my name. Over the years, I’d see my father in him (through his absence), until he became something more; someone who understood my likes and dislikes without an inquiring word. The idea of going to someone else—even if he was Atlanta’s Bibby, taking me an extended trip of foolishness—never crossed my mind because my hair meant something to me. It was an identity.
Most TV shows with black dimensions misstep this understanding of the black connection. They spend their freeing moments stretching for a “wider audience” while losing the parts of themselves that feel authentic (ala, Luke Cage). You’ll see it in the black protagonist that does something that you know (as a POC) wouldn’t fly...because “wider audience.” Or it’ll be caught in a reaction to an incident that feels far too preachy and overly-explained ( Dear White People)...because, “wider audience.”
Atlanta owns what it is, wide or thin without much clarification in-between. It can understand my relationship with my barber as an easily conveyed 29-minute joke. It just knows my language. It gets my humour without the pandering. The casting works. The music works. The slang without slangish exposition works. And even their numbing reactions to the everyday bullshit of living black works.
I’m selfish when I say that this show, with all its elements, was made for me in this year 2018, as I’ve expressed several, times, before. It’s forever a series where my black-ass self can feel as if I were in on the black-ass joke. So here’s to hoping that 2019 will feel just as black as fuck.
Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.
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