‘Atlanta Robbin Season’ captured a stunning new American horror story
It goes without saying that Donald Glover is one of America’s prominent geniuses and possibly the most important cultural figure of the current era. So I’m not going to say it.
Atlanta Robbin’ Season is a collection of 11, largely standalone, half-hour episodes that is — subtly — one of the most sensational achievements in recent film history; the finest season of television since David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return and the setting of a new high watermark for 2018 pop culture. Glover, nominally the star of the show, took something of a backseat for much of the season, giving his friends and collaborators numerous star moments on screen, and offering brother Stephen writing opportunities that will surely win him an Emmy. Collaborator Hiro Murai, who also directed the “This is America” music video, outdoes his outstanding work on Atlanta S1 and will undoubtedly ascend that same stage in September.
The fulcrum point of Robbin’ Season came with its sixth episode, Teddy Perkins, a commercial-free horror/comedy not tonally dissimilar to Jordan Peele’s Get Out — also starring the great Lakeith Stanfield — but unquestionably a sharper, richer creation. Stanfield’s Darius drives to a “scary old white dude” house to collect a piano.
The white dude is question is one Mister Teddy Perkins, a Michael Jacksonian figure played by Glover in whiteface, probably the most terrifying character to appear on television this decade. A subtle game of cat and mouse emerges between Darius and Teddy, climaxing in brutal violence, that highlights issues of black creativity and black pride while also being the most gripping of entertainment. To date, I’d say Teddy Perkins is Glover’s opus.
This was followed a week later by the exceptional Champagne Papi, a spin-off for Zazie Beetz’s Van (whose role in Robbin’ Season was perfectly judged down to the second) that is both the smartest takedown of selfie culture I’ve seen and vessel for some deeply intelligent philosophical discussion. Alfred/Paperboi (Brian Tyree Henry) got two very special standalones: Barbershop a terrific comedy of agitation, Woods an earnest tribute to BTH’s mother that suffered slightly from its placement in the season. After the one-two punch of Perkins/Papi, there was no way Robbin’ Season was coming back down to earth. Frathouse send-up North of the Border was smartly-constructed, with some KKK shit that belongs in the Atlanta iconography history books, but a little muddled. FUBU didn’t work for me at all; the kids cast to play young Earn and Alfred broke the spell of the show, and it came across as Everything Sucks! with notions.
Thankfully an 11th and final episode I hadn’t anticipated, Crabs in a Barrel, pulled the season back onto the ledge; one minute of our three male leads sitting on a couch outside their house had more life and nuance than an entire season of Westworld. The season’s first three episodes, which I’ve written about separately, were all excellent; the “Hey, Love”/alligator arrival scene remains the most moving moment of any film or show in 2018.
I’m hesitant to reach any broader in analysing this season — I submitted a college paper on Donald Glover as a modern creative two weeks ago, I’m all Atlanta’d out, in a way. But if anyone reading has yet to experience the marvels, the joys, the genius of Robbin’ Season, I really cannot emphasise enough how superior these 11 episodes have been to the rest of television. Stanfield, Tyree Henry and Beetz — even without Glover’s presence — would be among the best ensembles on TV. Unpredictability week-to-week is all I really look for in a great series, and Atlanta is unpredictable minute-to-minute.