“Atlanta” continued its reign as the most random yet thought-provoking show on television with an episode that featured fake commercials and a fictional news show that hosted Paper Boi, the outspoken rapper at the center of the FX dramedy.
Tuesday night’s episode immersed viewers into the fictional Black American Network (BAN), where Paper Boi was invited to address controversial tweets on a program called “Montague.” (The Internet has almost universally concluded that the show’s host, Franklin Montague, played by Alano Miller of “Underground,” was a parody of controversial CNN anchor Don Lemon.) Every time “Montague” cut to commercial break, fans were treated to fake ads that offered varying degrees of social commentary.
“Atlanta” has been unconventional from the start, and it achieved peak surrealism two weeks ago when the critically acclaimed show wrote Justin Bieber into a story line and had a black actor portray the pop star. This week’s episode (the second to be directed by creator Donald Glover) was different from anything we’ve seen.
Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) was the only main cast member to appear in the episode — Glover’s character, Earn, was merely referenced. Eagle-eyed viewers probably noticed the return of Ahmad White, the mysterious figure who offered Earn some advice and a Nutella sandwich in a dreamy sequence in the show’s pilot. He resurfaced in a commercial imploring viewers to call him to “get the answers you deserve.” As a bonus, callers who dialed 1-260-33QUEST reached a voice-mail recording from the self-styled chakra expert.
On “Montague,” Paper Boi sparred with the host and an academic named Deborah Holt (Mary Kraft) over a strongly worded tweet that he posted about how people thought he was “weird” for not wanting to have sex with Caitlyn Jenner.
“There’s a large swath of gender and sexuality roles that are just being exposed to a large portion of the public. It’s harder for certain sections to deal with this transition because of conflict of interest and, frankly, identity issues,” Holt said. “In this case, the rap community. I truly believe it has more to do with issues of masculinity in the black community than actual homophobia or transphobia.”
When Montague asked Holt to further explain her remarks, which drew on generalizations about homophobia in the black community, Paper Boi gleefully invited her to “yes please, tell me about myself,” and asserted that he was being targeted for speaking his mind.
“You’re whining about chickens coming home to roost,” Holt said. Paper Boi quickly corrected her: “No. Rap is chickens coming home to roost.”
After hilariously shutting down Montague’s suggestion that his “transphobia” had to do with a lack of a father figure, Paper Boi declared he had no problem with Caitlyn Jenner or anyone in the transgender community.
“It’s hard for me to care about this when nobody cares about me as a black, human man,” he said, noting that he supports tolerance for everyone. “But where’s tolerance for people like me? I should be able to say something is weird without people hating on me. I never said anything about taking away nobody’s rights.”
A field segment about a black teenager who identifies as “transracial” provided the kicker for the discussion. “I’m a 35-year-old white man,” the teen told the camera as “Montague” flashed to footage of him playing golf and perusing the fare at a local farmer’s market. When he later appeared on the show via Facebook, he stunned the host by announcing he did not support gay marriage or transgender rights. There has been a debate about the similarities between transgender identity and racial identity, and it’s not clear that “Atlanta” is equating the two. (Many advocates reject doing so). Given the show’s penchant for subtlety, the ambiguity is probably intentional.
The commercials — with many brilliant and unapologetically black inside jokes — were much less subtle. One advertised Swisher Sweets with none of the usual pretenses that ignore the fact that the cigarillos are commonly used to smoke marijuana. Another featured Mickey’s malt liquor in a wine glass (“you’re drinking it wrong”) and the show also poked fun at the tax charged on 99-cent iced tea (“the price is on the can, though.”)
But the most resounding commercial was an animated spoof on Trix that found a police officer violently arresting a wolf for trying to steal a cereal meant for kids. “I could be eating these kids, but I’m out here eating cereal,” the wolf told the officer, as three small children watched the arrest in horror. One pulled out a cellphone and started recording. (Note: There’s strong language in the video below.)