Atlanta: “B.A.N.” Season 1 Episode 7 Review

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“B.A.N.” is a formula-breaking episode that packs in so many different ideas and senses of humor that there’s no way it was going to be the masterpiece it aspires to be. Donald Glover wrote and directed it personally, making it the first full episode of Atlanta completely under his reign. It makes sense. If Atlanta has proven anything, it’s that Glover has the potential to become a great television auteur. With him also serving as showrunner, tackling the most ambitious entry of the season seems like a natural fit. I’m just not convinced any artist could really pull off a 20-minute episode this politically charged and filled with surrealist humor.

The feel of the fictional show within a show Montague is just a slightly more down-to-Earth version of the various Perd Hapley talk shows on Parks and Recreation. This heightened version of reality worked perfectly for the tone Atlanta has thus far set. It was a little awkward how the show switched from Paper Boi’s interview to the interview with the black man transitioning into being a white man and then back again, but it’s easily forgivable given that these scenes were mostly great. The guests on the talk show are initially a political commentator doubling as a specialist on trans issues and Paper Boi, who we learn tweeted that he wouldn’t have sex with Caitlyn Jenner the week prior. Alfred explains that he just doesn’t want to have sex with Caitlyn Jenner specifically, but then gets tangled in a web of political correctness through some awkward on-air mumblings about trans people.

Of course, then the other guest, who is white, tries to explain why Alfred responds that way to trans people with massive generalizations about the black community. This is where “B.A.N.” runs into its first road block in the main story. The point Glover seems to want to make is that people of all social and educational backgrounds can be accepting, prejudice, or a little of both. This point is best made with our female doctor doing the race version of mansplaining to Paper Boi and the obviously hilarious long-form news package about the black guy transitioning into a white guy. We don’t know these characters nearly as well as we know Alfred, and they are certainly more ridiculous than he is, so having them be likable doesn’t really play into the episode’s success. Alfred’s does, and there are some questionable remarks he makes that were off-putting. But then, having him say anything different would feel inauthentic to the character. It’s a bit of a catch-22. Atlanta should explore these issues with these characters, but that’s naturally going to lead to some unsavory things being said by characters we really like. There’s truth in that notion, naturally. As the Avenue Q tune goes, “Everybody’s a little bit racist sometimes.” The handling of Glover’s thesis was just a little awkward, especially since we’ve already developed a relationship with Alfred and the episode doesn’t really put him or anyone on a clear path for growth.

Between all these socio-political discussions were the fake commercials, which at first seemed like a simple ploy to parody advertising and exaggerate the nuances that might change if the actors in commercials weren’t always so white. But as the episode went on, they got more overtly political (the second Dodge Charger ad and the animated cereal ad were highlights). For the most part, these ads were hit and miss, which is also part of what drags down this ambitious half-hour of television.

But sometimes ambitions just can’t be ignored. There’s a lot of power and truth to what Glover wants to say with “B.A.N.,” but it also didn’t aim to set us on a better path. The clever idea was enough to keep me smiling throughout though, as different parodies and general shots fired at different aspects of society really worked. With clearer intentions and fewer distractions (the commercials), this could have been a masterpiece. But either way, I’m glad Glover is willing to take risks like this with Atlanta. As he continues to develop his voice as an artist, we’re sure to get a true masterpiece down the line. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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