Atlanta – Robbin’ Season Recap: Paper Boi Got Mo Fame, Mo Problems

***Atlanta is back for season two, ROBBIN SEASON and we couldn’t be more excited. While not a traditional recap for us, Nicole and William get together each week to talk out the great, the innovative and the utterly bizarre of the latest episode. All the spoilers ahead.***

William: Did you ever watch Flight of the Concords on HBO? For those that haven’t, it was a really funny show (the first season at least) about a struggling duet band that writes hilarious and really terrible songs. But the production quality is great so they feel like real songs. And you’re laughing simultaneously at the absurdity of the songs’ content and the gall to make them sound serious. Which is all to say, I cannot get the corn flake white feminist acoustic version of Paper Boi out of my head. But I kind of don’t want to. I’m not proud.

Nicole: Haha! So I loved that show. And those songs.

But that’s not what that blanched version reminded me of. Do you remember when Rihanna’s “Work” came out and there was this whole response of “it’s mumbles” and “it’s inaudible” as opposed to the more accurate “it’s not for me”? That is all I could think as that song played. And yet, it was the perfect microcosm for the entire episode.

William: I’m not sure where to start, but Paper Boi’s failed quest line is as good a place as any. I thought it was hella interesting to see these complete opposite worlds that Al has to navigate and yet, he was completely frustrated with both of them. The stickup at the beginning was hilarious and ridiculous of course, but you know what, Al? You’re a celebrity, fam. At some point, you gotta learn that the price for fame is that you can’t do everything you used to, including sell weed without folks assuming you no longer have a necessity to sell weed.

Nicole: The incessant apologizing during that initial robbery was perfect. He, meaning the not-quite-remorseful thief, clearly thought that Al would be okay. As if selling was a quaint throwback to Al’s former, not famous, life that he was just doing out of habit or posturing. This persona theme is one that Glover as an artist is determined to explore. This episode does that aaaalllllmost as well as the infamous Zan does.

William: It’s such a weird turn for the protagonist too. We know Al isn’t making any money from his music like that. Well, not as much as he would selling weed. And yet, I think we’re rooting for his career in a way that predetermines that he would stop selling so feeling bad for him being unsuccessful in securing another supplier is just unusual, but still hilarious.

Nicole: Alfred gets robbed/loses his reliable connect because people believe social media and his lyrics. He ends up not being able to re-up from the first guy that Darius introduces him to because my dude is literally livetweeting (what is the IG equivalent of that) the buy because it’s no longer a survival transaction (this is how I eat)—it’s perceived as a prestige interaction. But when you name yourself Paper Boi, you have to assume someone is going to believe you. Congratulations [upward inflection]. The fact that the thief is like “Say ‘hey’ to Darius for me” as he’s leaving Al stranded in the street goes to the idea that this isn’t a malicious thing; it’s a cost of doing business. Like Wile E. Coyote and the Sheepdog. Alfred can’t clock out or into these worlds. He’s at that radio station about to do a tiny concert talking about pistol whipping that dude not because he wants to, but because he has to. Meanwhile the intern holding the door is like “would you like a latte?”

William: Ok, watching Al at the… whatever the hell that was, “Destruction of Popular Culture” center I’ll call it, was way too real. Nicole, we both have performed a lot over the years. I know you know what it’s like to be asked to perform in some corporate environment where the only person interested in hearing you is the person that “thought it would be great for [their] team to hear someone like you”. That shit was mad painful and does get at the heart of you talking about Glover’s quest to keep diving into the artist persona.

Nicole: I can honestly say I hated the bored guy eating a banana while Al debated how bad he needed that check.

William: Yeah, also accurate was the one white dude bobbing his head in the back of the room. That was a tough watch. Even tougher for Al watching his contemporary completely sell out doing Yoo-hoo commercials. It really does feel like he’s at a crossroads for what he’s going to do with his future if the music money doesn’t start rolling in.

Nicole: It’s notable and inevitable that Earn and Al had the exact opposite reaction to that commercial. That relationship is at a crossroads, too. I noticed that Al is still introducing Earn as his cousin first and then, possibly, his manager. It’s not lost either that the guy who was an obstacle to Al’s song getting played on the radio is the sellout’s manager AND that he planted the “I’d be happy to manage you” seeds.

William: Yeah, let’s talk about Earn cuz his story was crazy too. I guess Earn surprises me still, because when your boy was like, “I got this hustle with gift cards”, I assumed Earn would be like, nah, I’m good. But not only does he indulge that as the $4000 was burning a hole in his pocket, but then goes with him to the mall for the true adventure. And while we can go a lot of different ways with that… we gonna talk about how Earn either did or attempted to spend $4000 at the mall and not like… on his family?

Nicole: Yes! I need to know that those bags were full of baby shoes, baby clothes, and groceries. What are we even doing here, Earn? Like how do you start the day at $0 wind up with $4k from an investment you forgot about and end the day with $0? You couldn’t have tried the scam with $1k?

William: I completely thought it was gonna be like $1K too. But when he said he didn’t even get to spend the $4K, I was like, yeah, Earn on that bullshit. Which… we still haven’t seen Van or their child (does she have a name?). But this tells us plenty about Earn. Whatever this life shit really is… he’s still not ready.

Nicole: This was another episode without any women, just the disembodied voice of a white woman singing the acoustic appropriation of Al’s hustle. Van and Unnamed Baby are no where to be seen. How do you come up with $4k and not hit up the mother of your child who took you in when you were homeless and who bailed you out of jail? I know Van ain’t perfect—we have several episodes of receipts on that—but she shows up for Earn when she doesn’t exactly have to, and my dude hit the mall with the milk and rent money. I’m rooting for Earn, but I’m not sure what that means. Am I rooting for him to be a successful manager? Am I rooting for him to be a responsible adult? Am I rooting for him to be independent? I don’t know and I don’t know if there’s a Venn diagram where all of those overlap, so mostly I root for him not to take the largest L possible on any give day. So when he actively crafts an L out of a W, I’m at a loss. He’s like da Vinci sculpting David, “Your work as a sculptor is to uncover the L that’s already there”.

William: Remember that bullshit speech he gave Van back in Season 1 about wanting to provide, but on his terms? I think we have enough evidence to see that if Earn were to become a successful manager (as in, being able to live off of it), it ain’t guaranteed that his baby and her mother would consistently benefit from it. It’s disheartening, but I’m not sure if the absence of Van and the child from this episode makes this look just bad or even worse. I feel like if we saw them and also saw him not spending money on them, it might be even worse. Weirdly, erasure feels like the more merciful option.

Nicole: That’s the thing though, why do we want mercy for him? I mean, brava writers, but he’s consistently not awesome. Consistently. And yet… [sigh]

William: Well, I think there’s a shelf life. I don’t think we can go five episodes of completely selfish Earn and no sign of Van and the baby. Yo, what was your impression of the progression at the mall and the no chase policy?

Nicole: I think it was a specific choice to have the sales representative be black. Like it moves it from a racial dynamic to the absurdity of a corporate policy. Darius’ response though was great as if, of course, Tracy was gonna steal it if no one was going to stop him. That in contrast with Earn who won’t walk out with the shoes but will pay for them with scammed gift cards is fascinating. There’s an emotional and physical distance there. Ironically, it was because he made that purchase, instead of walking out without being chased, that his card was found out.

William: I also don’t even know what to feel about the interview. The levels to that scene are staggering. Is he qualified for the job? My inclination is to say no, but do I feel that way because he’s fresh out of jail and still participating in criminal activity? It’s absurd when he goes off about the process being racist, but is the scene to observe the fact that, while not immediately present in the interview, he could be right? But my favorite part may be that he didn’t actually take his durag off until the very last minute to maximize the waves. I don’t know if your brother rocked waves, Nicole, but that conversation previously was the realest shit ever. Brothas were rarely more competitive about anything as much as they were about their waves. Also, if you were missing the Darius “Can I measure your tree” moment, him wanting to see the waves was a pretty great substitute. I laughed really hard at that.

I loved the way that scene opened with the closeup on the waves. And then… hold that. It’s funny because it’s the waves and they have to bake until the last possible second, but also telling. He tries his best to prepare. Maybe his methods were questionable but he tried.

Waves was on point. Brand new shoes. Asked Earn for the talking to white people advice. Practicing in the waiting room. So maybe he wasn’t qualified. Maybe he was—he says something about a gap in his resume but we don’t know what in the resume. We just know my dude spent most of the days preparing. Tracy might be the closest to understanding Al in this episode. How do you occupy two spaces at the same time?

William: You think we get Van back next episode?

Nicole: I do. But more than Van, I want to see Earn and the baby. Or Van alone. Or Earn’s mom who knows he ain’t shit.

William: Yeah, someone that’s actually supposed to expect something from Earn (who are also the women on the show). I’m loving the show, but that needs to happen sooner rather than later because I don’t think anyone of us want the version of Earn where’s he’s constantly left to his own devices. Last thoughts?

Nicole: Right now the show is a study of Black masculinities often in conversation with each other or with race, and what it is like to see these masculinities through the lens of love be it sexual or romantic. We’ve seen intimacy: Earn and Darius on an adventure that leads to a proclamation of tied-ness, Al and Darius with high tensions between them in a very domestic way, and Earn and Al navigating strained familial relationships. I enjoy that. You?

William: I think that’s a great observation and it feels like that’s been a priority of the season (really, the show) so far. I’m curious to see Van again because I feel like the writers are going to find concrete ways to fit her into other parts of the narrative. While I want to see episodes like the one where she caught up with her friend last season, I’d like to see how differently she navigates the specific world that Atlanta is creating compared to her (male) counterparts. And also, I wouldn’t be mad if we got more Tracy. Tracy and Darius would be hella fun.

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