Because you can find recaps elsewhere, and because we long for the watercooler talks of yore, three editors, Sam Eichner, Hadley Tomicki and Najib Benouar, will be using this space to have a weekly conversation about FX’s Atlanta, Donald Glover’s capital-I Important, intriguingly abstruse, not-really-comedy comedy. Obviously, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. This week's topic is S02E05 Barbershop.
Najib Benouar: Sam, last week you asked the very good question of whether I thought this second season was flat out funnier than the first. And I balked, out of deference for the OG even though I thought you were right (I also worried about having recency bias). But after watching this comic tour de force of an episode—thanks in most part to the performance of comedian Robert S. Powell III—I can unequivocally answer that question. It's official, SEASON TWO IS FLAT OUT FUNNIER.
Sam Eichner: Ya, this episode might've been the most purely comedic of any I can recall.
Hadley Tomicki: I liked having a completely Earn-free episode after watching him be such a bitchass at that German festival he needs a time-out for his actions against Van.
NB: Ha! True.
HT: I feel like everybody can sympathize with Paperboi's situation in this episode. I am always so nice to the barber for fear they'll fuck up my head, they could say or do just about anything. I enjoyed watching Paperboi gradually lose his cool over it all.
SE: I agree, everyone has that relationship with their barber. It's a strangely powerless position. You need them to not fuck up your hair but you also just want them to shut up sometimes.
NB: Speaking of. The typical movie-tv-shoe-commercial depiction of the black barbershop experience, is always one of boisterous jovial politicking, but this Atlanta episode had none of that, at least not in the expected way. You spend maybe 30 seconds of the entire episode entitled "Barbershop" in a barbershop. And, once again, therein lies the genius of Atlanta...
HT: True. On paper, I expected something different. Was glad not to see two old shit-talking men playing chess in the corner
NB: Yet, you still had all that same anxiety that you guys talked about—the barber basically holding you hostage in his chair until you've finished the cut—but they blow that out into a full-on madcap odyssey. Again, and maybe it's just a symptom of this post-prestige-tv era, but you can't help but think about the process when watching such a smart show like this. They're like "Oh, we'll give you a barbershop episode." And the casting. Just fantastic again and again. Wait, Hadley, was that a gibe at Coming to America? TAKE IT BACK.
HT: Coming to America, Luke Cage, I'm sure there's plenty more with shit-talking old men who are grandmasters of chess. Speaking of casting, is Brian Tyree Henry the greatest comedic "straight man" of all time?
NB: Give him the Emmy now.
SE: I hadn't thought about it the way you have Najib, but you're right. Atlanta takes that barber-customer relationship and takes it to their customary absurd level where he's, like, an actual hostage.
NB: Yeah, but also an active participant. There's some Stockholm Syndrome in there too. Ha.
HT: He can't quit Bibby.
NB: "Sorry about that hit-and-run shit, man" as he finally clips him up. Haaa! "Ruined you day? We had a good day." I literally want to pull my favorite Bibby quotes, but THEY'RE ALL MY FAVORITE. "He's a magician." I'm dying.
HT: That's one way this show reminds me of Louie sometimes, it usually lets its main characters take a backseat to really talented actors and comedians to shine.
NB: While on the subject of other comedian-driven ensemble shows... That last barbershop scene just as well could've played the Curb outro music over Paper Boi as he realized he's made a huge mistake by changing barbers.
HT: Haha, I'm glad they didn't do that but that's funny shit.
NB: Yes, but that skill in mining even the smallest quotidian moments for comedy gold feels inherent in both. And that look Bibby shoots Paper Boi as he "triumphantly" struts past his chair into another barber's is priceless. You know how sometimes you're in a moment and like "why doesn't our language have a word for THIS feeling?" Somebody make a GIF of that Bibby look with his hand over his heart because it's better than words.
HT: Yeah, same with that look Paper Boi gave when that rapper started rapping about the weed he doesn't smoke. I wished I knew how to make GIFs at that point.
SE: I have to admit that as much as I enjoyed this episode I was also kind of like: Why does this exist?
NB: What in particular?
SE: Just the entire episode. Why do we need this? What prompted Glover to devote an entire episode to Paper Boi getting a haircut?
HT: I didn't see it as a very profound episode, so much as just funny. But it did tie into the theme of Robbin' Season: Bibby was ripping off his girl, taking back his lumber, trying to charge a captive Paper Boi 50 cents for toothpicks.
SE: Right, I felt that too. I guess I didn't mean in the sense that it has to be profound but I think this season is even less concerned with narrative than the last. You guys notice the jazz score? Felt like it gave this ep a diff vibe.
HT: No, admittedly, I had to watch the show with the volume super low as I watched it at 1:20am while my daughter slept in the room next door. I am afraid of her.
NB: Ha! The fear is real.
SE: So far Robbin' Season feels like a collection of short stories, almost.
NB: Definitely feels like that's how they're structuring this season, anthology-like. Maybe I'm just too far gone drinking the Atlanta Kool-Aid but every thirty minutes I get is like a gift. The plot could seriously be about anything (even a renegade barber). I won't question it. Aside from maybe, "Who hurt your hair?"