Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Atlanta Season 1 Ep. 9 Recap: 'Juneteenth'

Courtesy: Guy D'Alema/FX

"Can we for once, just pretend we aren't who we are?" Van says, or more accurately, snaps to Earn during a short but tense exchange while attending a party baring the episode's title. If last week's "The Club" firmly grounded Earn, Alfred and Darius in a familiar environment, "Juneteenth" places he and Van in a fish-out-of-water territory, with biting, hilarious results.

When we last spent time with Van, she'd had a run-in with her former bestie/future WAG/Basketball Wife/Real Housewife Jayde, smoked a little weed, and lost her job after confessing to her boss. We don't get an update on her job status, but clearly she and Earn haven't moved on up in the interim. Why else would she bite her tongue (to a point) at having to pick him up at another woman's apartment and the fact he smells like a dime sack, without even having the foresight to bring a change of close, a mini-bottle of Febreeze and some Clear Eyes along to hide the high? I mean that's just common courtesy.

Their forced coupledom is all in service of a Juneteenth celebration being hosted by Monique, a casual friend of Van's. If Jayde was a portrayal of profession girlfriend on the come up, Monique is the preening belle of the bougie ball, her queenly court including a group of men singing Negro spirituals, slave ship-shaped hors d'oeuvres and a drink list that includes such spirits as Emancipation Eggnog and Plantation Master Poison. In order to present herself as the perfect southern belle-in-waiting, Van has omitted and added a few details about the state of she and Earn's relationship; one being that he's either still in or graduated from Princeton, and that they're married. However, Monique has connections to the cream of ATL's black upper-middle class crop, and if Mama has to endure an afternoon trapped in what Earn calls "a Spike Lee-directed Eyes Wide Shut" then so be it.

Earn, true to form, can barely stomach the whole scene, and has to fight the urge to go off on Craig, Monique's husband. You see, Craig, like Dr. Holt from "B.A.N.," fancies himself a woke white person who nonetheless spends every interaction with Earn making his entire identity about his race. Come to think of it, he reminds me more of a male version of Everybody Hates Chris' Ms. Morello. Could you imagine if those two ever hooked up? Infants and children of Africa, watch out! And guard your hair! But movin' on.

At first glance, Monique seems to her head as far up her own ass as much as her diluted hubby (did I mention Monique says things like hubby with no irony?), but in a woman-to-woman talk with Van, proves herself to be clear eyed about what checks she had to cash to pay for the cushy life she desires. She knows how insane her husband's fetish for the melanin, or as she calls it "black people as a hobby"comes off--an addiction to privilege so fiendish he had the ball-faced nerve to criticize her 95-year-old grandma's collard greens! A cardinal sin punishable by death, or at the very least a lifetime ban from eating soul food. However, Monique puts up with the Martin reruns and terrible spoken word poetry comparing living under Jim Crow to Poltergeist because she loves the coin.

"Only way to stay fed in this world is to keep the right company," she tells Van at one point, and again, it's hard not to think Jayde's speech about value isn't ringing in Van's ears at that moment. From Monique to Jayde to the mum pastor's wife, she's constantly being confronted with women who have chosen to build their lives around satisfying men's egos or fulfilling their fantasies, at the expense of cultivating a real relationship. Earn doesn't help matters when later, her showers with compliments in front a group of ladies, then sticks the knife in by saying he could never look at another woman. It sends her sprinting to the bathroom mirror, tearing up as she asks her reflection what the hell is she doing.

The final straw for Earn comes when two young guys recognize him as Paperboi's manager and ask for autographs (one guy even brought his sister's panties, cause ya' never know) and Monique throws salt on Alfred, dismissing him as a trifling thug. With that gloves proceed to come off, as Earn calls the shindig wack, Monique stupid and for the good of all long-suffering black folk reams out Craig for being too-likable, tone-deaf tool. On the ride home, Van asks Earn to pull over, then begins making out with him as cars pass by.

For all their drama and the uncertainty of their current situation, Earn and Van clearly have an honest connection with one another. Earn may be an aimless, often prickly dude, but one thing he'll likely never be is one who desires a puppet instead of a partner.

Other Thoughts:

--One episode left in Atlanta's inaugural season, and your guess is as good as mine as to what the finale will be, given the show's nature. But hopefully we'll see all the major players in action when things wrap up next week.

--Earn on the staircase singers: "Are they up for auction after the party?"

--Am I the only one semi-interested in seeing a production of With Tail Between Legs?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Atlanta Season 1 Ep. 8 'The Club'

Courtesy: Quantrell D. Colbert/FX

"That's why you came here. To feel better about yourself and stunt." So are the sage words of a bartender to Earn as she calls bullshit on his too-cool-for-school attitude towards the nightlife. After going super high-concept for last week's "B.A.N.," Atlanta brings things back to reality--well, as much as series like Atlanta can tolerate reality--in this week's episode, "The Club."

The episode follows our three heroes (Darius is back! Yay!) over the course of a night at Primal, a club where Paperboi is scheduled to perform. However, it quickly becomes obvious that Alfred's night won't be bottle poppin'' and lip lockin' with models, as he rants to Earn and Darius about his hatred of rose slander and mistrust of club denizens and promoters, endures a middle finger from a random girl and deflates at the sound of golf claps from the crowd when the DJ gives him a shout out.

What's worse, he has to fight for big baller and shot caller space with Marcus Miles, another local rapper who has seemingly mastered the art of the club stunt--and has an invisible car! With some creepy eye encouragement from Darius though, Alfred manages to attract his own crowd, until it dawns on him that everyone around him (except perhaps a superfan who rapped an entire verse to one of his songs and sang the hook back to him) is using him for the V.I.P shine, and he channels his inner Martin and tells them to get ta steppin'. At very least, he should've gotten fanboy's cell number in case he ever needed a new hype man, a position I assume Darius currently occupies. But whatevs.

Meanwhile Earn, as acting manager, has the unenviable task of making sure his cousin gets paid. That means dealing with Chris, a shady promoter so adept at giving the slip he'd make Waldo scratch his skull-capped head in frustration while mumbling "this motherfucker..." After bonding with the aforementioned bartender over shots, he finds Chris in a secret backroom, only to be bullied into getting $750 of the $5000 they were promised. Earn blames it on his physique and the fact that he drinks juice is common knowledge, but throwing up mid-sentence probably didn't help matters.

Earn and his cousin's nights converge thematically when a girl Alfred seemingly made a connection with blithely lets be known she has a boyfriend once the club shuts down (Marcus Miles bought the bar and took it home with him. Ballerific or selfish? You decide.). Alfred, annoyed, asks why she wasted his time, but like Earn's strobe-lit confidant, she recognizes the function of the club and has a clear-eyed view of her place in it.

"That's why you came here. To party with cute girls like me and have a good time. We did that," she says before walking away. Alfred goes from annoyed to pissed off when Earn tells him about being shortchanged by Chris, and proceeds to go full on Frank Lucas/Tony Soprano/(insert your favorite real-life or fictional gangster here), taking his money and Chris' liquor before chucking the deuce.

"That boy's gone be a star," Chris says to a female employee as she helps him up. "Call the police." Those two sentences encapsulate so much of what we've seen and heard from Alfred, both in "The Club" and the seven previous half hours. Whatever his talents may be as a rapper, lyricist or performer, much, if not all of Alfred's notoriety has been built on controversial tweets about Caitlyn Jenner, fighting the Biebs and other incidents like this, where he gets in his feelings and assumes the role of asshole gangster rapper, confirming the biases of people like the charity basketball game reporter and Chris.

Slapping a slimy promoter across the face with a stack of cash is hilarious, and, love or hate it, the kind "did you hear about the time" kind of tale that attracts an audience. But it also gets you wanted for questioning for armed robbery. If all Alfred really cares about is getting paid, then it shouldn't matter to him if all he's known for shooting a guy outside a convenience store or getting into a fight with a teen idol. But if that's not the case, he'd do well to think about the kind of fame and audience he wants, and perhaps craft a more enigmatic public persona like Marcus Miles.

Except for that hitting folks with an invisible car part.

--Other Thoughts:

--Earn hates shots. It's a personal choice.

--Darius: Question. Have you ever had to throw out another bouncer?
   Bouncer: Yea
   Darius: How was it?
   Bouncer: Hard. He knew all the moves.

--Not for nothin', but Darius cleans up nice.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

We'll Be Back After These ATLiens...

I have to handle some personal business today, so my two cents on last night's Atlanta will be posted Thursday. Until then, enjoy this gif!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Atlanta Season 1 Ep. 7 Recap: 'B.A.N.'

Photo: Guy D'Alema/FX

From the outset, Atlanta has displayed a penchant for social commentary, satire and outright weirdness (see "Nobody Beats The Biebs"). But the show's seventh episode, "B.A.N.," definitely goes down as the series' most conceptual episode (so far). The entire half hour is a show within a show, in this case a fictional one named Montague that airs on the fictional network Black American Network, a.k.a. B.A.N., complete with hilarious commercials for products and hustles like Swisha Sweets, Arizona Tea, a pseudo religious conman and a Dodge II Charger.

B.A.N. is thinly-veiled parody of a PBS talk show, though to my eyes and ears it also could've easily been a stand in for BET, Centric, TV One, VH1 Soul, Aspire and any other cable network marketed to black people that's ever had talk show or panel discussion.

What makes an ambitious episode like "B.A.N"work is the way it builds on themes of race, identity and hip hop's cultural influence that Atlanta has been exploring since its inception. Paperboi and another guest, author and trans activist Dr. Deborah Holt, discuss a controversial tweet the rapper sent out about "not wanting to fuck" Caitlyn Jenner that was met with cries of transphobia on the Internets. Many panels have been held to discuss rap's attitudes towards women and the LGBT community, and while such talks are needed, often they are laced with the perception black folks are inherently more sexist. homophobic and transphobic.

Dr. Holt takes to that condescending narrative like a haughty nose takes to the air, giving a mini-dissertation on why attitudes about masculinity and power cause black men like Alfred to recoil from she calls a "trans accepting culture." Sigh. Deborah girl, you're preachin' to the same choir Ms. Morello is singin' in.

Earlier, Alfred says "I just don't think I have to have sex with Caitlyn Jenner 'cause ya'll said so," which the host tries to twist as being transphobic, but is really indicative of the way the "outrage police,"can take a remark made by a public figure and proceed to flog them in the online square. That isn't to say Paperboi or real-life celebrities shouldn't be criticized, but there's a difference between not wanting to sleep with an individual trans person and being transphobic. Paperboi may not hit all the right talking points, but when pressed, does express tolerance and basic respect for gay and trans people (while making the very salient point that said tolerance and basic respect should be given to him as a black man.)

That said, his free speech defense is tired. "I just want to be able to say something weird without people hating on me," Alfred says at one point. Hmmm, not so fast bruh. Freedom of speech does not protect you from the consequences of your speech, and if you exercise your right to express your opinion, in particular those categorized as "weird," don't be surprised when others exercise their freedom to read your ass for filth.

"B.A.N." then ups the ante with Montague's other guest, Antoine Smalls, a black teen who believes he's a 35-year-old white man named Harrison Booth, a name that conjures up images of him being arrested for Civil War desertion. Chile.....*sips tea with pinkies up.*

An obvious knock at the Rachael Dolezals of the world, Smalls/Harrison is saving up money for "full racial transition" surgery, while in the meantime engaging in thirty-something white dude pastimes like wearing thick leather belts and asking fictional co-workers if they caught Game of Thrones. Glover and his collaborators seem to be asking "how far does tolerance go?" How much of the benefit of the doubt should we give someone when they say "this is who I am," even if, in the case of Antoine and Dolezal, we believe who they are is fucking ridiculous?

Having been on the receiving end of more than a few frustrating conversations about the validity of my own sexuality, I try to opt for empathy instead of cynicism when, to partially quote the late great Maya Angelou, people tell me who they are. That said, gender and race, while both social constructs, are birds of a different feather. However much he may believe he is white dude, Antoine is black, due to his undeniable physical features that have been historically labeled as black (though those can obviously vary), and as such, the way others see him and perceive him and his behavior is filtered through that lens, which affect his day to day lived experience. Dolezal, or as Michael Arceneaux calls her, fake-ass Freddie Brooks, is wearing a blackness like a costume. At any point, she can straighten her hair, lay off the bronzer and reclaim her white womanhood. Gender is a much more fluid identity, is one that may also have some scientific basis, and in my opinion, can't be measured in the same way.

"B.A.N." both lampoons and gives voice to Antoine's transracial identity, with Paperboi ripping into him when he appears on Montague in a blond wig ("Bangs my nigga?!") while the host and Dr. Holt attempt to be tactful. The ultimate punchline is that Antoine is against gay marriage and finds transitioning unnatural.

Transracial folks be trippin'.

--Other Thoughts:

--Atlanta has pretty much avoided touching on police brutality, but thanks to the fake chocolate cereal commercial, that stone's been turned.

--Am I the only who wants to hear "Illuminati Sex?"

--"Questions, the universe....paternity tests?

--"B.A.N."also got in a few excellent shots talk show hosts of Franklin Montague's ilk; the most damning being when, after Dr. Holt and Paperboi agree on free speech, he starts shouting things like "You hate women!" at Alfred in a desperate attempt to spark conflict.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Altanta Season 1 Ep. 6 Recap: 'Value'

Photo: Guy D'Alema/FX
After giving much of its attention to its male leads, Atlanta's sixth episode "Value," shifts focus to Van, Earn's baby mama and sometime roommate, with delightful, poignant and at times laugh out loud results.

"Value" starts off on the right foot from the jump, opening with a woman sitting in a fancy restaurant. It's a bougie heaven of fine table cloths, mood lighting and vaguely 70's R&B-sounding background music. And in the middle of it all, swiping away at her smartphone with a slender manicured fingernail is the woman in question, Jayde, Van's best friend.

We quickly learn Jayde is a jet-setting, Instagram-photo snapping B.A.P. with a penchant for dating rich athletes and all white evening wear. The scene between the two is a fantastic slow burn, as they trade compliments and throw in sly digs couched in "I'm just sayin girl'"-style advice. In other words, it comes off like a conversation you can only have with someone you've known for eons who knows exactly how to hit you where you live.

The barbs keep comin' as Jayde tsk-tsks Van's living arrangement with Earn--along with her choice to eat Thai food with chopsticks, further solidifying her bougie cred--and invokes the episode's title, explaining she attracts big ballers and shot callers because she provides them with the value of her cultured, intelligent and beautiful presence. Nice work if you can get it, but quiet as it's kept, even the most beautiful black will eventually crack, or at least wrinkle. And as Van bluntly points out, Jayde's stock rises and falls on whether her current dude of the moment deigns to swipe a credit card on the left or right of her goddamn ass (nice "Tip Drill" reference!). Though Van may not want to live it up in Versailles a la black Marie Antoinette, the way her eyes dropped when Jayde recalled how she used to laugh at girls in her current predicament is evidence she's not exactly thrilled with the direction her life is going.

Van decides to bail after Jayde invites her latest beau Kevin and his friend C.J. to join them for dinner, but the two make peace over a blunt, and it's all love and smoke-filled Instagram shots. The decision to spark up comes back to bite Van in the ass the next day, as she gets a text from her job saying she's been selected for a random drug test. Jayde, as to be expected, is no help, and all Alfred can offer to do is try to get in touch with his clean urine connect. It's while waiting on that unicorn that Van, holding a trash bag full of her daughter's dirty diapers, comes up with the gross (yet inspired) idea to squeeze the piss out of them until she has enough for urine sample. Though initially sickened, I eventually found myself mentally shouting "Yaas! MacGyver that shit bitch!" as she cooked up the urine on the stove like a certain narcotic, then stomped through the school halls as if she were headed to do battle, in school suspension duty and Tobias Walner in whiteface be damned.

Unfortunately it's all for naught as she tries to open the condom with her teeth and gets a golden facial instead. Safety pins Van! Safety pins! Safety pins! Safety pins! Shout out to Bea Arthur. But I digress. Convinced she's about to be pink-slipped, Van admits she toked up, but, in true Atlanta form, her superior informs her the drug tests don't mean shit; the school doesn't have the resources for periodic screening and the random tests are really meant to keep everyone on their toes. Which apparently is good thing, since, according to boss lady, everyone is getting lifted to escape the realities of wrangling bad-ass kids and dealing with system designed to fail them day in and day out. Or something like that.

Either way, Van's still canned because she admitted smoking weed to a superior, but boss lady was kind enough to give her a week to get her stuff together. So it's off to supervise ISS and resist the urge to snatch a smiling, white-faced Tobias out of his seat.

Tragic comedy aside, it'll be interesting to see how this affects the dynamic of Van and Earn's relationship going forward. Up until now, Van could point to her job (and I assume her complete abstention, or least rare use of drugs) as proof she was the responsible one, the grown up to his aimless man child. And who's to say by the time next week rolls around she isn't already working somewhere else? But even if she found another job the next day, there's no way Earn's not gonna bring that up the next time she wants to rain his manager-of-a-rap-superstar parade.

--Other Thoughts:

--Even after the more comedic side "Value" kicked in with Van's search for clean urine, the show still managed to slip in some genuine emotion, like the look of disappointment on Van's face as she scrolls through Earn's phone and sees some trollop's selfie. The discovery likely stung even more than it usually would, since Earn actually did something selfless moments before, offering to take their daughter to get something to eat so she could get some extra sleep.

--Tobias' whiteface was at once WTF-worthy, hilarious and entirely of the moment, if you're up on your online consumption. If not, check this link.

--Alicia  on Tobias: "He gon' get enough."

--No Darius this week, which surprisingly, didn't hurt the episode. But you'd have to think he'd have similar taste in cartoons as Alfred and would've been munching away on Captain Crunch, sitting Indian style in front of the T.V. when Van called.

--Of course Jayde would snap a selfie of her meal in the middle of a fight with her best friend. Of course she would.

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