Mon. May 23rd, 2022

In a sense, the story at the core of “Atlanta” is the same as it ever was, following the misadventures of Earn (Donald Glover) as he manages the burgeoning rap career of his cousin Alfred aka “Paper Boi” (Brian Tyree Henry) and juggles a tumultuous on-again off-again relationship with Van (Zazie Beetz), with whom he shares a child. The human puzzle box known as Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) also continues to be along for the ride, inexplicable and fascinating as ever. However, it is not until the second episode of the new season, “Sinterklaas is Coming to Town,” that we actually reconnect with the whole crew—abroad in the Netherlands, as part of Paper Boi’s European tour. Season three boldly begins with a bottle episode, “Three Slaps,” a fever dream that only links back to the main continuity and any familiar faces in its closing minutes.

Many shows try to break rules, but few do so as gracefully as “Atlanta.” It is episodic to an extent rarely seen outside of a sitcom, although it never adheres to the strict plot rules that identify sitcoms. The series has already established its disinterest in maintaining a tight continuity—most notably, in 90s flashback episode “FUBU,” which featured an entirely different cast and centers teenaged Earn and Alfred—and an interest in breaking with its own format with installments like “B.A.N.,” an episode of a fictional local talk show featuring Alfred as a guest, complete with fake commercials.

However, opening such a highly anticipated season with such a massive swerve still feels like raising things to a new level. The premiere’s description itself snarks, “I mean, I like this episode about the troubled kid but we waited 50 years for this?” Penned by Stephen Glover (Donald’s brother and frequent collaborator), “Three Slaps” feels at once sociopolitical commentary and self-skewering satire, taking the dream logic that is one of the few constants of “Atlanta” to its logical extreme. After a cold open featuring two men on a fishing boat satirizing the post-“Get Out” rise of utilizing horror to explore racism, the bulk of the episode follows the perilous misadventures of Loquareeous (Christopher Farrar), a precocious elementary schooler who gets sent to the principal for dancing on a desk, a minor infraction that snowballs into him ending up in the clutches of two wicked white lesbian foster mothers, whose house of horrors feels like six salacious half-remembered news stories blended together and brought to a boil. As is typical for “Atlanta,” surreal twists and turns are consistently grounded by a brilliant use of detail: foster-mom’s version of “healthy” “fried chicken” is a drumstick dipped in a bag of flour and then microwaved until sufficiently rubbery; the way a white guy with obvious “listens to NPR” vibes approaches Loquareeous, forced to wear a “Free Hugs” sandwich board to advertise his captors’ kombucha stand at the farmer’s market, and earnestly asks, “is Hugs your father?” Perhaps feeling that horror tropes for social commentary have gotten a bit too popular, “Three Slaps” leans specifically in the direction of a nightmarish fairytale, a morality tale of a child who learns a hard lesson.

By admin