This Atlanta review contains spoilers.
Atlanta Season 2 Episode 2
Like the premiere, the second episode of Robbin’ Season starts out, as well it might, with someone getting robbed, but this time we’re acquainted with the victim, as Alfred gets stuck up by his dealer of ten years. It’s a hilariously awkward and polite hold-up. The dealer apologizes all the while, even driving alongside Al after he’s out of the car to continue apologizing. The tone of this opening sets the stage for the rest of “Sportin’ Waves,” in which tragic (though not terribly devastating) things befall our protagonists, all presented as bitterly funny.
The following scene is easily my favorite of the episode. Atlanta has always displayed an acute awareness of how technology and the internet have drastically altered, well, everything and this scene, with Al and Earn in the office space of a Spotify-type company, is painfully current. I can say from experience that a huge aspect of the modern office job is employees struggling with the technological systems now integrated into the fundamental operation of their company. The sequence of the not-Spotify guys trying to get Paper Boi’s new music off Earn’s phone is comically drawn-out and every bit of it feels authentic.
It’s also a springboard to another theme of this episode (and Atlanta in general): the agonizing awkwardness of these characters having to at times fold themselves into a white world. The divide between Al and Earn and this company is apparent the moment Earn pulls out a burned CD with new Paper Boi music on it and is told there isn’t even a disc drive on the premises. Al having to record bumps for the company’s app is also hilarious (“Do one that’s cool, just, like… cool.” “This time like you’re at a party and everything’s crazy.”)
We meet another rapper, Clark County (RJ Walker) who’s like the anti-Paper-Boi. He’s got the whole selling out thing down and is very comfortable hanging around the not-Spotify offices. Some of this is down to his very different personality, perhaps, but it’s also implied that it’s do with him having a white agent. Him and his agent’s friendly and relaxed interaction with the CEO are a stark contrast from Earn’s burned CD snafu.
Later, we follow Al and Darius trying to land a new dealer. The themes of fame and technology—in this case, social media—continue to pop up as they drop the first drug dealer for posting clandestine selfies of himself with Paper Boi surrounded by jars of pot on Instagram. The next dealer also falls through; he’s a white guy with no texting social graces as, right after meeting Al, he adds him to a group chat with his girlfriend. He also sends Al a video of her doing an acoustic rap cover of his hit single. Covers like these are all over YouTube; again, it’s just impressive to me how realistically Atlanta does internet culture.
Earn goes to the mall with Tracy (Khris Davis), who is unceremoniously just a new lead character in the show now (the abruptness of this is kind of funny, though also weird). Tracy seems to be the new comic relief, though in a very different way from Darius (I did love his line about Bojack Horseman: “Can I even feel bad for this horse anymore?”). I’m okay with the plot of Tracy and Earn trying to pull a gift card scheme to double Earn’s windfall; I just found the other plots funnier and more engaging. (Also, to be honest, the gift card scheme lost me; I don’t really get how it works.)
It is worth noting though that Earn got the initial cash through a scheme all the way back in episode four of the first season in which Darius took him on an odd adventure through the countryside, ending with them dropping off a dog with a dog breeder, who only agreed to pay once the puppies were born. That we’re seeing the fruits of this adventure is not at all spelled out and, honestly, I literally just figured it out while writing the previous paragraph. I first thought Earn and Darius had some puppy ploy we never saw during the offseason.
But now that I understand this, it’s quite brilliant. Not only is it an impressive and unexpected payoff long in the making, it also demonstrates the difference between the first season and Robbin’ Season and between Darius and Tracy. Darius’ crazy scheme actually paid off like he said it would, but Tracy is not Darius and things are more tragic in general now. Earn loses money through Tracy’s gift card thing and it’s probably gone for good (“Good luck getting that money back,” Al says).
Tracy’s story works as a good thematic capper to the episode as he goes for a job interview at what seems to be a mostly white company where he immediately doesn’t fit in, despite working very hard to get “miraculous waves” in his hair. Everything comes full circle as we close out with the guys watching TV at the end and seeing a commercial for Yoo-hoo starring none other than Clark County.
“Sportin’ Waves” is a thematically sound and funny episode through and through. It’s well-written, rounded and hits many of Atlanta’s major themes again and again. Frankly, I can tell it’s a great episode simply because this review is too long. There was too much good stuff to touch on.