This Atlanta review contains spoilers.
Atlanta: Season 2, Episode 5
Atlanta knows a thing or two about varying its tone. Last week’s “Helen,” which detailed the dissolution of Van and Earn’s relationship, was as tragic and sad as the show has been in a while. Yeah, it also had a guy in a demon goat suit, but it still laid the drama on real thick.
Robbin’ Season knows it can’t stay in the darkness all the time though and “Barbershop” serves as one big counterpoint to the episode that came before it. “Helen” was all Earn, no Alfred and “Barbershop” is all Alfred, no Earn. “Helen” was the saddest episode of the season so far; “Barbershop” is far and away the goofiest.
What both episodes share is they drop the characters into situations largely out of their control. Here, the course of Al’s day is taken over completely by his barber, Bibby. Bibby is a caricature of a person: a flakey con man who’s constantly lying to people on his Bluetooth headset that he’s “on his way,” roping Al into his schemes as he speeds all over the city.
It makes for a ridiculous, cartoonish episode, but it works because Bibby’s extreme personality is established from moment one, foreshadowing the ride that Al will be taken on. Also, Bibby still feels real enough, like an encapsulation of all the most frustrating people in your life (personally, he gave me flashbacks to dealers and friends of dealers who turned scoring weed into a multi-day event).
Bibby is masterfully played by comedian Robert S. Powell III. The episode rides on his shoulders and luckily he’s incredible and believable as a larger-than-life, always-on, pain in the ass. He’s annoying as hell but also a joy to watch because of the nonsense excuses constantly tumbling out of his mouth, like when, to placate his girl, he pins his tardiness on Al, inventing a story about him having car problems, specifically a “queef engine” and that his “carburetor had jaundice.”
One of the funnier aspects that Atlanta has turned all the way up this season is Alfred’s suffering. The irony is, though his music is more popular than ever, Al never gets any chance to be Paper Boi. The intimidating gangsta rapper who shot a guy last season is nowhere to be found here. This is just Alfred, a decent dude trying to get by and continually getting fucked over.
Earn’s failed a lot this season too, but the stuff that befalls Al is always more outlandish and comes in wave after wave. The Atlanta crew must have realized that Brian Tyree Henry is absolutely perfect at this kind of character. As Paper Boi he tries to come off like he’s hard, but in the end he always seems like a nice guy who—despite being instantly exhausted with all of it—puts up with a lot of shit.
In that scene of Bibby using Al as a scapegoat for his lateness, he points at him and says, “It’s his fault!” Al instantly just goes along with it, nodding lethargically with his hand over his face. I laughed so hard at this because of how well Henry played it—a poor, put-upon sucker who’s already accepted his fate.
Al doesn’t even get respect for being Paper Boi anymore. Bibby’s son insults his half-finished haircut (“You’re out here looking like a Super Saiyan”), but then still manages to mention that he has a mixtape and then the running gag line of the season comes out again: “Put me on.”
Unlike last week, I can’t say there’s any deep dramatic themes running through “Barbershop” (very little of which takes place in a barbershop). This is just an escalating comedy of errors, but it’s a hilarious one that made me laugh out loud numerous times. The dynamic of Bibby, the most annoying son of a bitch ever, and Alfred, the Charlie Brown of Atlanta, had to be a damn solid one for a whole episode to be based around it. Happily, it more than delivers.