This Atlanta review contains spoilers.
Atlanta Season 2 Episode 6
Robbin’ Season is supposed to be more grounded and yet here we are with the weirdest thing Atlanta has ever set before us as Darius gets to be the star of his own horror movie in a creepy old mansion.
It still gets away with being “grounded” because, with the first season’s dips into the surreal, it wasn’t always apparent whether these things were actually happening or not. The mysterious man who randomly appeared to make people Nutella sandwiches, for example, was never explained and may have been some kind of delusion. Hell, the entire episode “B.A.N.” never bothered to establish a real sense of place. Confining it all to a fake TV channel with fake commercials, it sort of just felt like one big thought experiment.
But the weird shit that happens to Darius in “Teddy Perkins” is, apparently, all too real, which makes for mixed results. On the one hand, any issues I had with season one stemmed from it at times losing all sense of place, going too far off the deep end with dreams or cartoon logic. On the other, what takes place in this episode, what Darius witnesses and, I guess, has to live with from now on, is so outlandish that I’m sort of just left wondering: why?
What, really, was this episode trying to prove with such an insane series of events? What’s the point or lesson? I mostly came away with the feeling that there wasn’t much of one, that “Teddy Perkins” is just weird for the sake of being weird and while it accomplishes that well enough, it certainly didn’t resonate with me anything like the previous two episodes did by being more straightforward and, respectively, tragic and hilarious.
The problem is that “Teddy Perkins” seems to constantly teeter between genuine horror and horror parody. It’s deliberate, I suppose, because even Darius doesn’t take it seriously when, late in the episode, Teddy’s brother Benny warns him that Teddy is going to kill them both.
Part of why the tone remains in this confused middle zone throughout is that the character of Teddy Perkins himself is in-between creepy and absurd. I didn’t realize it while watching, but everyone online seems fairly certain Teddy is played by Donald Glover (the credits unhelpfully claim Teddy played himself). Now that the internet has mentioned it, I see it. I had to be reminded that, though he’s low-key on Atlanta, Glover got here through more cartoonish, comedic acting roles and sketch comedy. Teddy is over the top and simply never feels quite like a real person. I can buy his weird, constructed whiteface appearance being the product of many a plastic surgery, but it’s his high-pitched voice that always makes it so you can’t take him entirely seriously, even when he’s pointing a rifle at Darius.
Again, he isn’t not supposed to be funny. But his presence makes for an odd episode that uses horror movie tropes, but seems to be winking about it the whole time, to the point that when it all culminates in an explosion of violence, my reaction was less shock and more, “Wait, really?”
Though I was never all that scared, some of the creepiness works okay. David Lynch has demonstrated that goofy and creepy can absolutely exist together and at times just watching Teddy’s weird face as he speaks in his singsong manner is enough to make your skin crawl a bit. The creepy old elevator that takes Darius to the basement against his wishes is a nice touch as well. And the old, dusty mansion is well-shot and certainly looks the part.
If “Teddy Perkins” doesn’t exactly pass for horror, at least a lot of the jokes are funny. When Teddy says he believes rap never grew out of his adolescence, Darius defends it by replying, “Jay-Z’s like sixty-five.” At one point Teddy lists all the famous fathers he respects, all of whom are abusive and overbearing: “My father, Joe Jackson, Marvin Gaye Sr., Tiger Woods’ father, Serena Williams’ father, the father that drops off Emilio Estevez in the Breakfast Club.” And I love it when we check in with what the other guys are doing and Al is ordering fast food. The drive-thru guy, recognizing Paper Boi, goes “I put some extra fries in there.” “Take ‘em out,” replies Al.” “Just don’t eat ‘em, damn!”
The bottom line is “Teddy Perkins” is odd as hell. It’s especially weird that it was this episode that got the special treatment of being longer than any other Atlanta episode thus far and presented without commercial break. It definitely felt filmic, but to what end, I’m unsure. Maybe I’m looking for too much here. Maybe all they were going for was a sort-of creepy, sort-of funny Darius side-story horro movie and it’s not any deeper than that. Fair enough; it was a little creepy and a bunch of it was funny. I just also feel kind of like I, uh, don’t get it.