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Atlanta Recap: “Sportin’ Waves”

“I’ll double it for you”

Much like the first episode of this season – subtitled “Robbin’ Season” – “Sportin’ Waves” begins with a robbery. Unlike the first episode, however – which featured a tense shootout in the kitchen of a fast food restaurant – this season’s second episode opens with one of the most casual robberies in the history of television – no, that’s not just hyperbole. Al is robbed at gunpoint by his weed plug, who’s extremely apologetic, but nonetheless committed to taking money from Al, since he believes he’s making a bunch of money from his music career.  The scene is funny and novel, but it’s also incredibly sad and speaks to the kind of desperation at the heart of this series these characters experience on a daily basis. Al’s face, once he notices the gun pressed up against his chest, says it all: he might be upset, but he isn’t surprised.

We catch up with Al and Ern as they enter the offices of Fresh, a music streaming platform, for a meeting. The somewhat self-contained, loosely tied-together scenes that make up the Fresh vignette attack the commoditization of black culture in the modern music scene with a sharpness and wit that shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the series.

From the 35-year-old white executive who goes by “35 Savage,” to the young rapper performing on top of a boardroom table in a room encased in glass, to the young audio engineer who asks Al to record another take that’s “cool,” this scene brilliantly deconstructs the kind of expectations and behavior black artists are subjected to by the music industry – and considering series creator Donald Glover’s first-hand experience as Childish Gambino, this segment is all the more poignant.

The episode then branches into two plots: Darius and Al head off to meet with potential new weed plugs, while Tracy and Ern head to the mall as Tracy preps for a job interview.

Al can’t catch a break in this week’s episode. When they meet up with a potential weed supplier, the guy admits he’s a Paper Boi fan, not-so-subtlely snapping a photo of Al and Darius admiring his product. When questioned about it, he denies it but promptly posts the picture to Instagram for all to see.

They then meet up with your typical neo-hippy white weed dealer who maybe gets a little too comfortable with Darius and Al. The meeting goes relatively well, and Al reluctantly gives him his phone number. He soon after sends Al a video of his cousin performing an acoustic rendition of “Paperboi” by Paperboi – brilliantly calling out the erasure of black artists in the YouTube sphere of acoustic covers. No, seriously – it’s an incredibly popular subgenre.

As if that weren’t enough to drive Al crazy, the weed dealer then adds his cousin and Al to a group chat, and the notifications come flooding in. Al can’t handle even a moment more and tosses his phone out his car window.

Meanwhile, Ern gets Tracy to double the money he earned via Darius’ dog breeding scheme from season 1. Okay, it’s in the form of a mall gift-card, but it’s still double the money, right? Well, not for long – just as Ern begins his shopping spree, he gets a text from Tracy saying the mall is onto him and the card won’t last much longer. We then catch up with Ern in the parking lot, struggling to hold onto the many bags of goodies he’s scrambled to grab before the card became useless, but Tracy and his car are nowhere to be found. Tracy’s off to his interview, leaving Ern to figure out his own way home.

Tracy shows up at the interview and we finally get a peek at the “miraculous waves” he’d been teasing throughout the episode. He arrives at the interview confident, well spoken, and eager to please, but is told that the company is fully staffed. Tracy leaves in a fit of rage, calling the businessman across from his racist as he storms off. Tracy is a character unlike any other on TV at the moment – he’s charismatic, street smart, but completely self-involved. He steals with ease and pride, but can you really blame him? Fresh out of prison, he can’t find steady work, and his desperation comes out in the form of anger and self-reliance. This season is showing us the systematic realities that make “Robbin’ Season” possible.

Yet again, Atlanta delivers an incredibly tight yet dense half-hour of television. So far, the season has demonstrated a sharpness in its cultural commentary that surpasses the previous season in many ways. No, this wasn’t the most laugh-out-loud funniest episode the series has had to offer, but in terms of demonstrating and deconstructing the experience of black artists in the modern music scene, does it get any more real than the Yoo-hoo commercial?

Takeaways:

  • Where’s Van!!! We’re two episodes into season 2 and we still haven’t seen Zazie Beetz. Hopefully, this is setting us up for an over-abundance at the tail end of the season.
  • The “Make it Cool” scene between Al and the audio engineer at Fresh might have been a subtle reference to the “Give it some Stank” scene from Chris Rock’s 2014 film “Top 5.”
  • We’re with Ern on this one: sure the Yoo-hoo ad is corny and indicative of the commoditization of black music, but it’s really, really catchy – and that’s the point.

 

If you haven’t yet checked out this groundbreaking show… what are you waiting for. Need more convincing? Check out our list of the Top 5 Reasons You Should Be Watching Atlanta.

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