After a useless detour into some white Upper East Siders’ penthouse final week, we’re lastly reunited with Paper Boi on tonight’s Atlanta, as he learns about grasp recordings from a wise-cracking stranger he meets in Amsterdam and comes face to face with actor and notorious sex-crime vigilante Liam Neeson.
More than midway right into a quite disjointed season, you possibly can nonetheless really feel the writers looking for a throughline in all of the random vignettes and parodies they determined to deal with. It’s refreshing then, and possibly an excellent signal for the small the rest of the season, that “New Jazz,” written by Donald Glover and directed by Hiro Murai, is an try to recenter Alfred’s perspective as a newcomer to the music business. That’s what made Seasons 1 and a couple of—particularly 2—so wonderful and allowed the present to pull off all its narrative excursions. Throughout Robbin’ Season, we watched the up-and-coming rapper expertise the downsides of his personal commodification and be taught the distinction between fame and wealth in essentially the most humbling situations. Now that Al is doing properly financially, he’s apparently misplaced focus of how that money is being managed or the place he needs to be placing it.
He learns this lesson the arduous method from a fellow American named Lorraine, who he meets in a museum after he takes a weed cookie with Darius and begins roaming around Amsterdam. The caustic Lorraine could or might not be a hallucination, as Al doesn’t learn as excessive as he’s interacting along with her. But the ending, the place he’s actually shaking and crying and throwing up from the cookie, would recommend that his bizarre evening chasing her by the Red Light District was all a fantasy. For essentially the most half, this distinction doesn’t actually matter, as she occupies the thankless function of a sassy oracle. Other ladies have existed on this capability beforehand on Atlanta, like in season one’s “The Club” and final season’s “The Woods.” Unfortunately, “New Jazz” doesn’t present the emotional payoff of the latter.
Notably, Lorraine, performed by actress Ava Grey who you’ve in all probability seen on FX’s Pose, is a trans girl. Whether Glover units out to or not—though, one can assume he’s educated of the critiques the present has garnered based mostly on tweets and “interviews”—the episode is addressing or at least dredging up the present’s earlier comedic endeavors relating to transness that had been each praised and scrutinized in earlier seasons. Specifically, in Season 1’s critically acclaimed episode “B.A.N.,” Paper Boi is accused of being transphobic by a white feminist on a chat present due to an unsavory lyric about Caitlyn Jenner in one in all his songs. Like many a cishet Black man, Al protests that he doesn’t hate trans individuals but additionally isn’t essentially involved about their plight in dialog together with his. Glover doesn’t power Al to have a extra “inclusive,” socially-aware stance by the tip of the interview, which feels reflective of the auteur’s strategy to Atlanta.
Likewise, a lot of “New Jazz” quite boringly rests on the shock ingredient of watching this non-offensive, nonviolent change between two demographics which can be usually culturally at odds. At a number of factors, you possibly can really feel the script drawing consideration to the truth that Al, at least visibly, isn’t embarrassed or uncomfortable to be seen in public with a trans girl in a metropolis the place individuals immediately acknowledge him. Rather, he’s irritated by Lorraine as a result of she’s prepared to inform him issues nobody else will—like that his wide-brimmed hat appears to be like silly—and is a little bit of an asshole in her delivery. The undeniable fact that Glover offers him a cause to be vexed by her is a selection, one may argue. But irrespective of how a lot Lorraine prods at him, Al by no means responds with something problematic.
Overall, the vanity of the episode falls flat as a result of, as a lot as Lorraine’s presence consumes the episode, Glover doesn’t make her notably humorous or memorable in the best way most aspect characters are on this series—simply mocking. In one scene, she calls a portly white girl posing in an exhibit “white Lizzo,” after which goes on to say that Lizzo already is the white Lizzo. It’s a wealthy joke coming from a musician who principally courts white youth and didn’t obtain any play on hip-hop radio till very not too long ago, however I digress.
“It’s a wealthy joke coming from a musician who principally courts white youth and didn’t obtain any play on hip-hop radio till very not too long ago, however I digress.”
In basic, Atlanta has a tough time understanding why Black ladies are literally humorous, particularly as compared to all of the nuances and humor the writers are in a position to mine from particular archetypes of Black males. The ladies who briefly pop up on this present are usually simply obnoxious, loud and brutally trustworthy in a really generic method. Even Van, who receives a extra beneficiant portrayal than the feminine visitor actors, isn’t notably humorous until she’s giving Earn shit.
Similarly, Lorraine primarily capabilities as a wake-up name for Al that he ought to in all probability be investing his Apple Music checks within the inventory market, NFTs or no matter capitalist enterprise. “The factor about rappers is that y’all don’t have any clue the place your money is or the place it’s going,” she chides. She additionally asks him who owns his grasp recordings, which Al has by no means heard of nor does he know who owns them. At the tip of the episode, Earn assures Al, after a curious, pregnant pause, that he negotiated for possession of his masters in his recording contract. You can positively really feel Glover’s voice—a rapper who has by no means been identified to stunt—leaping out throughout these temporary memos on Black monetary literacy.
After leaving the museum, Lorraine brings Al to a hidden nightclub the place she introduces him to the bouncer as New Jazz. Lorraine ultimately disappears and leaves Al to speak to her associates, who ask in the event that they’re hooking up as a result of she continuously dates rappers, to which Al insists no. Before Al and Lorraine depart the membership, an emcee comes out onstage to current New Jazz. Lorraine abruptly seems to take him out of the membership earlier than the highlight lands on him, telling him that they might’ve allowed him to say no if he didn’t need to carry out. Whether that is some slight commentary on “woke” performativeness or the best way Black individuals are actually demanded to carry out labor, who is aware of.
Before their exit although, a reasonably forgettable episode turns into unforgettably—and unforgivably—unhealthy when Al sits down subsequent to none apart from Liam Neeson. As with the Chet Hanks visitor look final week, you understand the gag earlier than the Taken actor begins referencing “the incident.” Is this what occurs when Ryan Gosling, a notably unproblematic, vocal fan of the present, can’t do a visitor look as a result of he’s taking pictures Barbie? Are these the type of cameos we have now to accept? The dialog Neeson has with Al primarily looks like a PR favor, as he explains his actions however appears self-aware that they had been, certainly, unhealthy looking back. Al tells him that, regardless of all of it, he nonetheless “fuck[s] with Taken” and that he’s glad he doesn’t “hate all Black individuals.” Neeson responds that he really does hate all Black individuals as a result of they tried to smash his profession. When Al says that he thought he realized his lesson from the controversy, Neeson ends his cameo saying that as a result of he’s white he doesn’t have to be taught a lesson.
In the identical vein, you might say that, as a result of Atlanta is a present that’s primarily purported to be for Black audiences, we additionally don’t want these “rigorous” classes on white privilege. Maybe that is simply an elaborate method for Glover to inform Black individuals on the web to cease being much less outraged. Maybe he feels highly effective sufficient in his profession that he likes doing well-known white individuals useless favors as a result of he can. Either method, the humorless, stunning cameo doesn’t rescue a reasonably underwhelming episode. It’s good to revisit Paper Boi’s struggles navigating fame and new money, however Atlanta nonetheless feels distracted.