ATLANTA Review: “The Club”

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As it’s progressed, Donald Glover’s ATLANTA has taken special care to pare down its focus from episode-to-episode. And when I say focus, I mean that as it applies not just to tone or story, but to location and character. The four “regulars” have not all appeared in the same show for at least three episodes (this week, Zazie Beetz’s Van is absent), and each time they are supplemented only by a handful of comic or dramatic foils. Outside of a tiny diner-based coda sequence, this week’s episode, “The Club,” follows that blueprint too, taking place wholly in Primal Night Club. Primal is a fictitious Atlanta hot spot, paying Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) and the much more popular rapper Marcus Miles (no relation to Paper Boi) appearance fees to draw in the masses. Paper Boi sits around and tries, desperately, to reel in an entourage of babes (he could care less about the fan who recites his one hit, “Paper Boy,” verbatim at him). On the other hand, babes just kind of float over to Marcus Miles. It could be his pet peacock (mentioned, but sadly never shown), hard to say.
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Meanwhile, Darius (Keith Stanfield) waxes philosophical as usual, and Paper Boi’s cousin and manager Earn Marks (Glover) spends the entirety of the episode following a promoter for Primal, who has promised Paper Boi a $5,000 take for an appearance fee and is doing his darnedest to weasel out of paying any of that sum. Earn tries to intimidate him with stoicism and general, pragmatic reasoning, but it fails to really take until a kindly, buxom bartender clues him in to the promoter’s Batcave-esque club hideout digs.

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In recent weeks, I was convinced Atlanta had turned a provocative corner, becoming a weirdly watchable referendum on culture and race that was much less the comedy it was hyped to be and much more a drama. Sure, it satirized its marks, but the satire rang melancholically true, to the point where it wasn’t so much gut-busting as it was emotional gut-check-inducing. This episode marks a massive step backwards from that. Why can’t we get into Paper Boi’s music at all? What’s with all this boring ancillary stuff? Why should we care about Earn spending an entire episode mishandling a relationship with an oily promoter? Yes, their arc is interesting, but it would be even more interesting if it occupied five minutes of the show’s total run time, not the bulk of it. The dealings at the periphery of the music industry are fascinating, this kind of stuff does have a place in a show about Atlanta’s underground hip-hop music scene for sure, but I’d really like to know about Paper Boi’s music . The events he’s been attending since gaining infamy from a mysterious shooting in the show’s pilot have been one-offs: a charity basketball game, this club appearance. What exactly is Earn curating here? What is Paper Boi’s next step? He has a single and a music video and a rap sheet, so now what? Is he going to make an album? An EP? Is he going to get signed to a high-level indie hip-hop label? Is he already signed to one? And what the hell is the point of Darius in this show? As things go on, he feels less and less like an interesting addition, and more and more like a crutch — an unfunny distraction who paralyzes the action and momentum of each episode he inhabits. He’s also psychologically inscrutable — it’s hard to know what he wants or why, outside of being a hipster with a general interest in getting high and tweaking the system. Although I guess that could describe some people I know, so maybe that’s an unfair criticism to level at poor Darius, to an extent. Still though, he’s fairly inessential.

Also, while we’re here: why the heck doesn’t Earn try to talk up that gorgeous bartender a bit more? Shouldn’t collecting the club money just be a MacGuffin, a narrative red herring to drive the characters towards each other? In this show, though, simple, easily resolved goals are the end game. Episodes have their own arcs, and once those are resolved, we aren’t much closer to discovering a lot of new elements in the overall plot.

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All in all, Earn, Paper Boi and Darius have a fairly uneventful night at Primal… until an eventful moment outside it at the very end of the episode. I wonder though, if that new plot wrinkle will lead anywhere meaningful — or if, like the shooting that kicked off the series as a whole, this latest will fizzle out, and become but a memory in ensuing episodes. I don’t know what to expect anymore as we hit the home stretch for Atlanta. I thought it was going somewhere, and all of a sudden it’s stuck in the mud again. For what it was, this episode was totally fine, but for what Atlanta has been, it’s a big bummer.

TB-TV-Grade-C-

Season 1, Episode 8 (S01E08)
Atlanta airs Tuesdays at 10PM on FX

Read all of our reviews of Atlanta here.
Read our reviews of more of your favorite shows here.


Alex scribbles about movies, and basketball all across the web. He is the curator of Filmcore.
Follow Alex on Twitter:@kirschhoops
Keep up with all of Alex’s reviews here.

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1 Comment

  1. A few hours ago I went to see the woman who writes Supergirl and the guy who writes the blog over at The Blacklist here in Chicago at some kind of film fest thing. And they both advised “more writing.” So I’m writing. And after I read your piece above I guess I decided not so much to review your review, but to sort of ponder what’s it all about. I mean, your review seemed too out of whack to me. It put me on a sort of existential path.

    See I can’t really figure out what this Tracking Board blog is supposed to be. A couple of months I submitted a script to a TB contest and now every Friday they send me a list of what was on the site. And whenever I visit it’s hard to figure out the site; is it a jobs site, a contest site, a deadline/variety type site? And then there’s these weird tv reviews that don’t review a show overall, but every single episode.

    Why? I mean what’s the point? If a person wants to read about a show they’ll go to IMDB. Or they’ll just write their own piece. Shit, ten years ago when “blogs” were still novel I was writing about tv shows I liked. So what exactly are you doing? The question’s rhetorical, so don’t sweat it. I’m just trying to get a grip on the site.

    I like the show Atlanta. And I like a bunch of the articles I see on this site, but mostly they’re by this dude Neil something and Dino somebody. But after reading your review of this episode I went back and saw you’d given ALL the episodes a “neg” like some kind of pick up artist/tv critic
    b-, a-, d+, a-, b-, a-, c-

    And the one episode without the “neg” you gave a d+. Seriously dude? D? Maybe you feel like you have to “take something off” and not give it a whole grade just to show you’re generally dissatisfied. I’ll tell you quick story; when I was at Columbia, I would sometimes have to walk across the street to Barnard. And I had one of those older, stogy, British profs who was Hogwarts before Hogwarts existed. And she embodied what I would call “aloof arrogance.” So whenever I read a writer like you with the “sadly” this and the “sadly” that I just dry heave.

    So of course I had to go to twitter and see who the hell where you. Ok, basketball fan, seems to live in the city. Should be a “cool dude” the show resonates with. Or maybe you’re more of a “Legends of Chamberlain” kind of guy? Simple, crass, stereotypical view of black life. Because check out this story. People LIKED the episode

    http://www.thewrap.com/atlanta-whats-up-with-that-invisible-car/

    In fact about 24 hours after the episode aired a real incident happened that was almost comically similar. In real life.
    http://www.tmz.com/2016/10/20/meek-mill-rick-ross-2-chainz-gucci-mane-music-video-gunshots/

    My feeling is that people like the show, and that episode in particular, because it resonates. Maybe it doesn’t resonate with you. Then again, I really don’t get what you’re doing; are you a critic, just a guy giving an opinion, or what?

    It seems to me criticism falls into 2 camps. Additive and subtractive. This piece of art adds something to the discourse, or let’s take this piece of art and chip away at it and compare it to an agreed upon high bar standard. But it’s all subjective right? I mean it’s the Marvel movies popularity vs. Oscar bait. “Good” vs popular.

    I’m trying to think of how I absorb tv now. I mean in the last 24 hours I tried out two new shows. I tried Anonymous Content’s new thing Berlin Station. Last year I found some kind of show called Duetchland 83, so figured I’d give Berlin a try hoping maybe to strike gold like I did with that Broen show. Plus it had the lady from Powers/Star Trek Next Gen and that tall guy from that Charlie Kaufman movie. I found the show to be Benetton-ad-diverse but generally too intrigue-y and not enough heart. And as an Americans fan Berlin probably isn’t for me.

    Then tonight I decided to check out the Landis version of Dirk Gently. Now, as a fan of the books and the tv series from a few years ago I could quickly assess this was is a giant stray from the source. But ok, this Landis guy is supposed to be some kind of wunderkind right? Well this show is what I’d call a “shit show.” Meaning, some weird shit happens, then some more weird shit, then yes, another helping of weird shit. Plus we just saw Elijah have a sister with odd emotions in Wilfred right? So again? But, it’s got that odd Euro in America vibe like that Patrick Stewart Blunt show, so that’s something. Maybe it’ll survive (but probably not).

    So, boom. Two shows, two reviews. Simple Case closed. Should I be do an episode by episode assessment? Jeez. I wouldn’t even WANT to. But I guess in this world where somebody puts a video on Youtube, then a dozen “reaction” videos appear within half hour this is what the world has come to…

    I don’t know dude. I guess I feel you’re going in looking for weaknesses rather than strengths. Or the way I watched those 2 shows; just let them wash over me and then judged. Maybe that’s what you tried to do. But all those “negs” to me give clear evidence of some kind of predisposition of SOME kind.

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