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Review: Atlanta, "The Streisand Effect"

Photo from YouTube trailer. 

The fourth episode of Donald Glover and FX’s smash hit, Atlanta, aptly entitled “The Streisand Effect,” weaves together an incredibly relatable, funny and thoughtful story in just over 20 minutes. While the show walks a fine line between comedy and drama, as many of the best shows now do, opting for the traditional runtime of a comedy, this episode conveys exactly why the show’s balance of comedy and drama works so well together in a shorter format.

The episode revolves around the aftermath of a hyper realistic version of a particularly annoying blogger, Zan (Freddie Kuguru), and his post-concert interaction with the rapper Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry). Zan, whose goal is to film every party, celebrity encounter and human interaction so that he can send it out to his fans, is let down by Paper Boi and Earn (Donald Glover), who have no desire to engage with the over-the-top internet personality. 

Anyone who has been to a concert knows there are always fans and bloggers whipping their phones out to get a remark or capture a moment with the performer. The fervor that Zan has while trying to talk with Paper Boi is one that any rapper can say they have dealt with, and been frustrated by. The sweat that Paper Boi wipes from his brow after performing is a small moment that perfectly illustrates that the show is in touch with the material that it covers, and that it cares about authenticity. 

Glover, who wrote this week’s episode, clearly has a knack for witty names. Like his character Earn, who struggles through the episode trying to get money so that he can have dinner, Zan’s name is a play on the drug Xanax, which sedates users who may be suffering from anxiety or stress. Zan is unable to turn off his blogger persona, energy and lust for attention to the point where he even brings a child along to his job as a delivery boy in hopes that a Vine-worthy moment will happen. Zan’s character serves an acute purpose, not only does he hold a mirror up to society, but the show both captures his personality in a way that is able to accurately depict a real part of internet culture, while making him just funny (and annoying) enough that it makes sense for the episode to be 22 minutes.

“The Streisand Effect” provides yet another brutally honest look at the less glamorous side of hip-hop and the often parasitic culture that surrounds it. Zan and Paper Boi have a conversation in the car, essentially about the Streisand effect, and how Paper Boi is “making the best out of a bad situation” by rapping about his life as a drug dealer in the poor neighborhoods of Atlanta. Although it may come off as silly because of who is saying it, Zan’s point about how Paper Boi exploiting his situation for money is no different than Zan exploiting Paper Boi’s own exploitation of his circumstances, is a provocative and thought provoking reminder that everyone is simply benefiting from someone else’s life, one way or another.

The show, which is routinely well shot and pretty, offers clever artistic moments such as when a bright lense flare from the sun centers on Earn, who in a fit of rage about his lack of money, lashes out at the worldly Darius (Keith Stanfield). Although Darius and Earn serve largely as a “B plot” in this episode, Darius’ offering of his cell phone for Earn to sell is a poignant and heartfelt moment. Darius adds that he gets a new phone frequently in order to avoid being tracked by the government, which helps to soften Earn’s plight. 

What this show understands, almost more than any other, is how to make its characters human. Yes, every drama tries to make their characters believable, but few are able to walk the line between real depictions of everyday life, and the absurdity that surrounds us.

Earn’s inability to, well earn, money is not what makes his character sympathetic or likeable. The reason why Earn is such an enjoyable piece of the show is that he is willing to trust his friend who says that he can turn a samurai sword he bought from a pawn shop into serious profit. While he is naturally skeptical, he’s so incredibly desperate that he is willing to forsake a financially sound life for his family and give up his phone so that he can buy them dinner. 

This episode painted a picture of one particular aspect of modern culture, albeit a much loathed one, but the episode’s focus was not so narrow that it felt like a box for covering this aspect of hip hop culture was being covered. The episode never focuses too much on any one facet of the plot or the episode, rather it provides a deeply enjoyable and smart look what it’s like to be struggling in Atlanta. Glover and his team keep setting, and knocking down, the high bar that they set for themselves to reach week after week.

Grade: A-

Atlanta is on Tuesdays this Fall at 10pm (ET).

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