Last week, for the premiere of Atlanta – Robbin’ Season, I noted that Brian Tyree Henry’s Alfred is my favorite character on the show. Despite a lack of similar qualities (I’m neither a rapper nor drug dealer); perhaps it has to do with just how relatable his frustrations are. I see a lot of myself in Donald Glover’s Earn as well, as I’m more willing to put an optimistic face on various situations, but the absurdities of this show often place Alfred in near-Kafkaesque situations that allow his brilliant facial reactions to do so much of the work. “Sportin’ Waves” puts Alfred at the forefront of the episode’s first half, and it’s a good way to both catch up with the man and continue to understand just how far the themes of Robbin’ Season will go.
While “Alligator Man” went with an unconnected group of characters to highlight the nature of what kind of thieving environment Atlanta is currently in on this show, “Sportin’ Waves” turns the tables on Alfred. Of course, this being Atlanta, it’s not just that Alfred got robbed, it’s that he’s involved in the most polite armed robbery possible for him and it’s performed by the guy he’d bought drugs from for the last ten years. All of the awkwardness of the situation can be summed up with Alfred trying to exit the car he’s just been robbed in, only to have to deal with the child locks preventing his exit. It’s a sad situation, but we’re now privy to some new information.
If last season was focused on Earn doing what he could to help Alfred climb a bit higher as an up-and-coming rapper, Robbin’ Season is showing just how tall the mountain is. Alfred has not really made it. He’s struggling to put out new material, and most of his income is coming from drug dealing, as opposed to the rap career that supposedly got a boost from Alfred being under house arrest for a small period. This lack of understanding outside his core group also means he can get accosted either by those robbing him or fans wanting to Instagram him.
As I’ve said though, Alfred’s real dilemma seems to be putting up with frustrations; specifically, ones that have him balancing his attitude towards a world that can help him, but is mostly alien to him. When he and Earn attend a meeting at the headquarters of some streaming service full of primarily white tech employees, it takes everything for Alfred to hold it together. Armed with a CD and a possibly corrupted online link to some Paper Boi tracks, Earn can only do so much to get things going with the white executive nicknamed 35 Savage (soon to be 36 Savage). Recording some ad spots leads to more nervous interactions with a white mixing editor that doesn’t know how to explain what he’s trying to get. And an actual performance in front of a bored-looking crowd of desk workers finally leads to Alfred storming out of the offices.
There are people of color in the offices of this company, but the blackness of the cast is continually vital throughout this episode (and the series as a whole). Alfred does have a brief meeting with fellow up-and-coming rapper Clarke County, who immediately points out how nice it is to have another brother up in there. This, in turn, puts a focus back on Earn, who is still regarded as Alfred’s cousin first, manager second. Clarke County seems to be riding onto to higher success thanks to a white manager who went to school with Earn, and he can speak the language of this streaming service company that wants to be hip.
As the episode continues, the racial component continues to affect Earn and Tracy, Alfred and Darius’ temporary housemate. Knowing that Earn has had more experience with white people thanks to his time in Princeton (among other things including having a sort of look about him), Tracy wants to know the secrets to talking with other white people for the sake of a job interview. By the end of the episode, we know Tracy may not be of the greatest moral character, but the situation he’s placed in causes immediate expulsion, which he does not take well.
Earlier in the day, Earn makes his own poor choices, which is less reflective of black culture and more on his naivety and lack of perspective over the people he hangs around with. After coming into $4,000, Earn decides to hand it over to Tracy (a recently released prisoner, no less) because he’s told he can double it through use of a mall gift card. Upon use, and after Tracy has already left Earn behind in a store for the sake of stealing some sneakers, knowing how the story has a “no-chase policy,” it is then revealed that $8,000 would need to be spent in ten minutes or he’ll get caught.
We’re only two episodes into Robbin’ Season, but seeing how thievery is taking place in various forms, I want to hope Earn and Alfred (and I guess Darius too, but he operates in his own universe most of the time), can find a way to forge ahead, without being taken for all they got. “Sportin’ Waves” is a good sign of how Atlanta will do good to show all aspects of getting robbed, so let’s see if Paper Boi can get into less trouble during these crime-ridden months.
- “I would take you home, but…” – Seriously, that polite robbery was a goldmine of comedy moments.
- Earn being watched by the entire office is the sort of visual touch that makes this show such a sublime viewing experience.
- “Oh my god, people love dogs.” – Earn was very happy to get that $4,000. Too bad.
- Tracy mocking the employee for his good customer service, while preparing to rob the story was a nice and bold bit of business.
- I actually didn’t mind the acoustic cover of “Paper Boi” (and the Yoohoo song wasn’t bad either).
- “Fully staffed” – Bad move.