TV Review: Atlanta, 3×8, “New Jazz”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews season three, episode seven of Atlanta, "Trini 2 De Bone," in which a family deals with the death of their nanny.

There’s so much that makes Atlanta a compelling television series. A big part of that comes from how it sways in different directions, as seen in last week’s episode, “Trini 2 De Bone,” only to place us right back in the main characters’ shoes and still feel like it’s working around similar ideas. Key to “New Jazz” is the way this show addresses whiteness. That’s been all over this season, sometimes in dialogue exchanges, other times as a full-on takeover of an episode such as, once again, last week’s ep. Here, Alfred goes on a special, drug-assisted journey that could be having him dig into to explore how he connects to whiteness and what makes him stand out.

It’s quite the idea that is not new for this character. The more Atlanta has gone along, the more it’s revealed how essential Paper Boi is to this overall story, even more so than Earn. Yes, the first season seems to arguably be relying on Earn as a gateway character into this world, but much like last season’s “Woods,” providing the audience with adventures based around how Al conducts himself in various situations feels like the show at its most satisfying as far as overall plotting goes.

“New Jazz” has a straightforward outline, which can only mean it will be injected with a lot of life and interesting ways to change up how are protagonist is feeling in a given moment. Darius knows a unique way to get high in Amsterdam and brings Al along to experience this with him (and pay for it). Earn wants nothing to do with this and even sets himself aside by avoiding what they’re doing for “insurance purposes.”

Once Darius and Al acquire the “Nepalese Space Cape,” the journey commences. Director Hiro Murai is so good at putting this show together at this point that it’s no surprise to see so much confidence in how he’s assembled an episode that needs to show off Amsterdam, find a unique way to approach a drug trip, and make it all feel uniquely from Alfred’s perspective. Wisely, there’s no push to overemphasize wild camera and zoom moves to show off what drugs can feel like on TV. Instead, we watch Al zone out a bit and then finds himself trapped in a different kind of journey.

In an attempt to stay away from people recognizing him, Al hides out in what turns out to be an art museum of some kind. It features performance art (a lady crying in the center of a room, whom Al mistakenly tries to help), paintings, live artists, and more. The other key feature is a loud woman who immediately digs into Al. This is Lorraine (Ava Grey, making the most out of many biting lines). While she may not know Paper Boi, she’s seen rappers on a high in their career plenty of times.

I will not get into where this goes, but there’s an effort by Lorraine to constantly size up Al and let him have it. “It” refers to the effort to be somebody while not being somebody. Al knows there’s something to what he’s being told, but why? He’s clearly found success, but how is it coming across. We’ve already seen him deal with living in Atlanta. There are also his attempts to mingle with the high life in London and be a voice for his community (prompted by Earn – “Reinvest in your hood!”). So what’s the problem?

Side note: Al starts off this episode with a purple hat. It’s a nice hat (I think), making him stand out. And yet, Al also wants to remain anonymous when out in the wild. Think back to the character at the beginning of “Three Slaps,” who addressed whiteness. “People just become white,” he stated. While the ambiguous nature of that season opener can be thought of in many ways, here we are with a character who has been struggling since the loss of his phone (to Socks, who’s still not back in this episode). This has at least partially resulted in Al being adrift.

Going on a drug-induced odyssey gives him time to consider where he is in his life and career. It also means taking the words from Lorraine more seriously than what his forced body language is trying to deny. Is he telling himself the truth and doing what’s best for him? Is Earn helping with that? By the end of this episode, while Al may have more self-discovery to do, I’d like to think there’s hopefulness in mind.

I’ve noted the lack of a clear narrative trajectory for this European tour season, but I’d be hard-pressed not to think it will have to resolve with Al reckoning with the loss of his phone and how he chooses to be as a successful rapper. With that said, his continued antics yield plenty of entertainment. Even with a touch of horror inserted near the end, this is one drug trip that lands without too much tripping.

Bonus Tracks:

  • There’s a major cameo in this episode that I don’t want to detail here, but I will say it’s utterly fantastic, well-written, and such a fine way to bring closure to something that had many people scratching their heads a bit.
  • “I’ll just let fate take care of it.” – Darius is barely trying to hide how much he’s just taking from being along for the ride. But I’ll never not feel like his motivations aren’t genuine.
  • “Who owns your masters.” – A layered statement if there ever was one.
  • A White Hennessey, neat = Chris Evans
  • The reveal of the club Al goes to is another nice touch.
  • Another couple of reveals toward the end hit harder than expected, and I imagine even more when I rewatch this episode. One particular bit at the very end got me.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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