Let me start by saying Atlanta should win everything. Every category it’s nominated in and even the ones it is not. It should also get a Pulitzer, a Nobel, the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the Oscar for Best Animated Film. You might be smiling, but I’m not. Atlanta is not only the best show on television, it is the best everything. Pick a category, a subject, whatever. Atlanta is beyond the alternatives.
Sure, what I said could be described as hyperbole. But you tell me, when you sat down and watched the “Teddy Perkins” episode, could you think of anything better in the history of ever?
What show is even willing to take such a risk? The sixth episode of Atlanta’s second season (which was somehow superior to the first), was an astonishing mixture of discomfiting humor, social commentary, celebrity isolation, and horror. It mixed these elements so well that I could imagine Jordan Peele sitting on his couch thinking “That Glover took my moves. All my moves.” And yet somehow made them his own.
Playing the episode’s title character under so much makeup as to be rendered unrecognizable, Glover gives a deeply disturbing performance. At first, the eccentric nature of the man offering Darius (the criminally unnominated, Lakeith Stanfield) a free piano seems mostly eccentric. Sure, he’s bizarre, but as odd as he is, he does not immediately come off as dangerous.
Over the next 41 minutes, the tension ratchets up as Teddy engages Darius in increasingly weird conversation. Showing him his awards and keepsakes from a career as a former hitmaker who has now disappeared down a rabbit hole of madness, self-loathing, and personal mutilation. It’s hard to watch at times. Perhaps even harder if you fancy yourself a Michael Jackson fan. The MJ echoes abound. From the high fragile voice Glover employs, to the obviously modified complexion Teddy bears. It is beyond creepy.
And that’s before I get to the wordless border whom Teddy refers to as his brother, but Darius wonders if the wheelchair bound ‘Benny’ is actually an alter-ego Teddy employs as some sort of coping mechanism. In terrifying fashion, he soon finds out they are indeed two different people. A conclusion that leads to a murder/suicide and the narrow survival of Darius.
It’s hard to encapsulate all the themes at play here and do them justice. The one I latched onto the strongest was the idea that the trappings of fame become just that, a trap. The remarkable thing is never at any point do you lose empathy for Teddy. Not even when he is threatening Darius’ life. He is so sad. So terribly lonely. So desperate for any human companionship that when his psychic break takes full bloom, you are almost as terrified for him as you are for what might become of Darius.
Teddy Perkins was Hiro Murai’s eleventh directorial credit on Atlanta. He is a regular collaborator with Glover, having directed five Childish Gambino videos. Including the titanic “This Is America.” His ability to balance shifting tones, develop a slow winding sense of dread, and his exquisite shooting of interiors mark him as a tremendous talent. I can’t imagine it will be long before he takes his gifts to the large screen. “Teddy Perkins” is the best episode of television I have seen not only this year, but in many a year.
Atlanta scored 16 Emmy nominations this year. The major categories are well covered. Best Comedy. Best Lead Actor – Donald Glover. Best Supporting Actor – Brian Tyree Henry. Best Supporting Actress -Zaezie Beetz. Guest Actor – Katt Williams. It’s even up against itself in two categories. For writing, Donald Glover is nominated for “Alligator Man” along with Stefani Robinson for “Barbershop.” Glover is also nominated for his direction of “FUBU.” As much as I hate to root against Glover in any category – Atlanta is his vision, after all – I will be pulling for Hiro Murai in the directing category.
“Teddy Perkins” is a singular achievement from a show full of them. Hell, the show itself, it’s very existence is a singular achievement. There has never been anything like Atlanta on television. Every week it breaks ground in representation, form, storytelling, and creativity. It is the most exciting show on television. And it’s not even all that close.
Still, among its pearls, “Teddy Perkins” shines brightest. Watching that episode, a thought came to mind. One of which I’ve had on very few other occasions. It passed through my head while watching Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. Fincher’s Fight Club. Malick’s Tree of Life.
“Anything is possible,” I thought while watching “Teddy Perkins.”