Liam Neeson visits ‘Atlanta’ to poke fun at his racism controversy

AAfter a useless detour in the Upper East Siders’ white penthouse last weekwe are finally reunited with Paper Boi tonight Atlantaas he discovers the master recordings of a wise stranger he meets in Amsterdam and comes face to face with the actor and infamous sex crime vigilante Liam Neeson.

More than halfway through a rather rambling season, you can still feel the writers looking for a guideline in all the random vignettes and parodies they decided to tackle. So it’s refreshing, and perhaps a good sign for the little rest of the season, that “New Jazz”, written by Donald Glover and directed by Hiro Murai, is an attempt to refocus Alfred’s perspective as a newcomer to the music industry. It’s what made Seasons 1 and 2, especially Season 2, so great and allowed the show to pull off all of its narrative excursions. All along Heist Season, we’ve seen the up-and-coming rapper uncover the downsides of his own commodification and learn the difference between fame and riches in the most humiliating scenarios. Now that Al is doing well financially, he has apparently lost focus on how that money is being managed or where he should be putting it.

He learns this lesson the hard way from a fellow American named Lorraine, whom he meets in a museum after having a weed cookie with Darius and begins to wander Amsterdam. The caustic Lorraine may or may not be a hallucination, as Al doesn’t read as high as he interacts with her. But the ending, where he’s literally shaking, crying, and throwing up from the cookie, would suggest his weird night chasing her through the red light district was just a fantasy. For most, that distinction doesn’t really matter, as she takes on the thankless role of a sassy oracle. Other women have existed in this capacity before Atlanta, as in “The Club” from season 1 and “The Woods” from last season. Unfortunately, “New Jazz” doesn’t offer the latter’s emotional payoff.

Notably, Lorraine, played by actress Ava Gray who you’ve probably seen on FX Laid, is a trans woman. Whether Glover undertakes or not, although it can be assumed that he knows the criticism the series has garnered based on tweets and “talks”– the episode touches on or at least lists the show’s previous comedic efforts regarding transited that have been both praised and scrutinized in previous seasons. Specifically, in the critically acclaimed Season 1 episode “BAN.“Paper Boi is accused of being transphobic by a white feminist on a talk show because of an unsavory lyric about Caitlyn Jenner in one of her songs. Like many cishet black men, Al protests that he doesn’t hate trans people but isn’t necessarily concerned about their fate in a conversation with his. the interview, which reflects the author’s approach to Atlanta.

Likewise, much of “New Jazz” relies rather boringly on the element of surprise of watching this non-offensive, non-violent exchange between two demographic groups that are often culturally at odds. At several points, you can feel the script drawing attention to the fact that Al, at least visibly, isn’t embarrassed or uncomfortable about being seen in public with a trans woman in a city where people recognize it instantly. On the contrary, he is irritated with Lorraine because she is willing to tell him things no one else will – like her wide-brimmed hat looks stupid – and is a bit of a dick in her delivery. The fact that Glover gives him a reason to be upset with her is a choice, you might say. But no matter how hard Lorraine pushes him, Al never responds with anything problematic.

Overall, the conceit of the episode falls flat because, while Lorraine’s presence consumes the episode, Glover doesn’t make her particularly funny or memorable in the way that most supporting characters in this series do – just mockers. In one scene, she calls a portly white woman posing in a “White Lizzo” exhibit, then goes on to say that Lizzo is already the white Lizzo. It’s a rich joke coming from a musician who mainly woos young white people and received no play on hip-hop radio until very recently, but I digress.

It’s a rich joke coming from a musician who mainly woos young white people and received no play on hip-hop radio until very recently, but I digress.

In fgeneral, Atlanta struggles to understand why black women are actually funny, especially when compared to all the nuance and humor that writers are able to tap into from specific black male archetypes. The women who briefly appear on this show are usually just obnoxious, loud, and brutally honest in a very generic way. Even Van, who gets more generous representation than the guest actresses, isn’t particularly funny unless she’s giving Earn some shit.

Likewise, Lorraine mostly functions as a wake-up call to Al that he should probably invest his Apple Music checks in the stock market, NFTs, or some other capitalist venture. “The thing about rappers is you have no idea where your money is or where it’s going,” she chides. She also asks him who owns his master recordings, which Al has never heard of nor does he know who they belong to. At the end of the episode, Earn assures Al, after a curious and pregnant break, that he negotiated ownership of his masters in his record deal. You can definitely feel the voice of Glover — a rapper who’s never been known to do stunts — jump out during these brief notes on black financial literacy.

After leaving the museum, Lorraine brings Al to a hidden nightclub where she introduces him to the bouncer as New Jazz. Lorraine eventually disappears and leaves Al to talk to his friends, who ask if they’re hooking up because she frequently dates rappers, which Al insists no. Before Al and Lorraine leave the club, an emcee takes the stage to introduce New Jazz. Lorraine suddenly appears to get him out of the club before the spotlight lands on him, telling him they would have allowed him to say no if he didn’t want to play. Whether it’s a slight commentary on “woke” performativity or how black people are literally required to perform work, who knows.

Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles in Atlanta“New Jazz”

Coco Olakunle/FX

Prior to their release however, a fairly forgettable episode turns unforgettable – and unforgivable – bad when Al sits next to none other than Liam Neeson. As with Chet Hanks’ appearance last week, you understand the gag before the Taken the actor starts referring to “the incident”. Is what happens when Ryan Gosling, a particularly trouble-free vocal fan of the show, cannot make a guest appearance because he shoots Barbie? Are these the kind of cameos we have to settle for? The conversation Neeson has with Al mostly feels like a PR favor, as he explains his actions but seems aware that they were, indeed, wrong in retrospect. Al tells her that, despite everything, he “still fucks[s] with Taken” and that he’s glad he doesn’t “hate all black people”. Neeson replies that he actually hates all black people because they tried to ruin his career. When Al says he thought he learned his lesson from the controversy, Neeson ends his cameo by saying that because he’s white, he doesn’t have to learn a lesson.

Along the same lines, one could say that, because Atlanta is a show that’s primarily meant to be for black audiences, we don’t need those “rigorous” lessons in white privilege either. Maybe this is just an elaborate way for Glover to tell black people on the internet to stop being less outraged. Maybe he feels powerful enough in his career to like doing unnecessary favors for famous white people because he can. Either way, the humorless and shocking cameo doesn’t save a pretty disappointing episode. It’s nice to revisit Paper Boi’s struggles to navigate fame and fresh money, but Atlanta always feels distracted.


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