“B.A.N.” isn’t a good episode of Atlanta. Earn is only referenced and Darius is gone entirely. But “B.A.N.” isn’t a bad episode of Atlanta either. It’s risk-taking, it’s different, and it’s incredibly funny. Paper Boi’s television appearance is a parody of about 20 different things, and it mostly hits the nail on the head. From referencing Atlanta’s own Adult Swim Studios by using Eric André’s theme song to a pitch-perfect sample of the commercials you can usually see on BET, it all works..
But “B.A.N.” is a weird episode of Atlanta.
Instead of building on last week’s “Value,” B.A.N.” traffics in very confused political statements. Homophobia and transphobia are huge issues in both the black and hip-hop communities, and Atlanta would be a hard show to stomach if Paper Boi wasn’t called out for one or both. While Dr. Deborah Holt has her own ivory tower theories as to why these phobias exist, Paper Boi attempts to set the record straight. He comes from a poor, Southern neighborhood and probably wasn’t exposed to the most liberal, enlightening ideologies during his education. “I just found out they exist to be honest,” he tells Holt when she asks why he hates transwomen. In his experience, it’s not something he’s actually had to face. This definitely doesn’t excuse his behavior, but it places him outside of the assumptions Holt and Montague make about him.
“Please, tell me about myself. Go on,” Paper Boi pleads as Holt shares her theories on homophobia in the Black community.
She assigns meaning to Paper Boi’s lyrics and claims he isn’t even aware enough to completely understand his own work. This is because Paper Boi seems to be telling the truth when he says he simply doesn’t care about Caitlyn Jenner. Her actions and liberties have nothing to do with him. What Paper Boi and Atlanta take issue with is the assumption that everything is a political statement. This is alluded to at the top of the episode with a Dodge Charger commercial sporting an unusual tag line: “Making a statement without saying anything at all.” In the end, this is what Jenner, Deborah Holt, Montague, and Niles Stewarts Harrison are all doing.
Jenner became an icon for the trans community until it was pointed out that she still supports Republican candidates and policies that harm poor and minority trans people. Jenner made a statement, but in reality, she wasn’t saying anything relevant to Alfred’s community.
The same could be said of B.A.N., the network hosting the interview. While it purports to be a positive network for Black people, in reality, it’s not trafficking in actionable information. It’s nothing but talking heads. Montague seems dead set on discrediting Paper Boi, even when Holt agrees with him. The commercials are all for stereotypical Black products — blunt wraps, fake prophets, expensive cars, Mickey’s, and Arizona Iced Tea (“The price is on the can though.”) — that are in no way actually beneficial to the Black community. Harrison is painted as a beacon of tolerance until he’s outed as a homophobic, transphobic bigot. In the end, this is the episode’s larger point: Why do we insist on asking to be misled?
I think on rewatch, “B.A.N.” might become a favorite episode. But, for now, it feels like a distraction that makes a fairly good political statement. It’s just not a statement that emerged organically from the overarching story of Atlanta. Donald Glover wrote and directed the episode, which is his first double credit of the season. His voice is key to the sharp humor on display and he nails that, but it’s understandable that viewers might be disappointed with a half-hour parody episode.
Still, the episode makes it clear that there are exciting possibilities for the show.
- Honestly, “The price is on the can, though.” is a line that should get Atlanta at least one Emmy.
- “Hey look! It’s Niles Stewart from the internet!”
- ”Felon DeGeneres.”
- The Nutella Sandwich guy is back in the fake prophet commercial! His name is Ahmad Wright and if you want to be as smart as a baby dolphin, you should give him a call. (The number works, which is creepy.)
- The look on Paper Bois face when he realized that he wasn’t getting paid was amazing.