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Don't Be Surprised If Disney Bans This Episode of 'Atlanta'

By Brian Richards | TV | October 10, 2022 |

By Brian Richards | TV | October 10, 2022 |


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Previously on Atlanta: What starts out for Earn as a trip to Sunday service at church with his mother (Gloria), his aunt (Jeanie), and his grandfather, ends up as a heated feud between mother and aunt, with Earn (and Paper Boi) caught in the middle. Elsewhere, Earn’s father is spending his Sunday morning walking around the mall before all of the little kids and teenagers show up and is harshly reminded of why he chooses to do this.

THE STORY SO FAR: Van takes a friend’s advice and decides to act as an extra in a television show. She brings Lottie with her, and when Lottie interrupts production by yelling at one of the actors, she impresses Mr. Kirkwood Chocolate, the mysterious and reclusive director/writer/producer who owns and runs his movie/television studio, Chocolateland, and he immediately casts her in the show. Much to Van’s increasing disapproval, Mr. Chocolate wants her around to appear in more of his productions, and the two of them end up butting heads over Lottie’s future.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT THIS EPISODE?: The fact that Zazie Beetz is actually in it, and that the entire episode is focused on Van and what she’s up to. The billboard that Van sees on her way to Chocolateland, which features a random Black woman named Shania Reed posting her headshot and contact number so that Mr. Chocolate will hire her for one of his many projects. The posters seen on display around Chocolateland for Mr. Chocolate’s films and television shows: Unmoved, One Small Happy Family, Nobody Can’t Tell Me What To Do 2, The Family That Strays, Jealouseque, Ain’t Shook, Single Father (whose poster looks an awful lot like the poster for Daddy’s Little Girls), Ain’t Crazy, and Still Ain’t Crazy. The studio lots named after deceased Black celebrities, such as Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr. and John Witherspoon. (Fortunately, Mario Van Peebles is still alive, and remains the exception to that rule.) Van giving a fake name to an aggressively loud-mouthed man in the waiting area, only to get her spot blown up when the P.A. calls her actual name so they can head over to set and start working. Van and Phaedra, the set hairdresser, admitting to one another that they’re not the biggest fans of Mr. Chocolate’s work, but it’s a good way to make some money while supporting Black art. Mr. Chocolate using hidden cameras and intercoms to view what’s happening to his sets, including Lottie interrupting production of his show. Lottie: “Where are you?” Mr. Chocolate: “I’m everywhere, like God.” The fact that Mr. Chocolate barely allows more than one take for any of the scenes being shot, and if there’s any errors or lack of continuity in the footage? “We’ll fix it in post.” (Despite the fact that his crew desperately wants him to focus on getting everything right during pre-production) Van’s conversation with the mother of Lottie’s castmate.

MOTHER OF LOTTIE’S CASTMATE: “Honestly, we need to stick together. Mr. Chocolate likes your daughter. Probably writing a kids’ show for her right now. Maybe my daughter can be the best friend who’s good at computers.”

VAN: “Nah, she’s just acting for today. Honestly, she’s not even really into acting.”

MOTHER OF LOTTIE’S CASTMATE: “I don’t know, she seems pretty happy.”

VAN: “Yeah … no. She’s not ready. But your daughter should have the show.”

MOTHER OF LOTTIE’S CASTMATE: “Oh, I know. She’s not the right type. Like I said, we really need to stick together.”

(It should also be noted that Lottie’s castmate, much like her mother, is dark-skinned, compared to Lottie, who is light-skinned like Van. This brings to mind the complaints that some people on social media had regarding the casting of Zazie Beetz as Mary “Stagecoach Mary” Fields in the Netflix film The Harder They Fall, and how it was seen as yet another example of colorism and “But Not Too Black” casting in Hollywood that again, I’m not even going to discuss here for reasons that have already been stated in last week’s recap.)

The friendly and slightly flirtatious conversation between Van and Shamik, one of the members of the maintenance department, on their way to find Lottie. One of the shows being filmed involves Abraham Lincoln crying in his bedroom, while a Black woman curses him out and tells him that she hopes he gets shot while he’s at the theater. The Black female P.A. who is confronted by Van about Lottie’s whereabouts being unknown: “I’m sorry, but I’m directing two pilots, and starring in another. I just bring people to where [Mr. Chocolate] tells me. Mr. Chocolate is the only one who knows what’s going on … Ma’am, I’m sorry this happened, but you won’t even remember this when [Lottie] wins a BET award.” Van: “Award? This script has a woman eating a crack sandwich.”

Van conversing with two P.A.s about the popularity of Mr. Chocolate’s work, and how it was won numerous awards from BET and the NAACP, despite Van’s opinion that his work really isn’t that good. (Van: “So…Black awards?” Black female P.A.: “So only the white ones matter to you?” Van: “You know what I mean.” Black male P.A.: “Say what you want about Mr. Chocolate, but he’s done a lot of good for the community. I’m rooting for everybody Black.” Van: “Even O.J.?” Both P.A.s: “…Yeah, even O.J.”)

Lottie acting in a scene where, yes, we do see a Black actress playing a character who takes a bite out of her crack sandwich, right before she disappears again and is whisked off to act in another scene on another lot. The security guards not being actual security guards because they’re really interns. Van staring down one of Mr. Chocolate’s intercoms. (Van: “Give me back my daughter.” Mr. Chocolate: “…No.”) The older Black woman from the costuming department who comes to Van’s aid in helping her find Lottie … by taking out a pistol and shooting one of Mr. Chocolate’s armed security guards in the foot like he’s Della Reese in Harlem Nights. (“Ma’am, these are just fake M-16s from the film War of God”). Van climbing through the dark corridor that leads to Mr. Chocolate’s office and finds … an office with surveillance equipment, a kimono dragon walking around in its tank, stacks of scripts, and Mr. Kirkwood Chocolate himself, typing out pages and pages of scripts from his “key-iano,” as scripts are like music to him. (Mr. Chocolate on his microphone for the intercom: “Have her say ‘But I’m pregnant.’” P.A.: “But this is a kids’ show, Mr. Chocolate.” Mr. Chocolate: “Thank you.”)

Van splashing a pot of grits on Mr. Chocolate’s face when he gets a little too loud and aggressive, only to learn that he’s immune to grits to the face, and has developed a tolerance for them. Mr. Chocolate breaking down to Van all the ways that her real life (at least, her real life while she’s been on set for most of the day) is just like the lives of the women in his films and television shows, before offering Lottie a role in one of his shows. (“I’d like to make Lottie an offer: Six seasons of a children’s show. That would make her financially stable until she was 20.”) Van turning down the offer and dragging Lottie out of Mr. Chocolate’s office to go home, despite her screams of protest. (“She wants to stay. She can’t be not-18 forever! I shall have her! She’ll be ‘Spurned Woman #8’ when I’m done with her!”) Van arriving home with Lottie and explaining to her that as much as she may like acting in Mr. Chocolate’s work, it’s very important that she know what it is she’s representing when it comes to her Blackness, and how she chooses to do it as she grows older. Van finding the business card that Shamik gave her earlier … which has a handwritten message on the back telling her that they should hook up and have sex in the boiler room on set.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD ABOUT THIS EPISODE?: Nothing that comes to mind, though I was hoping that we would get to see Mr. Chocolate playing a Madea-type character in one of his projects. And the fact that this episode has simply ruined the word “chocolate” for me for the rest of the month.

ARE EARN, PAPER BOI, AND DARIUS IN THIS EPISODE?: No, no, and no.

ANY CAMEOS FROM THE CAST OF COMMUNITY?: None.

DO WE KNOW IF DONALD GLOVER IS ACTUALLY GOING TO BE IN THE COMMUNITY MOVIE THAT JUST GOT ANNOUNCED?: Dan Harmon, the creator/executive producer of Community seems to strongly believe that Donald, as well as Yvette Nicole Brown, will be appearing in the Community movie, though the contracts haven’t been signed just yet.

HOW MANY F-BOMBS WERE THERE IN THIS EPISODE?: A couple of them, courtesy of Lottie being taken away by crew members to film on numerous sets around the lot without Van being informed, and Van (who wonders out loud at least once if Chocolateland is really just a cult) demanding that Lottie be brought to her ASAP.

ON A SCALE OF 1 TO “WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST WATCH?” HOW WEIRD AND TERRIFYING WAS THIS EPISODE?: Definitely a 8.

ANY TIME-TRAVELING ALIENS IN THIS EPISODE?: No, Dustin, but Wendi McLendon-Covey does appear in a brief cameo as Beverly Goldberg from The Goldbergs.

WAIT, WHAT?!?! ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?!: Of course I’m not f-cking serious, Dustin! There is no cameo with Beverly Goldberg in this episode of Atlanta! Sorry to freak you out like that, as I already know you’re traumatized enough from watching and recapping The Goldbergs every week. Why you insist on doing this to yourself as if TK has you at gunpoint every Wednesday night is beyond me.

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I HAVE TO ASK: THE ACTOR WHO PLAYS MR. CHOCOLATE IN THIS EPISODE KINDA LOOKS LIKE DONALD GLOVER. IS THAT ACTUALLY HIM?: Your guess is as good as mine, especially since the role is uncredited, and there’s no official statement from the show as to who actually played the character.

IS THIS ANOTHER TEDDY PERKINS SITUATION WHERE DONALD GLOVER PLAYS ANOTHER WEIRD-ASS CHARACTER AND PRETENDS THAT HE’S NOT THE ONE PLAYING THAT WEIRD-ASS CHARACTER?: Well, considering that Teddy Perkins and Mr. Chocolate are both artists who own unique pianos in the mysterious and desolate places where they reside, and indulge in…odd behavior that makes one take several backward steps when they see it (Teddy eating a very large ostrich egg, Mr. Chocolate drinking from a cup of grit - not grits - like it’s coffee), the answer to your question is:

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TO SUM IT ALL UP: The very last thing that I ever expected to see during this season of Atlanta (or any season of Atlanta, for that matter) was Donald Glover and his writers just taking aim at Tyler Perry and letting the choppa spray. But that’s exactly what happens here in “Work Ethic!,” (which takes its name from Tyler Perry bragging very loudly about how he writes the scripts for all of his television shows by himself, and doesn’t hire any other writers to help him, mainly because he didn’t want to pay those writers due to his refusal to join the Writers Guild of America), and the result is another hilarious and incredibly well-made episode.

For anyone and everyone (especially Black folk) who are familiar with Tyler Perry’s work and the questionable ways in which he does his work, it’s easy to recognize several of the tropes that Tyler Perry is fond of in the movies and television shows he writes/produces/directs: the horrible-looking wigs, the attractive, light-skinned Black man who is cast to be the good love interest, the dark-skinned, supposedly less attractive Black man cast to play the abusive love interest that the main character is trying to get away from, the bad dialogue, the equally bad cinematography, the numerous continuity errors, the extremely problematic storylines, the plots that make little to no sense. All of the boxes are checked, as well as the fact that some cast and crew members don’t think too highly of what Tyler Perry does, and mainly involve themselves with his projects because his studio is where the work and the money is for a lot of Black actors and Black below-the-line workers. And that Tyler Perry’s fans still flock to see and support his work even though the quality is pretty damn low because no one else is putting out Black entertainment for the underserved demographic that is Black people who want inspirational entertainment that the whole family can watch and enjoy.

This is not the first time that a popular Black television series has fired shots at Tyler Perry and his output, as the animated series The Boondocks aired the episode “Pause” in 2010. It featured Robert “Granddad” Freeman (voiced by the late, great John Witherspoon) auditioning for a role in the film Ma Dukes Finds Herself A Man, written and directed by the film’s star, Winston Jerome, who also plays Ma Dukes, and whose demeanor and media empire not only bears a strong resemblance to Tyler Perry’s, but also touches upon the persistent rumor that Tyler Perry is … someone who is probably the owner of a very homophobic dog.

Anyway, that particular episode of The Boondocks was so ruthless and on-point with its satire of Tyler Perry (including having a scene where Winston Jerome sings and dresses like Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show while performing a song called “It’s All Right To Cross-Dress For Christ,” that when he saw the episode for himself, he complained to The Powers That Be at Turner Broadcasting (whose network, TBS, carried two of Perry’s shows at the time), and made it clear that he was beginning to question his business relationship with them for allowing such an episode to ever see the light of day. As a result, “Pause” was banned from being shown ever again, on both Adult Swim and on Hulu. (The ban doesn’t apply to HBO Max, which now streams all episodes of The Boondocks, including “Pause.” At least until David Zaslav finds another way to f-ck that up as well like he’s doing with far too many other animated projects being made and developed under the Warner Bros. umbrella)

So if this episode of Atlanta should suddenly disappear from Hulu in the days and weeks to come, and is never seen by audiences ever again? Don’t be too shocked.

This episode of Atlanta has been brought to you by “Point And Kill” by Little Simz featuring Obongjayar:

And “Use Me” by Bill Withers:


Atlanta recaps (Season 4)

Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4