“Atlanta” has been on a hot streak since it first premiered six weeks ago, churning out episode after episode of low-key, self-contained stories. Last week’s “Value” put the spotlight on supporting character Van (Zazie Beetz, “Easy”), arguably producing the best episode so far. While this week’s episode, “B.A.N.,” can’t reach the heights the series reached last week, it’s by far the funniest episode on a scene-by-scene basis.
“B.A.N.” is named for “Black American Network,” a parody of B.E.T. In the episode, Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry, “Vice Principals”) appears on a talk show called “Montague,” discussing a controversial tweet he made about not wanting to have sex with Caitlyn Jenner. From there, “B.A.N.” resembles an episode of “Chappelle’s Show” or “Key & Peele,” interspersing its talk show segments with fake commercials.
It contains none of the nuanced character work that powered previous episodes, and it’s not the most thought-provoking episode of the series; it’s more content to float some topics and build hilarious jokes out of them than really dig deep and offer any possible conclusions. Still, there are some seeds of social commentary that justify the episode’s existence beyond funny jokes. For example, one segment of “Montague” features a story on a black man (Niles Stewart, a YouTube and Vine star) who identifies as “a 35-year-old white man named Harrison.”
On its surface, the idea of a “trans-racial” character appears to be poking fun at the self-labeling of transgender people, but the episode is careful not to endorse Harrison. Later, it is revealed that despite the judgment he’s faced as a trans-racial man, Harrison has no empathy for people in the LGBT community. From there, the Harrison runner becomes an exploration of how minorities sometimes fail to extend their empathy towards other oppressed groups — even Alfred can only vaguely express support for transgender rights, otherwise defending himself and decrying the “PC culture” that forces him to face the consequences of his insensitive words.
But the episode is also just worth it for the hilarious fake commercials. There’s a surreal Dodge ad that ends with the slogan “The Dodge Charger: the official car of making a statement without saying anything at all.” Even better: an animated cereal commercial that portrays a Trix bunny-esque wolf being cuffed by a cop and then physically assaulted while the terrified kids record the police brutality on their phones. These are just two of the hysterical parody ads that air over the course of “B.A.N.” The episode may not achieve stunning character work like previous episodes have, but the nonstop hilarity and typical notes of social commentary make it an instant classic.