The Too Many Cooks of talk-show parodies
Because of its unconventional structure, "B.A.N." can feel unwieldy. In previous Atlanta episodes, the surreal touches were small: think of the guy who rang Paper Boi's door wearing a Batman mask or the (hilariously) creepy kid in white-face from last week's excellent Van-centric episode. But here Glover approaches the free-wheeling, anarchic heights of Adult Swim shows like The Eric Andre Show, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, or the viral sensation Too Many Cooks. The difference is those shows rarely stretch beyond 12 minutes. It's much harder to sustain that type of comic energy over a full half-hour.
That doesn't mean there's not a lot to admire here. Going beyond the late-night stoner-comedy canon of the last 10 years, "B.A.N." also feels like a part of a longer tradition of independent American film like Robert Townsend's daydream-filled Hollywood Shuffle or Robert Downey Sr.'s razor-sharp ad industry satire Putney Swope. Downey's 1969 film, which is also a favorite of filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and Glover's channel-mate Louis CK, feels like an especially relevant reference point here. Just watch these bone-dry commercials for "Ethereal Cereal" or "Lucky Airlines," which would fit right in with Glover's ads.
It's telling that this is the first episode of Atlanta both written and directed by Glover -- he directed last week's episode but shared the writing credit with Stefani Robinson -- and that might explain part of why it feels so expensive, playful, and risky. It's also telling that instead of serving as a showcase for his character Earn, Glover instead focuses on an extended conversation between Paper Boi, the show's most consistently misunderstood character, and Dr. Holt, a woman who at first could not appear more different from Paper Boi but who eventually finds common ground with the rapper. "Where's tolerance for people like me?" asks Paper Boi at one point. "I should be able to say something is weird without people hating on me."
Is that a convincing defense? Glover doesn't say and, again, the show refuses to put too fine a point on its political arguments. He's trying to create a forum for differing viewpoints, outlandish statements, tricky questions, and violent cereal commercials. Like it or not, he's just doing it in the weirdest way possible.