Brow Beat

Everyone Wants to Know What the Hell Happened on Atlanta’s “Teddy Perkins”

Lakeith Stanfield in season two of Atlanta.
Lakeith Stanfield as Darius in Atlanta.

Donald Glover’s Atlanta is known for pushing the boundaries of experimental television. The show’s first season treated us to black Justin Bieber and an invisible car (both dropped into their respective episodes with no fucks given), and Robbin’ Season already featured a real live alligator and the mythical Florida Man. But just when you thought this show couldn’t get any more wild, they dropped “Teddy Perkins.”

The episode, which FX aired without commercials, is already drawing comparisons to Get Out, in part because confused viewers are grasping at any reference point they can to get a handle on it. It deliberately resists summary, but the extremely short version is this: Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) visits a decrepit Southern mansion to pick up a free piano, although not before purchasing a Confederate flag hat at a gas station and using a red pen to change the words “Southern Made” to “U Mad.” There, he meets Teddy Perkins, a ghostly pale eccentric who claims to be unloading the piano on behalf of his reclusive jazz-musician brother. (The end credits claim that Teddy Perkins is played by “himself,” but it’s actually Glover in whiteface.) With his high, breathy voice, Teddy feels like a deliberate reference to latter-day Michael Jackson, a comparison underlined when Teddy shows Darius the museum he’s built to honor his abusive taskmaster father, who he puts in a lineage that includes “Joe Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Sr.,… the father that dropped off Emilio Estevez in The Breakfast Club.” It’s not clear for much of “Teddy Perkins” if Teddy’s brother, Benny, even exists, or if Teddy is just Benny in disguise, and while the episode’s ending does definitely answer that question, the answer hardly left viewers less puzzled, or less unsettled.

Twitter was ablaze last night as viewers clamored to figure out what the hell they just watched:

Perhaps the best reactions came from South Carolina radio personality Charlamagne Tha God, whose Twitter timeline is a true emotional journey.