“Atlanta” Season 4 Episode 4 is the funnest show in years

Written by Stefani Robinson and directed by Hiro Murai, Light Skinned-ed is a return to the light, sizzling comedy largely absent from Season 3.

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Atlanta” Season 4, Episode 4, “Light Skinned-ed.”]

In Season 4, “Atlanta” not only moves back to its eponymous hometown; it stages a comedic comeback.

Before we get to the sublime silliness of Episode 4, just look at what we’ve seen so far: The premiere opens with Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) delivering an exquisite, well-deserved dig at Marshalls before continuing the rest of the episode with it spends being stalked by a (racist) woman driving a slow-moving scooter. Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) embarks on a scavenger hunt led by a dead man. Tracy (Khris Davis) makes his triumphant return as a bossy receptionist (in a rather impressive undercover performance). Earn (Donald Glover) has to walk out of a meeting after a co-worker utters the delightfully clueless sentence, “I just finished this book. It gave me a real paradigm shift about how things might not always be what they seem.” Even Van (Zazie Beetz), sadly absent from last season, brings in a few quips on a spooky Atlantic Station .

“Atlanta” was and always is funny. Dark or silly, the jokes are still ingrained, but — even compared to the annoying “Robbin’ Season” — Season 3 drifts from nervous laughter to just plain nervousness. In a way, a sense of unease is appropriate. Who doesn’t worry a little more when they’re not at home? Bad dreams (“Three Slaps”), bad trips (“New Jazz”), bad food (“Tarrare”) — not to mention the trenchant comments in most of the one-off episodes of the penultimate season — they all cast a shadow over the die crazy trip of the group; a shroud that’s more noticeable in the light of Season 4 and especially Episode 4, “Light Skinned-ed”.

Writer and executive producer Stefani Robinson, who brought welcome vigor to the season 3 finale (via Alexander Skarsgård’s bikini bottoms and Van’s “Amélie”-esque reinvention), is writing her first episode of season 4 – one dedicated to the creator of Jackie Daytona (She’s a writer and EP on “What We Do in the Shadows” and a writer behind “Atlanta” episodes like “Barbershop” and “Juneteenth”. “Light Skinned-ed” makes a worthy follow-up, both in its in itself closed story as well as in his roaring laughter. Earn and his family – namely his mother Gloria (Myra Lucretia Taylor), his aunt Jeanie (Michole Briana White) and his grandpa (Bob Banks) are on their way to church. Earn’s father Raleigh ( Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) jumps out and instead makes some time for me at the mall, which becomes its own little mishap.

From the second, Raleigh sends his wife and son simultaneous “Hi and Bye” messages, Episode 4 offering one delightful surprise after another. Gloria informs Earn of her secret plan: to “steal” Grandpa from her sister. Then, without hesitation, she does just that: she speeds off as soon as Earn and Jeanie get out of the car to the church with the old man still in the back seat. (The look on Earn’s face as he realizes his mother is failing him—priceless.) Jeanie, a woman who is as controlling as she is judgmental, soon grabs Earn, suspecting he knew his mother’s plan , and even follows him to a recording session with Alfred, where she berates them both. (Earn and Jeanie’s one-word conversation—”So.” “So…” “So?”—would make Meisner proud.)

The subsequent phone calls between Jeanie and her siblings, then between Jeanie and the cops add pathos to the episode. (Gloria’s fragile relationship with her father is addressed and then strengthened.) But just when you think things might slow down, the comic rhythm keeps pace. There are little beats, like the way Alfred and Earn sit down on the couch, reflecting their shared frustration at getting caught up in a mess. There are exciting cameos like Katt Williams returning for the first time since his Emmy-winning Alligator Man. And there are great lines: “You can’t kidnap your own father,” says Uncle Willy to his desperate sister. “I don’t have time to explain it to you now, but the word ‘child’ is in it, so it’s mathematically impossible.” And all of that – including Grandpa’s mistaken assumption that he’s been “in Egypt” for two weeks – will underpinned by the insightful reactions of Earn, Alfred, Willy and Aunt Pearl (Teresa L. Graves), captured with loving precision by director Hiro Murai.

Isiah Whitlock Jr. in “Atlanta”

Guy D’Alema / FX

Side note: I love how Jeanie, Willie, Pearl, and Gloria are all framed the same way in their respective rooms – visually connecting the four siblings – but their demeanors and surroundings differentiate their distinct personalities. While Willie cooks burgers (presumably for his family/guests), Pearl folds laundry (for her own family), and Gloria sits with her father in a crowded mechanic’s waiting room, Jeanie is captured alone, yelling increasingly desperate accusations. (Even when Murai’s camera gets closer, there’s an empty chair behind Jeanie, or Alfred and Earn remain out of focus — like when the former raises his hand to politely ask that she not call the police.)

Speaking of beleaguered cousins, they finally realize their only way out of this mess is to leave Aunt Jeanie behind — physically and emotionally, at least for a while. Raleigh shared this with Earn earlier that day as his son called out for help from the church toilet: “I’ve been dealing with this family for 30 years, you’ll be alright for a day,” Raleigh says, enjoying his “me time.” ’ with a relaxed shoe shine. “I’m sure you’re going to do the right thing.” Traditionally, that would mean staying with your family — even if your aunt is so far from the deep end that her own siblings admit to hating her — but for Earn, it is the contrary. Instead of making peace or waiting for it all to be over, he says goodbye, goes to dinner and enjoys time with the family he really cares about. He only follows his father’s example, although Raleigh has only been able to follow his own advice so far. (He avoided the family drama, but couldn’t avoid the mall drama—I liked the hat, though!)

“Light Skinned-ed” draws curious parallels between Earn and Raleigh, particularly in their ongoing pursuit of respect, but that’s another conversation. Episode 4 ends as it began: with a laugh. Everyone will be looking at a Redbox tonight – much to Grandpa’s delight – while passing around their free bread basket. Gloria got her dad back, Raleigh got his new phone, Earn has been spending time with his parents. For the Marks family, all is well that ends well. For Atlanta audiences, Episode 4 is consistently a damn good time. More please.

Class: A

Atlanta Season 4 releases new episodes Thursdays at 10:00 p.m. ET on FX, available the next day on Hulu.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/09/atlanta-season-4-episode-4-funniest-light-skinned-spoilers-1234767383/ “Atlanta” Season 4 Episode 4 is the funnest show in years

Lindsay Lowe

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