Coming up after I sketch a pair of gloves dapping over 5,000 times is a review of this week's Atlanta, "The Goof Who Sat By the Door."
Atlanta's "B.A.N." episode, which I'm sorry to interrupt because I have something in my throat, debuted late in the first season.
Sorry. It's impossible to guarantee that it won't occur again, but "The Goof Who Sat By the Door" was simply that absurd, simply that bold, and simply that amazing. Where were we before?
Oh, absolutely. Atlanta's "B.A.N." episode, which appeared to be a segment of Montague, a phoney chat programme on the phoney Black American Network, debuted toward the end of the first season. The majority of the episode was made up of phoney commercials ("The price is on the can, though!") and fake news pieces, such as one about a Black youngster who identified as a middle-aged white man. Paper Boi made sporadic appearances as an irate Montague guest. Up until that point, delving entirely into sketch humour for a half-hour was the furthest Atlanta has extended its tone and structure.
The series' antepenultimate episode, which is more Key & Peele than Documentary Now!, features B.A.N. None of the regular characters appear at all in this episode, which comes after seven back-to-basics episodes that seemed to indicate the show's interest in anthology storylines was over. Instead, we receive a phoney documentary with a two-part plot set in an other universe:
1) Thomas Washington (Eric Berryman), a young Black animator, unexpectedly rose to the position of CEO of The Walt Disney Company in the early 1990s;
2) Thomas Washington wanted to create "the Blackest movie of all time," and this aim led to the 1995 comedy A Goofy Movie.
Yes. That is a silly film.
With talking-head video from journalist Jenna Wortham, R&B star Brian McKnight, comedian-actor Sinbad, and a cast of actors portraying significant figures in Thomas Washington's unlikely rise and tragic fall, it is a flawless recreation of a particular style of sociologically conscious Hollywood biography. It combines real-life footage of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising with photographs and video clips of Washington and his family. It satisfies all stylistic requirements.
But what really sets "The Goof Who Sat By the Door" apart is its content.
A portion of a student film that Washington made is shown while the mockumentary follows his early years: With the vocalist of "Raspberry Beret" as its titular character, The Lil' Prince is depicted in the manner of Antoine de Saint-classic Exupéry's children's book The Little Prince while listening to Ernie from Sesame Street sing "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon." According to a talking head, the animation was either the funniest or the saddest thing anyone had ever seen, depending on who saw it and when. Washington's SCAD classmates and the Atlanta audience both sense this dichotomy, which ends up serving as the episode's overarching goal.
On the one hand, the plot is based on an idea that is, shall we say, rather goddamn silly. A young Black man who is seeing the current crucible of racial relations in America decides to make his profound artistic and political message through a fun kids film that has been praised for being "brightly drawn, fast-moving, and mercifully brief" by a Variety reviewer. It's a huge, fat, completely ridiculous joke that the programme builds up to with lots of humour throughout.
Along with Lil' Prince, we also see some of Washington's other undergraduate artwork, such as a series of cartoon portraits titled Goofy, Please in which his favourite Disney character is depicted wearing a variety of era-appropriate Black clothing and hairstyles. The stodgy old white men on the board of directors assumed they were voting for one of their own, not realising that the businessman they knew as Tom Washington had the full first name Thompson, not Thomas. It turns out that Washington was promoted to the top position at Disney totally by accident. The idea that the board members could not easily back out of a handshake pact they had made with Thomas is brought up multiple times in the episode.
Although by this point Washington's love for the character of Goofy has been well established, it is still explosively funny to learn that A Goofy Movie was his dream project and to hear director Frank Rolls (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) explain that Washington "wanted to show the systemic factors that Goofy was dealing with" as a montage of ugly images of Black and white tensions in America at the time is accompanied by Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" on the Later, Rolls and Washington's son Maxwell (Maurice P. Kerry), who served as the model for Goofy's adolescent son Max in the movie, delves even further into the deeper meaning of the piece, speculating that Max and Goofy's fishing trip was meant to reference both the Freedom Riders and the Green Book. The episode keeps exploring new levels and types of humour within this premise.
Like Lil' Prince, there is undoubtedly something terrible and profound lurking just beneath that ridiculous superficial pretence. The episode, which was written by Francesca Sloane and Karen Joseph Adcock and directed by Donald Glover, somehow compels you to feel sympathy for Thomas Washington as well as at least consider the idea of Goofy serving as an avatar of the Black experience. His mother Evelyn (Ann Nebsy) and cousin Phillip (Jay Devon Johnson) spoke in-depth about his upbringing and paint a picture of him as a bright, kind, and worried young boy who once dreamt that the anime hero Astro Boy would come to their aid. Phillip inquired from whence, to which Thomas reportedly said, "From everything," Hear his wife Anna (Sherry Richards) talk about him as a husband and parent; see wedding films; view family photos; learn about the difficult emotional impact of his father's passing while Thomas was in his first year of art school; and so on and so forth.
(*) Every child has ever questioned why, if Goofy and Pluto are both dogs, Goofy dresses up and speaks, yet Pluto behaves like a pet. Thomas Washington goes one step further, posing the question, "Why is [Goofy] letting Mickey do that to one of his own? " to one of his white animators.
Instead of just portraying him as a character to be scoffed at, the show treats him like a real person and makes his Goofy obsession seem somewhat comprehensible. It even manages to illustrate how much of the version we know came about as a result of the Disney board re-editing the film behind his back, reconciling Washington's aesthetic objectives with the relative flimsiness of the genuine A Goofy Movie. For example, instead of Goofy and Max discovering Huey Newton's Rattan throne in the back of a thrift store, they are threatened by Bigfoot, who ends up with a pair of Goofy's underwear stuck to his head.
We are informed that all of these changes severely damaged Washington's already delicate mental state. We watch a video of Washington crying, drinking, and assuring his audience—presumably Maxwell, who is still reeling as an adult—"I'm doing this for you. I'm taking this action on our behalf. The episode then completely flips the situation just as the pathos was about to triumph over the funny. We observe evidence tags near a pair of filthy, enormous, Goofy-shaped shoes and a filthy white Goofy-style glove at the location where Washington supposedly crashed his car into a lake, the same one he and Maxwell visited on their fishing expeditions. Within a few frames, it is hilarious, terrifying, heartbreaking, and delightful all at once.
Thomas Washington's love of Goofy is at least somewhat shared by the Atlanta creative team. You may recall that in "New Jazz" from last season, Paper Boi and the other half of the Amsterdam population were seen wearing goofy hats. The fact that we are returning to the anthology format so close to the series finale may not please certain fans who are still dissatisfied with how many episodes from the spring did not centre on Al and Earn. But the series has more than earned the right to take one more detour, especially when it's as excellent as this, after seven straight hits that gave us so many terrific moments involving the main cast, including last week's lovely declaration of love from Earn to Van.
Whether Thomas Washington's initial plan for A Goofy Movie would have been a masterpiece is unknown to me. But I am certain that the episode with his fictitious mission was. I'm eager to see what—
Sorry. Good night to all! Also, please be silly with one another.