PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Atlanta: Season 1, Episode 4 - "The Streisand Effect"

Grant Rindner

Less action, but more character building informs Atlanta's latest episode.


Airtime: Tuesdays, 10pm
Cast: Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Keith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 4 - "The Streisand Effect"
Network: FX
Air date: 2016-09-20

Atlanta's fourth half-hour feels like a Richard Linklater character piece: the narrative is sparse, and feels largely self-contained. Earn's (Donald Glover) money troubles persist, but until the plot's climax, it's easy to get lost in the web of bartering that Darius (Keith Stanfield) spins for him, while Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) battles with human Vine loop Zan (a surreal Freddy Kuguru), after an awkward encounter outside a club. The opening's hilarious, but the rest of "The Streisand Effect" is less concerned with outright comedy and more about showing us what life is like for four vastly different characters in the show's universe.

Pacing has been essential to Atlanta, and this episode continues the series' commitment to working methodically in building a world that's equal parts relatable and addictively absurd. In terms of Alfred's rap career, the show thrives at capturing the sense of frustration that comes in today's nihilistic hip-hop scene. There isn't going to be an Entourage moment where Alfred receives a no-strings-attached co-sign or his single "Paper Boi" graduates from a local hit to the national level without some sort of setback. Whether or not it's played for comedy, there's plenty of sacrifice in the world of Atlanta, and as Alfred tells Zan, making music for him is less of an option and more of the option.

Making a Twitter beef the episode's central drama is a risky call, simply because an Internet-centric episode of television isn't always as compelling as one set in the real world, but "The Streisand Effect" offers tantalizing small details to make the phone-centric scenes worthwhile, whether that’s Alfred's furious, full-body texting, or the fact that Zan likes his own posts and owns the handle "@zanlivesmatter". The episode's depiction of social media doesn't feel gimmicky or distracting because it's played as a natural extension of Alfred's persona; he's self-conscious in contradictory ways -- he wants to be seen as street but he also doesn't want to be unfairly vilified -- so naturally he wouldn't be able to look past Zan's taunts.

Additionally, the character of Zan is also nearly perfect chaotic evil; he's Loki with an iPhone. Kuguru’s performance is mesmerizingly off-kilter; he’s playing a character with plenty of energy but no charisma, and just when he seems like he's going to be redeemed, he reveals that the kid in the back of his car during a ride with Alfred is not his son but his business partner. There's some mutual respect earned between Zan and Alfred by the episode's end; both are hustlers first and foremost, but he's still far from a sympathetic figure by the end of his inaugural appearance.

Atlanta's been terrific at populating its background with characters you want to linger on -- bar owners, men in jail, wait staff -- but Zan is the first one who's as engaging as the show's principals. It's unclear if the character will return, but he’s a fascinating foil, even if the social media hook will likely grow a bit tired.

The episode's B-plot concerns Earn and Darius's quest for a quick buck, which begins with them pawning a cell phone and ends with them breeding Cane Corso puppies as part of a can't-miss investment opportunity. It doesn't do much for Glover's character besides further emphasize his dire financial straits and need to provide for Van (Zazie Beetz) and his daughter, but it's a coming out party for Stanfield, who's been entertaining but also a bit icy. He delivers the episode's best line, telling Earn to "stay woke" after he criticizes his preferred vehicle for cereal consumption, and the moment where he redeems himself to Earn is genuine and touching, but still firmly within the framework of the character he has established. Where before it seemed difficult to imagine Darius supporting a plot by himself without Alfred or Earn, now he's a full-fledged lead. Now all we need is some solo time with Van, who's also shown the potential to carry a plot line largely by herself.

"The Streisand Effect" doesn't have the same replay value as the series' previous three episodes, in part because after hearing the pair of keystone speeches (Earn to Darius on being poor, and Alfred to Zan on why he raps), it becomes abundantly clear that that's what Glover was building towards for the entire script. Fortunately, those scenes back a serious punch (especially Alfred's; Henry's been an absolute revelation and shown more depth in every episode), and elevate the episode from great filler to emotionally fulfilling television.

Ultimately, this episode is a rich character study that further familiarizes us with Atlanta's three stars, so that when the stakes begin to rise we'll be fully locked in and invested. The show's doing the unglamorous narrative and character work here, but it's clear that the journey we're on with Earn, Alfred, and Darius wouldn't work without these quieter moments. "The Streisand Effect" should be a hit with Paper Boi fans and #zansexuals alike.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.