Teddy Perkins threatens Darius with a gun
|Episode no.||Season 2|
|Directed by||Hiro Murai|
|Written by||Donald Glover|
|Original air date||April 5, 2018|
|Running time||34 minutes|
"Teddy Perkins" is the sixth episode of the second season of the American comedy-drama television series Atlanta, and the sixteenth episode of the series overall. It was originally broadcast on FX in the United States on April 5, 2018. The episode features series regular Darius visiting a mansion to pick up a free piano, where he encounters a strange man named Teddy Perkins. Against the phone advice of Alfred, Darius continues his attempt to leave with the piano, and discovers that Perkins intends to turn the mansion into a museum.
In a deviation from the typical comedic structure of Atlanta, series creator Donald Glover wrote the episode and played the titular Teddy Perkins character with more of a dramatic/horror bent. Hiro Murai directed the episode, his eleventh directorial credit for Atlanta. In its initial airing, FX aired the 41-minute episode, longer than a typical Atlanta episode, with no commercial breaks. The episode was highly praised by critics, some calling it one of the most creatively innovative episodes in the show's history. It received 776,000 viewers in its initial airing and 1.77 million viewers in total with DVR viewership.
Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) answers a message board advertisement for a valuable piano owned by a famous musician named Benny Hope. This leads him to a mansion owned by a pale, idiosyncratic man with a mask-like face named Theodore "Teddy" Perkins (Donald Glover). Teddy exhibits strange and unsettling behavior during their conversations. He claims that Benny is his brother, whom he watches over. Teddy will not let Darius meet Benny, as he is wheelchair bound and has a skin condition that makes him extremely photosensitive.
After exploring some of the mansion, Darius calls Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) who urges him to be direct and leave as soon as possible. Darius hypothesizes that the man he has been dealing with is actually Benny, and uses the persona of Teddy to cope with his dwindling career and physical condition. Teddy then shows Darius the mansion's gift shop and informs him that he is turning the mansion into a museum and historical site. Teddy also claims that he and Benny were physically abused by their father in his desire to make the two of them musical prodigies.
Darius is eventually granted the piano and attempts to leave via the elevator. A malfunction takes him to the mansion's basement where he meets Benny (Derrick Haywood). Benny, unable to speak due to bandages covering his face, warns Darius through a chalkboard that "Teddy [will] kill us both" and that he should retrieve a gun located in the attic. Darius ignores this and attempts to leave with the piano immediately. Reaching the front door, he discovers that Teddy is blocking the loading bay of Darius's rental truck with his car. Darius is forced to go back into the house to ask Teddy to move the vehicle.
Having caught onto their plan to murder him, Teddy holds Darius at gunpoint with the double-barreled shotgun from the attic. He forces Darius to handcuff himself to a chair, and reveals his plan to kill Darius and stage the scene like a home invasion. As Teddy sets down his shotgun, Darius unsuccessfully attempts to dissuade Teddy by sympathizing with his past. To Teddy's surprise, the injured Benny exits the elevator and enters the room. Benny shoots Teddy and then uses the fireplace poker he takes from Darius to pull the trigger, shooting himself in the head. The police arrive and haul off the corpses, along with the piano as crime scene evidence. A traumatized Darius drives away empty-handed in his U-Haul truck.
The titular Teddy Perkins was portrayed by series star Donald Glover, who performed the role in whiteface. Glover is not listed as playing the character in the credits for the episode, which instead list "Teddy Perkins as himself". Teddy's brother, Benny Hope, was played by Derrick Haywood, who had previously played a small role as a bartender in the first season of Atlanta. Haywood called playing the character "an amazing experience". Haywood received a similar makeup and prosthetic treatment as Glover for the character, as the two were supposed to be brothers with the same skin condition.
In an episode which deviated from the typical comedic structure of Atlanta, Glover stayed in whiteface throughout the entire filming. The crew referred to Glover as "Teddy" on-set, and Haywood did not know of Glover's true identity, saying that there was "no Donald on set whatsoever". Some outlets compared the titular Teddy Perkins character to Michael Jackson. Atlanta writer Stefani Robinson commented that while it was "undeniable that there are references to Michael Jackson and the idea of someone changing themselves within the industry", she saw the parallels as "more of a symbolic reference to the industry maybe and what you do for greatness, or what one will do to be perceived as great".
Director Hiro Murai said that looking into Glover's face when he played the role was "like looking into a doll's face", and called it "uncanny and unsettling". He recalled a "general sense of unease on set because the cast and crew didn't know how to behave around him". Murai and cinematographer Christian Sprenger were influenced by the work of Stanley Kubrick, particularly The Shining, when creating the episode.
In its initial airing on FX, "Teddy Perkins" aired commercial-free. It ran as an "extended" episode, at around 41 minutes. Collider said that the decision to run the episode commercial-free aided the episode's message of "being trapped", a theme also explored in other episodes of Atlanta's second season. The pre-release description for the episode read, "Darius is trippin in this one. Y'all know I woulda been left." The episode was shot at a real mansion in a suburb of Atlanta. "Evil" by Stevie Wonder plays over the episode's end credits, and Wonder's music is also used to open the episode, in addition to being referenced by characters in the episode. Glover had to personally request clearance from Wonder as he did not want his music accompanying violence.
"Teddy Perkins" was lauded by critics, and is considered one of the most creatively innovative episodes in Atlanta's history. Dee Lockett of Vulture said that "Teddy Perkins" will "likely go down as one of the wildest episodes of Atlanta – and television, in general – to ever air". Jim Poe of Junkee called it "the best piece of television that's aired this year". Complex's Khris Davenport compared the episode's dark and unnerving tone to the social thriller film Get Out, as did Vulture and IndieWire. Brian Richards of Pajiba said that his "stomach tied itself into every imaginable knot" while watching the episode. Uproxx called the episode a "horrific acid trip" that "brings the idea of destroyed heroes to a grizzly conclusion", also calling it an "incredible episode of television". Gold Derby offered high praise for Lakeith Stanfield's performance, particularly praising the "freedom" the episode allowed Stanfield to show his range.
The character of Teddy Perkins, and Glover's portrayal of him, was praised by critics. Junkee write that "Glover's frighteningly inhuman make-up is an eerie metaphor for the destructive effects of American racism". The Huffington Post called him a "tormented, broken man". Director Steven Soderbergh called the episode the "most beautifully photographed half hour of TV" he had ever seen, adding that it was "COMPLETELY BANANAS". The A.V. Club said that Atlanta has "never felt more dangerous" than in "Teddy Perkins". The New York Times praised the episode's deconstruction of classic horror movie tropes, while Junkee lauded it as a "self-contained psychological horror flick", noting themes of child abuse and toxic masculinity. IndieWire said that the episode "might have been the most horrific Atlanta episode to date", and said that the "sense of complacency and safety" from the previous week's more humorous "Barbershop" was "torn away". It also called the soft-boiled ostrich egg scene "perhaps one of the most disturbing sequences in the entire series".
|70th Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series||Hiro Murai||Nominated|||
|70th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards||Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour)||Christian Sprenger||Won|||
|Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series||Kyle Reiter||Nominated|
|Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Program (Half-Hour or Less)||Timothy O'Brien, Taylor Mosbey, Aimee Athnos||Nominated|
|Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (Half-Hour) and Animation||Trevor Gates, Jason Dotts, David Barbee, Jordan McClain, Geordy Sincavage, Michael S. Head, Tara Blume and Matt Salib||Won|
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