Teddy Perkins, Or Why You Should Be Watching Atlanta | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Teddy Perkins, Or Why You Should Be Watching Atlanta

Comment Editor Alex Cirant-Taljaard breaks down Teddy Perkins, the most recent chilling episode of Donald Glover's comedy-drama series Atlanta

Donald Glover has, over the last decade or so, proved himself to be a master of multiple arts. Music, acting, writing, comedy – he seamlessly moves between them, a modern-day Renaissance man. I have been aware of him since his work on Community, one of the best US comedy series produced in recent, thanks in no small part of Glover’s excellent comedic (and dramatic) chops. In his music persona as Childish Gambino, Glover has offered some instant classics like ‘Sweatpants’, ‘California’ and, of course, ‘Redbone’. But now, and without sounding too dramatic, I think Glover has produced his masterpiece – the most recent episode of his FX series Atlanta, ‘Teddy Perkins’.

Atlanta is a show about a number of things: the experience of a young black man in the US, relationships, family, music, success and failure and just life in general. ‘Teddy Perkins’ synthesises all these themes in an episode that is funny, sad, and deeply horrific at the same time. I will be discussing the episode in depth now, and if you haven’t seen it yet I suggest you do because it is something that needs to be watched to be understood. And if you’re worried about not having watched Atlanta before, then don’t worry – each episode can be understood as a standalone.

My immediate reaction was how reminiscent Teddy was of Michael Jackson
‘Teddy Perkins’ begins with Darius, played by Lakeith Stanfield, driving to the secluded mansion of recluses Benny Hope, a pianist, and his brother Teddy Perkins, to pick up a rainbow keyed piano. However, from the moment that the titular Teddy Perkins is glimpsed on screen, the horror immediately begins. Teddy is portrayed in surreal and uncanny valley-esque white-face by none other than series creator Donald Glover. When seeing Teddy for the first time, my immediate reaction was how reminiscent Teddy was of Michael Jackson, a connection which later in the episode we learn is completely intentional. Because ultimately, this is an episode about fathers, about sacrifice and pain, and how a bad parent can damage one’s life course irreparably.

Teddy, a clearly damaged creature, tells Darius about his brother Benny, a once talented pianist now consigned to seclusion due to a rare skin condition. As Teddy shows Darius his ‘museum of fathers’, we learn about how their dad forced them to practice piano, and physically abused them for failing. In this segment, Joe Jackson, the father of Michael Jackson, is mentioned by name, and the parallels between the two dads are undeniable. Both pushed their children to greatness at the expense of their health, both mental and physical. While exploring the creepy house, it becomes apparent to both Darius and the audience that Teddy may not even be real – that in reality, it is Benny who has been guiding us, and that he invented the character of Teddy to deal with his trauma. When Darius descends into the basement and meets Benny, it is heavily implied it is ‘Teddy’ in a wheelchair.

Many have suggested that Teddy Perkins is a micro version of Jordan Peele’s hit horror Get Out
Up to this point, while definitely disturbing, there is little suggesting Teddy has dark intentions. However, things take a violent turn, resulting in a climax which leaves us with further unanswered questions. Many have suggested that ‘Teddy Perkins’ is a micro version of Jordan Peele’s hit horror Get Out. While there are similarities, most obviously that Lakeith Stanfield appears in both, the ‘villain’ of the piece couldn’t be more different from Get Out’s racist family. Teddy is an essentially tragic figure, scarred for life by a father who, in Teddy’s words, only wanted the best for them. His world-view has been dangerously skewed, to the point where he truly believes that only great pain can lead to great art. But, as Darius tries to tell him, sometimes it can come from great love.

Unfortunately, Teddy remains unconvinced, and in a violent apex, wherein we learn that Teddy and Benny were distinct individuals, both meet a bloody end. I, however, do not believe that Teddy and Benny were truly brothers. Instead, I think that the Teddy we meet is in fact Benny Hope, and that the wheelchair bound ‘Benny’ is the true antagonist, Benny’s father. In this sense, he is the architect of his own suffering. While Teddy/Benny is a character that I feel pity for, his actions are not absolved by his past. As Darius states, he too has had “daddy shit” to deal with, but breaking the cycle is up to you. Stevie Wonder is used throughout the episode, and Darius argues that while Stevie was blind, he wasn’t blinded – he understood that pain is not necessary to create something beautiful. We shouldn’t give bad parents a pass just because the children they abused happen to be successful. Joe Jackson isn’t forgiven because of the joy Michael’s music brought to the world. No art is worth the pain he suffered.

That is the message I took from ‘Teddy Perkins’, but the joy of Atlanta is that it can be interpreted in a number of ways, and can be different things to different people. But one thing is objectively true. Atlanta is one of the best things on TV right now, and Donald Glover is a bona fide genius.

Season 2 of Atlanta is set to come to Fox UK later this year. 

neighbourhood large boy (@alexjtaljaard)


10th April 2018 at 9:00 am

Last Updated

10th April 2018 at 12:09 pm

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