‘Atlanta’ Recap and Review: ‘Barbershop’ Builds Up Frustration With No Payoff

Season Two, Episode Five

Atlanta S2E5
Alfred 'Paper Boi' Miles (Brian Tyree Henry) gets a haircut from Bibby (Robert S Powell III) in "Atlanta" on FX.
As its title would indicate, Episode Five takes place in a barbershop—at least, at first. All Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) wants is a haircut for his upcoming photoshoot, but his barber, Bibby has other plans. He cuts one strip of Alfred’s hair before launching into award-worthy dodges that thwart every one of Alfred’s threats to “fuck [him] up” if he doesn’t finish the job. Bibby (Robert S. Powell III) shines in this brief, behind-the-scenes look at how Alfred maintains his look, but the Alfred-focused episode is ultimately a failed exercise in the art of meandering.

The episode is full of showrunner Donald Glover’s directorial quirks, but unlike last season’s masterpiece “B.A.N.” (for which Donald Glover won an Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series), “Barbershop” is a dud. Maybe because Glover did not also write the episode, the comedy feels too drawn out, the episode does nothing to advance the plot, and there is barely any of the social commentary we have grown used to in “Atlanta.” We might appreciate Bibby pointing out that there were zero “movie posters [the theater] got on there with black people on them… Key and Peele movie out with a cat in it, they put the cat on the poster,” but the observation is somewhat off for a show that hinges on timeliness, considering the movie referenced, “Keanu,” was released in 2016, and in light of “Black Panther”’s success and Peele’s triumph with his Oscar-winning “Get Out.” We might reminisce at the Youtube video Bibby insists on showing Al featuring “that basketball player that hit all them people at the club in that invisible car,” but the inside joke from Season One no longer feels relevant—at least not here. We might laugh at the absurd thought of Alfred as a magician—which Bibby’s son takes him as, mistaking his hair-cutting cape for a magician’s cape—but at that point, we, like Alfred, are already too annoyed with Bibby and the course of the episode to be properly amused.

Even Powell’s performance as Bibby cannot save the episode, though he puts in a noble effort. He drags Alfred to his girlfriend’s home, where he proceeds to cut his son’s hair—and not Alfred’s—before stealing money as payment for the haircut. He tries to make it up to Alfred by feeding him his favorite, “Zaxby’s,” only to give the rapper his cold leftovers. And through it all, Powell talks Bibby (who lives in his own world) out of every frustrating situation in a mumbling, fast-paced, nearly incomprehensible speech and body language that speaks to the actor’s comedic skills. His self-satisfied sneer, barely visible behind his car window as he steals lumber from a woman’s property while she calls the police, is unwarranted for everyone else but him. “Sue!” he provokes her. “But you need to talk to your husband, 'cause we ain't had no contracts, 'cause he cheap.” His hypocritical indignation at his son’s irresponsibility feels genuine, to the point where we nearly start nodding along with him: “You think I work hard at these three jobs so you can walk around town... skipping school all day? I work hard, man,” he laments. Bibby is so sincere, we almost forgive his senselessness.

At its halfway point, “Atlanta: Robbin’ Season” is going nowhere (like Alfred’s hair). In what could and should have been a brilliant episode under Donald Glover’s direction in a barbershop setting ripe for hilarity, “Barbershop” disappoints more than Bibby does Alfred.

Lingering Lumbers:

    Did anyone else think Alfred was calling Bibby “Baby”?Alfred may be a nice guy, but he’s not that nice. His surprising reluctance to part with Bibby even after everything he goes through makes no sense.How much do you have to weigh to be fit to go to jail? (Asking for Bibby, who thinks he doesn’t weigh enough.)I wonder how Bibby’s “other woman” puts up with him, too.Someone needs to direct “Glitter or Leprechauns in the Hood.” Now.

—Staff writer Mila Gauvin II can be reached at



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