By Bryan Washington | via Vulture
It would’ve been foolhardy to try and top last week’s episode, so the Atlanta folks seemed to have bypassed that expectation entirely. If “Helen” excelled in character development, tension, and emotional resonance, “Barbershop” proves to be a whole other thing. The episode is an extended bit, which would be a pretty big gamble if the joke were unfunny or dumb, but the paradox of the relationship between black guys and their barbers is a world unto itself, a premise the entire series could’ve been built off of. That said, this episode was enough for me, thanks!
In this case, Al and his barber, Bibby (played by the comedian Robert S. Powell) go on an adventure throughout the city – or, as Bibby later says, they have a “good day”). Al’s got a photo shoot coming up so he drops in to get his regular cut, but the thing about appointments is that, depending on the barber, they are an abstract concept. If you don’t have one, you’re not getting in the chair any time soon. If you do have one, it’s not unreasonable to say you’re in the same situation. After Bibby shows up late, he gets a phone call from (one of) his partner(s) and tells Al he needs to run an errand. If Al wants his cut, he’ll come with him. But it’ll only take a minute. Real quick.
The episode is a gem because it highlights such a specific experience. It takes on the question of what it takes to find a good cut from a black barbershop in Atlanta (although it could be any major American city, really), and flips it to the extreme, in a way that the Barbershop films, let’s say, simply couldn’t have. Because the thing about black hair is that it’s an art, and while (white) media has just begun to come around to this fact in the past few years, what hasn’t been conveyed as thoroughly is the difficulty of finding a barber that matches you price-wise, aesthetic-wise, and personality-wise. Most of us only get two of these things! For Al, shepherded along by the very funny Bibby, it’s the third factor that drives this episode. In this episode, as with “Alligator Man” a little earlier, the series has given us an archetype so prevalent in black life that Bibby really could warrant a series of his own.
So how hard is it to get a haircut in Atlanta? What roads do you have to crawl under and over and through just to get the usual? In this case, it makes the most sense to just list them all out, as they escalate in a ridiculous fashion – but a thing being absurd doesn’t make it any less accurate. If anything, it’s the absurdity that makes it true:
(1) Bibby can’t even hold a greeting conversation with Al for starters because he’s got another chat simultaneously one of those annoying phone earpieces. This is not a good way to start an appointment! But the real joke is that, in actuality, this is so commonplace to the point of banality.
(2) Bibby has to do something across town really quick! And Al may have an appointment, but of course, he can’t get the cut he needs from anyone else in the shop. So he (reluctantly) hops in the car to Bibby’s partner’s place, where Bibby actually has another appointment waiting for a young boy. Which means Al has to wait some more.The interaction between Al and the kid is understated, but it’s one of the loveliest things that this season has given us. The boy asks if Al is a magician, and Al informs him that he isn’t. But when the lights go out, there’s wonder in the kid’s eyes; he asks Al if the outage was his doing. Before he stands to leave, Al touches the kid on the shoulder and tells him something, although the viewer can only imagine what that something was. After that cut, the power in the house goes out, which Bibby was supposed to have paid (sorry!), which means Al and Bibby must make their exit … again. They are officially on their way to the barbershop.
Click HERE to read the rest of the recap, “Barbershop.”