‘Atlanta’ Recap, Season 2, Episode 10: FUBU, High top fades, and a completely unexpected plot twist
Every 30-something year old Black person will understand this episode.
My first reaction after watching Atlanta’s “FUBU” episode: what the f— is with this dark-ass season, yo?
The entire episode takes us back to the junior high school days of Earn and Al, replete with a grainier camera. We kick off with young Earn (Alkoya Brunson) shopping at Marshall’s with his mother (Myra Lucretia Taylor). He strikes off and finds his gold – a yellow FUBU jersey. That fresh, new name-brand shirt gets him so excited he can barely wait to wake up and throw it on for school the next day.
Because it’s junior high, the shirt has its intended effect – everyone notices it immediately. All is glorious on Planet Earn until another student, Devon, walks in with a very similar shirt. It immediately becomes a thing, especially thanks to this one punk-ass, eraser-headed kid who spends the entire episode begging for someone to kick him in the head. Several students in the classroom inelegantly wonder which of the two has the “real” FUBU.
The entire episode is centered around the authenticity of their shirts, as their classmates draw them into a competition neither student asked to be a part of in the first place. Earn’s white friend doesn’t see the problem with the shirt, admitting that he wore the same no-name T-shirt twice that week – something no Black teenager could get away with without getting ruthlessly baked.
Older, bigger kids trap and taunt Earn and Devon, dubbing the shirt a “FEEBEE.” Even the hairnet-rocking lunchroom crew gives a knowing smirk at him – no surprise because my lunch ladies were also ain’t-shit adults who dabbled in the affairs of pre-pubescents.
The most laugh-out-loud moment in the episode comes when Earn receives notes from a young lady interested in him, but with the caveat that his FUBU shirt is real “because Erica don like broke ass n—-s.” In that same scene, Earn pulls a loose string on the shirt, causing a hole that essentially confirms that he has a bootleg FUBU.
Unsurprisingly, young Al (Abraham Clinkscales) isn’t much different than his 30-something version. That same degree of general insouciance is on full display. Draped in full ROTC gear in the principal’s office, he talks his way out of trouble for stealing a classmate’s calculator and selling it back to him.
Al’s a fat kid but he still has pull at the school that Earn doesn’t. He even reminds his cousin that “confidence is key.” Al actually saves Earn from additional torment when he dubs Devon’s shirt the true fake in front of other students.
The whole show takes an unexpectedly dark-ass turn the next day when a presumed administrator walks in Earn’s classroom and announces that Devon committed suicide the previous day. We see in Earn’s eyes that he attributes the death to all the bullying. The message of the show comes together when Earn’s mother insists that same afternoon that he dress well for his piano lessons, stating, “You are a Black man in America and when you meet people you need to look good. Clothes are important.”
This is commentary on how much Black folks care about our gear when it’s relatively low on the list of things we should be focused on. Thing is, being fresh is, and will likely always be, a central aspect of Black American culture. If you fall short of the glory in any way, kids will let you know in the most tactless way possible.
This is the only episode of Atlanta to date that features absolutely none of its stars at any time – a bold move that most shows would only attempt after many seasons of familiarity. The details of urban education are immaculate – the powerless substitute teacher, the bipolar nature of the student Denisha, the frustrated educators. Songs from Nas and Al B. Sure, as well as references to “Rush Hour” and “Dragonball Z,” will have every 30-something year-old Black person who went to a public school with other Black kids (see: me) take in this episode with a mixture of nostalgia and trauma.
I’m somewhat surprised at the level of darkness the season has taken. “Barbershop” was the last laugh-out-loud episode. Every one since has either made us sad or creeped us the f— out. There’s just one episode left in the season – hopefully we can go out in stitches instead of with me wanting to drink myself into a stupor.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. Miraculously, people have paid him to be aggressively light-skinned via a computer keyboard for nearly two decades. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at his own site, wafflecolored.com.