Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” brilliantly plays with race and class in TV commercial parodies

“Atlanta” takes a page from the sketch-comedy playbook.
“Atlanta” takes a page from the sketch-comedy playbook.
Image: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

An overzealous wolf was thwarted in his attempt to steal cereal from children last night, in a parody TV ad that appeared in the Oct. 11 episode of FX’s Atlanta. Things took a dark turn when a white cop proceeded to violently arrest the wolf. “Only kids can have Coconut Crunch-O’s. You know that,” said the cop.

This parody of a Trix commercial was one of half a dozen commercial spoofs featured in the episode, which played with the challenges and stereotypes of race and class. ”I’m just hungry, man,” the wolf said, decrying the injustice. “They don’t let wolves in stores… I could be eating these kids, but I’m out here eating cereal.”

True to showrunner Donald Glover’s mission of making a TV show that makes viewers feel what it’s like to be black, the episode’s commercial parodies read as inside jokes, by black people, for black people, alluding to problems that black people face.

Written and directed by Glover, the entire episode, called B.A.N., or the Black American Network, was presented as a roundtable talk show, in the style of Charlie Rose with the budget and graphics of public access TV, complete with commercials and all. The episode’s experimental style, which benched most of Atlanta’s leading characters for the second week in a row, received mixed reviews but has been compared to the Chapelle Show.

It included “advertisements” for products like AriZona Iced Tea, Swisher Sweets cigarillos, and the Dodge Charger (“the official car of making a statement without saying anything at all”) that poked fun at advertisements geared toward black viewers.

One commercial in the episode was reminiscent of the 1990s ads for TV psychic Miss Cleo, who offered readings on everything from paternity tests to relationships over the phone:

The Atlanta version, promoting someone named Ahmad White, promised a free juice, Nutella sandwich, and the intelligence of a baby dolphin (whatever that means) to anyone who stopped by the Liberty Center for advice.

Another spot for the fictional Mickey Ice malt liquor brand hilariously attempted to elevate the cheap booze by serving it in champagne flutes at a masquerade party.

It’s a lot like these 1980s Billy Dee Williams ads for malt liquor brand Colt 45: