Atlanta Takes a Breather With an Insane Journey to Get a Fresh Cut
Season 2 of Atlanta has quickly been gaining steam. After some initial pacing issues from “Alligator Man” and “Sportin’ Waves,” Robbin’ Season delivered some truly great television with “Money Bag Shawty.” Right on its heels, we got some excellent (albeit tear-jerking) character development with “Helen,” which I heralded as the season’s “strongest episode to date.”
“Barbershop” carries the recent momentum of Atlanta S2 while taking a much needed breather from the drama of the previous week. While shallow in terms of its relevance to the plot, “Barbershop” more than makes up for this fact thanks to its wacky scenario and hilariously realized character Bibby. Plus, when you think about it, “Barbershop” reveals an important truth about black culture: even if you have to put up with some ridiculous shit, it’s worth it for that fresh cut.
A Simple Haircut
Similar to how “Helen” was an episode dedicated to Earn and Van, “Barbershop” focuses solely on Al. Unlike “Helen,” however, “Barbershop” is an episode with far less at stake… at least on paper.
The premise? Paper Boi walks into his normal barbershop, in need of a haircut. Several weeks (or months) have seemingly passed since we’ve last seen Al—perhaps Earn and Van’s emotional breakup in “Helen” is now far in the rearview mirror—and he’s managed to grow a luscious afro in the interim.
Al’s barber, Bibby, is his go-to haircutter in the shop. Like most people who frequent their normal barber or Supercuts, Al requests “the usual,” expecting, well, the usual. As with everything in Atlanta, though, nothing is ever usual.
First off, Bibby comes in late (always a bad sign). He’s blabbing on his bluetooth headset to someone on the other line. He apologizes for being late, to which Alfred responds with a nonchalant “It’s all good.” Of course, turns out Bibby wasn’t talking to Al; he was talking to the guy on bluetooth.
After struggling to get Bibby focused on the haircut, Al eventually gets his attention, only for Bibby to call Al “a little hostile” to the unknown, ultimately unimportant man on the other side of the conversation. We get a hilarious moment where Bibby leans on Paper Boi’s afro, exclaiming, “Junebug did what? You is bullshittin'” before Bibby finally gets off the phone with the man (ironically named Bubba).
We don’t know who Bubba is, who Junebug is, or hell, who even this Bibby character is. However, very quickly we start to see the utter nonsense that Alfred has to put up with to get his hair cut by his barber. In many ways, we are peeking in on a scene that is just as ludicrous for Alfred as it is for us.
Fortunately for us (and unfortunately for Al), however, the absurdity has only just started. After Bibby gets a call from his girlfriend demanding where he is, Bibby hurries out the barbershop with Al and his unfinished haircut in tow.
The Road Trip From Hell
As Bibby and Al roll away in Bibby’s red pickup truck, we have a feeling we’ve only seen the beginning of this quest for a haircut. We’d be right, of course.
Bibby hurries to his girlfriend’s house for some inexplicable reason. During the drive, he finds time to plug his ridiculous side business: selling “Clear Cable,” except “with a ‘K.'” All the while, we hear frenetic acoustic jazz—a subtle reminder of just how wild this interaction has been. Just before the two roll up to the house, Bibby delivers a hilarious final line: “Toothpick? 50 Cent.”
Once inside, we see additional characters introduced in the form of Bibby’s girlfriend Mary and her son, Omar. Again, we, along with Al, watch as two completely random characters hash out their beef as part of a conflict we’re not informed about. In sly fashion, Bibby manages to sneak in a hysterical lie about picking Al up off the side of the road, pleading, “Only reason why I did that is ’cause all of that Jesus stuff you’ve been teaching me.” When the girlfriend asks about Al’s cape, Bibby delivers a real zinger: “He a magician! How I supposed to know?”
We’re then treated to a montage of Bibby giving little Omar a haircut as part of rectifying things with his girlfriend. As we watch the close-up shots of Omar’s hair and listen to synthy jazz in the background, it’s clear that a sight like this for Al is about as unbearable as that of a bottle of water being poured out in front of a parched man in the middle of a bone-dry desert.
Yet before Paper Boi gets his chance to get his own cut, the water and lights turn out in the house, signalling Bibby that it’s time to hit the road again… but not before snatching a wad of cash out from under Mary’s nose (“This for the boy haircut!”).
On the Road Again
The rest of Al’s day only goes down from here. After Bibby offers to treat him to some Zaxby’s, Al responds with a deadpan delivery that had me rolling: “N***a, don’t be rude. Of course I love Zaxby’s.” Just when Al thinks something good is coming his way, though, Bibby manages to pull another fast one on him.
The two pull up to a construction site of a neighborhood home, and Bibby hands Al a box of half-eaten Saxby’s leftovers from a microwave inside. As Al starts to fume, Bibby swears he’ll take Al back to the barbershop… but only after he helps him grab some lumber. Here, we get another great line as Paper Boi relents, but not before giving Bibby some inevitable attitude: “N***a, three? You better pick up five. Use your back, too, bitch.”
After an unlucky encounter with the owner of the house, Bibby and Al book it, narrowly avoiding getting the police called on them. Yet just when Al thinks he is home free, Bibby spots his son skipping school and pulls over to reprimand him on not putting up a pile of posters from yet another one of his side hustles (“Man, y’all barely made a dent!”) More wasted minutes, and soon Al, Bibby, and his son are driving back to the barbershop together.
It’s here that we get yet another bit of comedic genius. As Bibby continues to turn around to scold his son, a defeated Al looks ahead, repeatedly saying, “Bibby, the road… Bibby…. The road, bruh.” Despite Bibby’s assurance that he’s “fine,” he ends up smashing into a stopped sedan.
After a woman clambers out of the vehicle and starts wailing—a scene that shares an eerie resemblance with that of the injured woman from the shootout in “Alligator Man”—Bibby steps on the gas and books it (“I can’t go back to jail, baby.”). Just another event to add onto the wackiest trip to the barbershop of all time.
Just as Al and Bibby finally arrive at the barbershop, Bibby gets a call urging him to get his ass someplace else. This time, however, Al has had enough. As he reaches his boiling point and grabs Bibby by the shirt, no words are needed to get his point across. Bibby breaks the silence with a relieving “Let’s get you that haircut.”
As “Barbershop” comes to a close, we arrive at the punchline of the entire extended skit. As Paper Boi finally gets his much awaited haircut, we see Bibby have the audacity to complain about a tip, let alone seek payment. The next time Al comes in for his cut, he defiantly strides past Bibby to a different barber, making it clear that he’s had enough with Bibby’s bullshit.
However, as the barber starts giving Al a cut, he starts having second thoughts. Apparently, for as shitty of a person Bibby can be, the man knows how to make Paper Boi look fresh. As his line early on in the episode foreshadowed, “I know you don’t want nobody else in here to cut your hair for your ‘billboard,’ do you? You trying to go to Hollywood, now.”
Even as Al looks over at Bibby with contempt and aggravation, he sighs with the knowledge that he’s in for a worse cut under this new barber. By the time the credits roll, we’ve come full circle: Al finally gets his wish for a calm, no-nonsense visit to the barbershop, but he finds himself reluctantly tempted back into Bibby’s world of chaos at the end. After all, a boy’s gotta look fresh.
Contrary to previous episodes of Atlanta’s Robbin’ Season, “Barbershop” acts as more of an extended skit than a nuanced part of Earn, Al, Darius, and Van’s story. It’s unlikely that characters like Bibby, Mary, or Omar will come back in future episodes, or that Al has fundamentally changed as a result of the episode, but that’s essentially the point.
As a pure piece of comedy, “Barbershop” plays its cards well. It’s a startlingly juicy satire of how young men today need that perfect line up, complete with fades and crazy patterns that’ll make even Drake’s stylist jealous. It dives into the intimate nature of the local barbershop, prodding at where the true line is when it comes to trust between a black man and his barber. Best of all, it does this while giving actor Brian Tyree Henry plenty of room to flex his acting chops and give us the hysterical humor that only his character can bring to the show.
While things are sure to pick back up in terms of plot next episode, “Barbershop” stands tall as a bizarre standalone look into the life of Paper Boi, his barber, and “the usual.” It’s not as complex as “Helen,” nor is it as revolutionary as “B.A.N.,” but “Barbershop” is some great fun all the same.