Season three of Atlanta came to an end last month, bringing to an end a run of episodes both breathtakingly excellent and maddeningly frustrating.
Donald Glover’s show remains must-watch TV but the unexpected structure of the latest season wasn’t for everyone: featuring standalone episodes about the problems of racism in the U.S. alongside episodes following Paper Boi’s tour in Europe, it was a bold innovation but a move that often faltered. Three seasons in, it often felt like Glover was pushing himself as a creator just as much as he was his audience.
Fans now have several months to wait until the fourth and final season arrives on FX, and there will surely be a lot more provocative narratives unveiled before the show finishes.
There was another intriguing feature in the latest season of Atlanta though, with several truly unexpected cameo appearances dominating online discussion. That’s why we thought we’d rank the surprise cameos throughout the show’s run, with the top spot going to an actor whose appearance will undoubtedly be discussed for months to come.
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6. Jai Paul
A subtle cameo, certainly, but for some music fans, a massive one. A mythical modern-day musical figure, Jai Paul was an English songwriter and producer who was hugely hyped for his early demo ‘BTSTU’, which was posted on MySpace over a decade ago.
A recording contract with XL Recordings followed, but the musician remained reclusive, unwilling to embrace the media. More of his songs were leaked in 2013 and more acclaim followed; Paul subsequently didn’t release more new music for six years.
Paul has a production credit on Childish Gambino’s 2020 song ‘Time’, which probably made it easier to convince him to appear briefly in season three’s ‘The Old Man and the Tree’. He gets deep with Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) at a party, discussing racism’s relationship with capitalism. “Anywhere you can buy a can of Coke, some type of racism is going down there,” as Paul puts it. Now release some new beats in real life, please.
Jai Paul on Atlanta is something I did not ever expect pic.twitter.com/UaGarGWFpd
— John Ball (@burnedwick) April 1, 2022
5. Michael Vick
Former American Football player Vick is a bit of a legend around actual Atlanta. When selected as the number one draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons back in 2001, that made him the first African American quarterback to be chosen as the top pick. Three Pro Bowl appearances and two playoff runs followed.
Then he decided to start a dogfighting ring. Vick’s career came to a stuttering halt in 2007 when he was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. His reputation was ruined forever.
That’s why it was odd to see him appear at the end of the third episode of Atlanta: Robbin’ Season. After trying all night to look cool, Earn (Glover) gets his chance to impress by racing Vick in a sprint race. Of course he loses, despite taking off ahead of the athlete at the start. Can’t even stunt on a disgraced footballer. What’s the point?
4. Chet Hanks
As soon as Glover witnessed Chet attempting a Jamaican accent, he probably wanted to get him on the show. It finally happened in season three’s ‘Trini 2 De Bone’,
He comically appeared as a white guy with a Trinidian accent because he had a Trinidadian nanny as a child. It’s wickedly meta, playing on Chet’s public persona. For a man who’s openly claimed he lacked a proper father figure growing up, there’s perhaps even a cheeky dig at Tom Hanks in the cameo.
It’s uncomfortable to watch, but undeniably bold in its execution. Now please stop doing the accent in real life, mate.
One of season one’s standout episodes, ‘Go for Broke’, saw a hilarious guest appearance by Atlanta hip hop icons Migos. Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset played fictionalised versions of themselves, making a drug deal with Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) and Darius. Quavo even kills a fleeing victim in the woods. Talk about playing with your reputation.
It’s lucky for Glover that the episode came in 2016, because he ruined his goodwill with the group a few years later. Offset took issue with his parody of Migos on Saturday Night Live (they were called Friendos in the sketch), which saw the trio seek therapy for problems within the group.
“I’m gonna be honest,” Offset said. “We didn’t like that skit because it was, like, total opposite of the Migos, like, we rock with each other. We ain’t arguing. And then I felt like it was interpreted like we was some dodo birds.”
2. Alexander Skarsgård
Getting to have a lot more fun than a certain actor to follow in this list, Skarsgård clearly had a riotous time playing a cartoonish version of himself in the season three finale ‘Tarrare’. The episode focused entirely on Van (Zazie Beetz) adventuring around Paris, including being in a lurid relationship with the Swedish actor.
She tries to frame poor Skarsgård for excessive drug use. He gets to show off his impressive physique to Atlanta viewers. Later in the episode, he attends a party and relishes eating human parts for dinner.
It’s one of the best examples of an actor playing a wildly exaggerated version of themselves since Michael Cera hit on Rihanna in This Is the End.
1. Liam Neeson
It just had to be number one. Glover somehow convinced Liam Neeson to discuss his racism controversy in season three’s ‘New Jazz’.
First, a refresher: while promoting a film three years ago, Neeson admitted that he once stalked the streets looking to kill a “Black bastard” due to a close friend of his being raped many years ago. Much condemnation ensued, with his film’s premiere being cancelled.
In ‘New Jazz’, Paper Boi comes across the actor, playing a heightened version of himself, in a strange bar called Cancel Club. They proceed to discuss his “transgression”, with Paper Boi saying, “It’s good to know that you don’t hate Black people now.”
That’s when a typical Atlanta curveball arrives. “No, no, no, I can’t stand the lot of ya,” he reveals. “I feel that way because you tried to ruin my career. Didn’t succeed, mind you. However, I’m sure one day I will get over it, but until then, we are mortal enemies.”
The boldness from Neeson to make this cameo (check out his far less controversial cameo in Derry Girls as well). The nerve from Glover to even ask him in the first place. “I also learned the best and worst part about being white is you don’t have to learn anything if you don’t want to,” the Atlanta version of Neeson adds before leaving the bar.