Emmy spotlight: Lakeith Stanfield delivers ‘brilliant’ performance in ‘Atlanta’ horror story ‘Teddy Perkins’

Atlanta” reached the halfway mark of its critically acclaimed second season on Thursday, April 5, with one of its most compelling, disturbing and Emmy worthy episodes. In “Teddy Perkins,” written by series creator and star Donald Glover and directed by series regular Hiro Murai, Lakeith Stanfield is handed his first stand-alone narrative of the series as Darius, continuing a trend that began in season one with episodes for Zazie Beetz’s Van (“Value”) and Brian Tyree Henry’s Paper Boi (“B.A.N.”) and continued this season in “Helen” and “Barbershop” in the two preceding installments.

In the episode, Darius ventures in a U-Haul truck to pick up a piano being offered for free on a message board by a wealthy recluse named Teddy Perkins (Glover), brother and caretaker to the now mute and wheelchair-bound musician Benny Hope (Derrick Haywood). Teddy, we come to find out, suffers from a number of psychological issues, stemming from the “necessary” abuse he experienced at the hands of his father and manifesting in severe sociopathic behavior.

SEE ‘Atlanta’ season 2 reviews: Does ‘Atlanta Robbin’ Season’ avoid the sophomore slump?

The episode is packed with creepy moments that build narrative suspense (aided by the fact that the episode aired commercial-free), but which also provide Stanfield the freedom to show his range as an actor, slowly dissolving Darius from the chill, pot-smoking friend-of-a-friend we’re used to into a terror-stricken victim (Terry calls him a “sacrifice”) reminded of his own abusive past at the episode’s climax. In one early scene Darius sits patiently in the parlor (he’s “never been in a house with a parlor before”), gagging at the sight and smell of Teddy eating an ostrich egg (Teddy calls it an “owl’s casket”). And later on he is introduced to Teddy’s father, a faceless mannequin in the center of a dark hall with walls covered in newspaper meant to be the centerpiece of the future museum Teddy is creating.

“Teddy Perkins” is a fully-realized horror short film and thus a major departure from the comedic structure we’re used to from “Atlanta,” but it’s also a logical next step for a series that has always straddled the line between the melancholic and the absurd. It is also logical that Glover has put the weight of it all on the capable shoulders of Stanfield, an actor who began with scene-stealing supporting roles (2013’s “Short Term 12” and 2015’s “Straight Outta Compton” and “Dope” come to mind) and has been quickly transitioning into a leading star with 2017’s underrated “Crown Heights” and this summer’s upcoming “Sorry to Bother You” from Annapurna.

Could Stanfield be on the cusp of an awards breakthrough with a performance in “Teddy Perkins” that Hanh Nguyen (IndieWire) calls “brilliant”? “Atlanta” earned six nominations at last year’s Emmys including Best Comedy Series. It ended up winning two: Best Comedy Actor and Best Comedy Directing, both for Donald Glover. Oftentimes shows break through even more in their second seasons, particularly in the supporting races, which bodes well for Stanfield. Just look at “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Veep,” to name a few that picked up additional supporting noms a year or two after their initial successes.

But Stanfield is still a long shot for Best Comedy Supporting Actor, according to our latest predictions which currently place him 12th with 100/1 odds. He faces stiff competition from his co-star Brian Tyree Henry, recent winners Alec Baldwin (“Saturday Night Live”) and Louie Anderson (“Baskets”), 2000 winner Sean Hayes (“Will and Grace”), returning nominee Tituss Burgess (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) and new contender Marc Maron (“GLOW”), to name a few. But Stanfield’s starring role in this out-of-the-ordinary episode could give him the awards momentum he’s looking for.

Be sure to make your Emmy predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their TV shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominees are announced on July 12. And join in the fun debate over the 2018 Emmys taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our television forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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