The Untold Truth Of Teddy Perkins - Looper (2023)

The Untold Truth Of Teddy Perkins - Looper (1)

ByZiah Grace/Updated: Nov. 7, 2022 4:49 pm EST

Atlanta has been one of the most consistently surprising and engaging shows on the air since its first episode, but "Teddy Perkins," the sixth episode of the second season, managed to clear the high bar set by the rest of the series. Written by Donald Glover and directed by Hiro Murai, it's ostensibly an episode about picking up a piano that quickly morphs into a horror-tinged allegory for everything from fame to childhood trauma.

At the center of it all is Teddy Perkins himself, the ghoulish, pale recluse whose bizarre behavior anchors the episode. But who is Teddy Perkins? The episode's credits list "Teddy Perkins as himself," but it's fairly clear in interviews and even the episode itself that it's show creator and star Donald Glover underneath all that makeup. But that's not the easy answer. To make things more complicated, Teddy even showed up at the Emmys, posing for a picture with Glover. Whether you're a fan ofAtlantaor just wondering what all that awards show hubbub is about, here's a look atthe untold truth of Teddy Perkins.

Serial surrealism

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"Teddy Perkins" might have been a standout episode in Atlanta, but it was fully in keeping with the slow, eerie surrealism established in the world of the show. Glover and his Atlanta team have never been afraid to tread toward the surreal when writing; in the world of the show, there's a fuzziness on the boundaries of reality just outside the camera frame.

In the very first episode, Earn (played by Donald Glover) runs into a bizarre man who gives him cryptic advice before trying to force him to take a bite of a Nutella sandwich and then disappearing when Earn looks away. An early joke about an NBA player pretending that he has an invisible car gets twisted when he actually runs down some people outside of a club in his invisible car by the episode's end. Justin Bieber is black. Teddy Perkins, a character who seems more a character from a deleted scene from Bram Stoker's Dracula, is perfectly in keeping with a world that exists on the periphery of realism.

(Video) The Untold Truth Of Teddy Perkins

All for a piano

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The episode starts off like a fairly normal Atlanta episode — Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) has rented a U-Truck to pick up a free piano from a wealthy eccentric. As soon as Darius arrives at Teddy Perkins' mansion, though, the tone of the episode changes. Darius is stepping out into a horror movie, and even his wardrobe reflects that. Director Hiro Murai mentioned that he styled Darius' outfit to reflect the classic adaptation of Stephen King'sMisery, and the subtextual connection to a movie about a trapped and infirm talent held hostage will definitely hold some key resonance once viewers see Benny.

Darius meets the eponymous Teddy Perkins, a Michael Jackson-esque figure who lives in a mansion supposedly supported by servants, although none of them are seen. Darius tries to indulge Teddy's odd conversational flights of fancy, even as Al and Earn encourage him to flee from a clearly twisted situation. Teddy tells Darius that his brother, Benny, was a musical prodigy, and that their father pushed them to greatness in a way that skews closer to abuse than fatherly love. Darius manages to get the piano into the elevator, but the elevator actually takes him to the cellar, where he meets the wheelchair-bound "Benny." Benny tells Darius that Teddy is planning to kill them both, but it seems like Benny is just a figment of Teddy's imagination — in another of the episode's classic horror movie references, there's shades of Psycho when this relative who may or may not exist appears. Darius is eventually held at gunpoint by Teddy and told that he's meant to be a "sacrifice." He's saved when Benny rolls into the room, kills Teddy, and then shoots himself. It's an incredibly grim ending to a horrifying episode — and Darius doesn't even get the piano.

Whatever happened to Baby Jane?

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"Teddy Perkins" has a lot to say and even more movies to reference — despite focusing on Darius (usually the most light-hearted and optimistic member of the central trio), the episode is relentless in its pacing, making both Darius and the viewer feel trapped. That effect was even heightened by the original decision to air the episode without commercials. The episode is packed to the brim with plenty of moments of self-contained horror and even more overt references to classic horror movies. As far as the most obvious sources of inspiration, however, "Teddy Perkins" is most clearly referencing Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

The 1962 film follows two sisters, one obsessed with her childhood fame as a vaudeville actor and the other left paraplegic after an accident that she blames on her sister. It's not hard to see the connections that the classic film has to "Teddy Perkins," but Atlanta personalizes it through Benny's former success as a musician. Unlike Baby Jane, which is much more focused on the older art of vaudeville, music remains a central part of Atlanta, making Benny's isolation and inability to keep making music all the more tragic. There's still an audience for Benny's talent, and his absence from the stage is far more tragic than a child vaudeville star with no one to watch her dance.

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The King of Pop's pop

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In terms of visual reference, Teddy Perkins is most obviously inspired by Michael Jackson. The ghoulish makeup and sharp features are impossible to look at without seeing shades of the former King of Pop. Teddy Perkins says his brother Benny developed a rare hypersensitivity to light which meant that he was unable to leave the house. Meanwhile, Teddy's bizarre features aren't explained. Michael Jackson famously claimed that he had vitiligo, which caused his skin to lose pigmentation over time (a claim that's been fiercely debated for years).

It's unclear at the beginning of the episode whether Benny actually exists, or if Teddy is simply using him to exorcise his own trauma. Once it's clear that Benny does exist, it's fitting that we don't get any explanation for why the videos of Teddy as a young child don't match his complexion as an adult. Like many people always assumed about Jackson, it could be that Teddy Perkins actively wants to look like that.

The episode goes beyond just the visual identity of Michael Jackson, though; Teddy tells Darius about his domineering father with pride in his voice, explicitly comparing him to Joe Jackson, Michael's father. Michael Jackson's brother Jermainewrote a book largely defending the abuse they suffered at their father's hands. By combining Jermaine's defensiveness about his father with Michael's visual look, it further confuses who Teddy Perkins is and makes the twist that Benny is still alive hit even harder.

Marvin Gaye

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Joe Jackson isn't the only abusive father to get a shoutout in the episode; Teddy also reference Marvin Gay Sr., the famously abusive father of Marvin Gaye. Gaye was shot to death by his father, and Teddy's reference to their relationship foreshadows the violent ending of the episode. In fact, one fan theory holds that there actually isn't a Benny, and that the wheelchair-bound figure that shoots Teddy at the end of the episode is actually Teddy's domineering father.

(Video) The Untold Truth Of Donald Glover

Either way, the reference to Marvin Gaye enriches the episode's theme of patriarchal jealousy and success. Both Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye were pushed and abused by their fathers, and later found massive success in music; Teddy Perkins' argument is that the latter was due to the former, while Darius tries to convince him otherwise. The question of whether tragedy is necessary to make lasting art is definitely one that Atlanta reckons with; in an earlier episode, Al tells Zan that "I have to rap. I mean, that's what rap is, making the best out of a bad situation, bruh."

It's fitting, then, that Teddy Perkins tells Darius that it's a shame that "rap never grew out of its adolescence." For someone who looks at music as the epitome of pain, rather than Al's more nuanced take, rap would seem adolescent.

Horror movies galore

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When Darius comes across Benny in the basement, he's covered in bandages and wearing sunglasses just like the invisible man from the 1933 horror classic. It's a bizarre look. Teddy told Darius that Benny suffers from hypersensitivity to light, but Benny's look goes far beyond just protection from the sun. He's meant to evoke the larger tone of horror that pervades the episode, while also forcing the readers to doubt whether Benny even exists — a horror that grows even larger when Benny writes out on a chalkboard that Teddy plans to kill them both.

"Teddy Perkins" doesn't just reference older horror movies, though — there's a sly reference to another Lakeith Stanfield role in the modern-day horror classic Get Out. In Get Out, Stanfield plays Logan, one of the black people subjected to mind control/body swapping who's briefly woken up by a camera flash in one of the film's most tense sequences. In "Teddy Perkins," Teddy takes Darius' photo suddenly with a bright flash.

Darius on his own

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It's important that the episode focuses on Darius as the one interacting with Teddy Perkins. Teddy is obsessed with music as the culmination of the pain that his father put him and Benny through; furthermore, Teddy's combination of jealousy of Benny's talent and his role as Benny's caretaker should read familiar to fans of the show. It seems like it's meant to evoke Earn and Al's relationship to Paper Boi's success — Earn wants to capitalize off of his cousin's talent and make something that's his, while Al feels like rapping is the only thing he can do to escape his circumstances. Neither of them are entirely in control, but Darius is largely free of those headaches.

Throughout Atlanta, he doesn't seem to really worry about money the way Earn does or concern himself with music and fame the way Al does. He seems to be involved with Paper Boi because it's fun. It gives him a unique perspective to try and convince Teddy that "Not all great things come from great pain. Sometimes, it's love." It doesn't work, of course, but Darius is given a glimpse at a grim possible future for Earn and Al. The connection between Earn and Teddy is only increased when you realize that it's Donald Glover himself playing Teddy.

(Video) Looper on The Untold Truth Of Teddy Perkins #shorts #youtubeshorts #fyp

Teddy Perkins as... himself?

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It might have taken a few viewings before you realized it, but yes, that's definitely Donald Glover playing the role of Teddy Perkins. There's a lot to infer from that decision — is Glover using Teddy to be open about his feelings regarding fame, family, and music? Is it a larger commentary on the way Glover has interrogated his own blackness over the years? The punchline of the episode is that when the credits roll, it shows that Teddy Perkins was played by himself. It almost seems to be an exact dismissal of any train of thought that tries to explicitly connect Donald Glover's role as a showrunner and actor with his performance as Teddy Perkins.

Teddy is presented as an entity singularly removed from Glover, something that remained consistent even while the episode was filming, according to Derrick Haywood, the actor who plays Benny. As Haywood recalled, "They were calling him Teddy, he acted as Teddy. There was no Donald on set whatsoever."

Still, despite the brief confusion, Teddy Perkins is definitely just a role that Glover played, right?

No, seriously, who is Teddy Perkins?

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Well, not quite. Teddy Perkins actually showed up at the 2018 Emmys, even going so far as to pose for pictures with Donald Glover. What does any of this mean? Is Teddy Perkins actually a real person? Is he an allegory for the perils of black fame brought magically to life by Atlanta? Did one of the other Atlanta creatives, like Hiro Murai or Lakeith Stanfield, play him during the Emmys to give Glover a break?

It continues to be a mystery. Vulture has a rundown of every possible person that could have played Teddy on the red carpet, but ultimately they had to admit it's still unknown. When asked who it was, the cast members continually referred to Teddy as a real guy, not merely a role that Glover played. Much like the episode that he shares a name with, it seems like the mystery of Teddy Perkins eludes easy answers, and we may never know.


Who is Teddy Perkins supposed to be? ›

Darius meets the eponymous Teddy Perkins, a Michael Jackson-esque figure who lives in a mansion supposedly supported by servants, although none of them are seen.

What was the point of Teddy Perkins? ›

The story Teddy Perkins tells is centered on their father's abusive parenting skills and how that can figuratively rob a child of their adolescence.

Who is the man in the wheelchair in Teddy Perkins? ›

Teddy will not let Darius meet Benny, as he uses a wheelchair and has a skin condition that makes him extremely photosensitive. After exploring some of the mansion, Darius calls Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) who urges him to be direct and leave as soon as possible.

What is the meaning behind Atlanta Season 2 episode 6? ›

The murder-suicide symbolizes the inherent fact that the past is just that. You can't eliminate the future, there will always be a next generation that leaves behind what came before it. Teddy Perkins couldn't come to grips with such an idea. Rap has always been the black sheep of music.

Who is Teddy supposed to be in Atlanta? ›

Donald Glover plays Teddy. It is said that he remained in character during the entire filming process. Many on set found it creepy and others had little to no clue it was in fact Donald Glover; he was even addressed as "Teddy" by the director and crew.

Who did Teddy choose? ›

Spencer wants Teddy to choose between him and Beau. Teddy tells Beau, who says he wants Teddy to be happy. At the end, Teddy chooses Beau.

What does Teddy Perkins mean in Atlanta? ›

Then, Theodore Perkins emerges from the shadows and Darius should've fled the scene on sight. The creepy figure who goes by “Teddy” is an unapologetic spoof of pale, post-surgery Michael Jackson (judging by the voice, that seems to be Donald Glover beneath the unsettling prosthetic makeup and blue contact lenses).

Who dressed up as Teddy Perkins at the Emmys? ›

Some fans who spotted the character during the Emmys broadcast immediately believed it was Glover. Bro. Donald Glover came dressed as Teddy Perkins. Donald Glover really went to the Emmy's as Teddy Perkins.

What does Darius represent in Atlanta? ›

Darius' heightened intellect and unusual humor can sometimes present as someone on the autism spectrum. With his sensory disorders and coping mechanisms, fidgeting, self medicating and existential outlook on life. Darius redefines the borders between insanity and genius.

Could Teddy Perkins be Michael Jackson? ›

But the “omelets” scene is also important because it establishes that Teddy isn't supposed to be Michael Jackson. Teddy lists his own father and Joe Jackson among the great show-business dads, which means their offspring co-existed in the same world.

Was Jay Pharoah Teddy Perkins? ›

A bunch of people assumed that Glover was able to quickly change out of his costume midway through the night, but it turns out, this Teddy Perkins was an entirely different person. Sources confirmed to Entertainment Tonight that comedian Jay Pharoah was the man dressed as Teddy Perkins throughout the Emmy Awards.

Why did Donald Glover stop Atlanta? ›

He's choosing to end his Emmy- and Peabody-winning series simply because he's told the story he wanted to tell, and it's time for the show to end, Glover said during a virtual Television Critics Association session on Thursday..

Who was the guy in the photo at the end of Atlanta Season 3? ›

It's a photo of actor Tobias Segal, who played the white guy telling the story of the flood at the beginning of the Season Three opener "Three Slaps." In that unnerving opening scene, he more or less turned into a demon after delivering his monologue about whiteness.

Who is the villain in Atlanta? ›

In the TV series Atlanta, the main antagonist is Teddy Perkins, played by Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino.

Who was the guy at the end of Atlanta Season 3? ›

The man in the photo (Tobias Segal) first appeared in the Atlanta Season 3 premiere, “Three Slaps” - also the first of the season's four episodes that diverts from the main narrative - in a creepy cold open that is revealed to be a dream of the story's young main character.

Is Teddy still in the CIA? ›

After being removed from his official position with the CIA Teddy is now working as a contractor, desperate to get back inside the walls at Langley and win the war upon which he's staked his entire future.

Who is Teddy based on? ›

Other than the character parallels, there isn't a whole lot to support the theory that Teddy and William are the same person, or at least, that Teddy is based on William.

Who are Teddy and Benny in Atlanta? ›

Teddy Perkins is the titular main antagonist of the season 2 episode of Atlanta of the same name. He claims that he was the brother of the famous pianist Benny Hope and became his caretaker due to his photosensitive condition and being wheelchair-bound.

Who is Teddy pregnant by? ›

In the season finale, Teddy returns to Grey Sloan, and it is revealed that she is pregnant with Owen's baby.

What happened to Teddy's girlfriend Allison? ›

Allison Robin Brown was Teddy Altman's best friend and girlfriend who died on 9/11.

What did Owen do that Teddy can't forgive? ›

With his life on the line, Owen revealed a major secret to Cormac: He'd administered medication to a patient named Noah to help him die, and he promised to continue to do the same for military veterans like Noah who asked for help.

Is Teddy Perkins based on a real person? ›

Also I should say, Teddy Perkins is a fictional character, from an episode of the FX comedy series Atlanta. He was played by Donald Glover, the real-life musician, comedian, actor, etc, wearing a white mask.

What is an owl casket? ›

Darius's initial meeting with Teddy has, as its centerpiece, an enormous ostrich egg that Teddy says is also called “an owl's casket.” Ostriches are native to Africa; the owl is a symbol of prophecy, learning, and higher wisdom in many cultures, and the pairing of that bird with the word “casket” implies a death of ...

What was in his jacket Atlanta? ›

It's only later in the episode that it's revealed he believed the jacket contained the keys to his storage unit. And it's only at the very end of the episode that we realize that storage unit is Earn's home.

Who is Teddy Perkins Michael Jackson? ›

The titular character is from the most talked about, most bizarre episode of the Donald Glover-created show. The actor played Perkins, a Michael Jackson-esque abused child all grown up who now spends his time locked up in his house.

Who won the most Emmys actor? ›

One actor who has received a record-breaking number of Emmy award wins is Ed Asner, known for his performance as Lou Grant in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Carl Frederickson in the Pixar masterpiece Up. Asner is currently the most honoured male performer in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards.

Did Childish Gambino play Teddy Perkins? ›

Childish Gambino shocked fans when he transformed himself into an eccentric white man called Teddy Perkins in his hit TV series 'Atlanta'. The actor who played Teddy's brother Benny Hope (Derrick Haywood) later revealed that Gambino stayed in character even when the cameras weren't rolling.

Is Darius also Cyrus? ›

Darius was a member of the royal bodyguard of Cambyses II, the son and heir of Cyrus the Great who ruled for several years before dying mysteriously in 522. Later that same year, Darius took the throne after killing an alleged usurper he claimed had only pretended to be Cambyses' brother Bardiya.

What did Lorraine do to Paper Boi? ›

Having brought Al into the club at nighttime, Lorraine drags him out of the club during daylight before he's set to perform on stage, chastising him about his decisions and the people surrounding him.

Why is Darius depressed? ›

Depression doesn't need a reason

The thing about Darius, is that he also suffers from depression. It's been passed down from his dad, and he's forced to deal with it when in Iran, where they don't really understand mental illness.

Who is Teddy Perkins at the Emmys? ›

Teddy Perkins, the Michael Jackson-esque character played by star Donald Glover on the FX comedy last season, was in the audience at the ceremony, much to the delight of fans.

Did Donald Glover do white face? ›

Donald Glover Stayed in Whiteface the Entire Time on Set During the Filming of Latest 'Atlanta' Episode. Actor Derrick Haywood, who played Benny Hope in 'Atlanta,' confirmed to 'Vulture' that the outlandish Teddy Perkins character from the latest episode was indeed portrayed in whiteface by Donald…

Did Teddy Perkins win any awards? ›

An Investigation. Viewers were thrilled and/or horrified to see Donald Glover's eerie Atlanta character Teddy Perkins in the audience at the 2018 Emmys. People were quick to applaud Glover for committing to stiflingly hot prosthetics, especially because he sadly did not win any of the three awards he was nominated for.

Who raised Blanket after Michael Jackson died? ›

Following Michael Jackson's sudden death, Prince, Paris and Blanket were raised by Jackson's mother, Katherine Jackson as well as their co-guardian, Jackson's 43-year-old nephew TJ Jackson.

Who is the head of Michael Jackson's estate? ›

John Gregory Branca (born December 11, 1950, in Bronxville, New York), is an entertainment lawyer and manager who specializes in representing rock and roll acts. He is also co-executor of the Michael Jackson Estate.

Who was Michael Jackson personal bodyguard? ›

For a decade, Matt Fiddes had a ringside seat to watch Michael Jackson's financial decline and fall. Fiddes was a bodyguard and close friend of Jackson, right up to the time of the star's death in 2009.


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