I had never watched The Carmichael Show before tonight. In its third season, it opened with a double-header, “Yes Means Yes” and “Support the Troops.” Like Cosby and many comedians, Jerrod Carmichael is the creator, executive producer and star. The show is centered on his family and live-in girlfriend.
Both episodes were insightful and captured Carmichael’s stand-up persona. The show is an antidote to fast-paced comedy shows with expectant punch lines; watching the cookie cutter comedy is like line-dancing, everyone in-step and turning on cue. Carmichael’s show succeeds by throwing out the half-hour comedy rule book and laugh track. It is not made to appease those with short attention spans or low IQs. It is dialogue heavy, but it isn’t sententious. The characters freely disagree with each other and openly discuss their issues and opinions on a wide array of controversial issues. Tonight it’s rape i.e. consent and patriotism.
When Jerrod’s brother Bobby (LilRel Howery) learns the importance of consent, he questions his last sexual interaction. The episode pushes far past political correctness to highlight how each character views sex, gender norms and consent. Bobby convinces himself that he is a rapist and he wants to confront the situation and his ‘victim’. While his mother (Loretta Devine) and father (David Allan Grier) deny that he is a rapist, Jerrod’s girlfriend Maxine (Amber Stevens West) and sister-in-law Nekeisha (Tiffany Haddish) aren’t so sure. The ‘confrontation’ leads to an unexpected twist which leads Bobby to question his manhood.
The show’s irreverence is reminiscent of All in the Family. The subject matter and character points of views illustrate a commitment to telling truths and posing important questions. This is only possible with familiar yet revolutionary performances. Loretta Divine nails the dutiful and strong mother; David Allan Grier portrays the provider with strong opinions he hasn’t really examined; Maxine is the therapist in training willing to stand-up for what she believes in; Nekisha is the totally inappropriate soon to be ex-wife of Bobby; and Bobby is the show’s lynchpin whose ill-formed psyche is host to the show’s maladies and problems.
In tonight’s second episode, we meet Bobby’s childhood nemesis and tormentor at the recruiting center. While his father praises the new troop, Jerrod dismisses him as a bully and dead-beat dad. The show unveils the absurdity of blind patriotism. Jerrod’s parents lived through Vietnam War, so their near fandom of military men and women is understandable. The episode smartly does not try to change this but it does highlight the trouble with blind fate.
The show’s strength is its ability to delve into social, political and even economic terrority with nuanced and relatable commentary. From gender roles to porn and voting this show is surprisingly bold and relevant for netweork television. Its downfall is its lack of action and poor blocking/staging. This gives it the feel of small stage show, intimate but unpolished. With staging like many of Tyler Perry’s shows, The Carmichael Show lacks the polish of other comedies. This show isn’t for the faint of heart. This isn’t a snack for vegans, it is a steak for a carnivore.
The show’s third season PR push feels like a re-introduction. Is it trying to find a new audience or preparing for an Emmy push? Either is likelybut irrelevant. This show is that is as insightful as Get Out and as funny as your favorite comedianne if s/he is smart, observant and daring. This is the show we need. It is real, grounded and relatable. It lacks the lunacy of Martin or the poshness of Blackish, but that is part of its charm. It isn’t trying to tell anyone’s story but its own and that is more than enough, if you’re really listening!