by Joseph Longo
A family gathers around the living room in the wake of the father’s announcement. A middle-aged father of two-boys with a doting wife has decided he will vote for Donald Trump. And so it begins. Proudly “feeling the Bern,” his son’s girlfriend scolds the old man for his controversial candidate. On cue, the doting wife interjects. She wonders why her future daughter in-law, a proclaimed feminist, would not be aligned Hillary Clinton. The debate continues doused with comedic one-liners, as the son eventually steps in. The link between all the characters, he offers advice and gets the last word.
This scene from The Carmichael Show feels very familiar. A network sitcom portrays the perceived average American family through the lens of the handsome son. There is nothing innovative or unfamiliar about it. Everybody Loves Raymond and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air found success in adapting this standard sitcom formula.
So, it comes as no surprise that The Carmichael Show would follow the same footing. With a mid-season premiere, multi-camera studio production, and cliché characters, it is equally as unsurprising the little-known NBC sitcom received a last minute third season renewal.
But, this is the show’s strongest element. Through an emphasis on conventions, The Carmichael Show fosters discussion of difficult modern-day topics in a comfortable, familiar platform for a wide-ranged audience. All while not feeling like another “Afterschool Special.”
The characters are all black--the most notable divergence from conventional network sitcoms. But what at first feels like NBC’s answer to Blackish or another tokenistic approach to programming severely limits the show’s stellar nuance.
By evoking the understood tone of the standard “black network sitcom,” The Carmichael Show drudges up an initial conservatism. Jerrod bickers with his girlfriend, Maxine, while his brother Bobby cracks one-liners and his parents talk about the “old days.” The viewer feels very comfortable watching; they know what to plot points to expect. If a comparison must be made to staple black sitcoms, think more The Cosby Show.
In fact, that’s intentional. They even did a whole episode on it. Jerrod offers to take his father Joe and mother Cynthia to see Bill Cosby. Unsurprisingly, this does not go over well. Father and son are excited to see the famed comedian, while Maxine refuses to attend. And then there is Cynthia; she remains conflicted. The scene continues on debating the ethical line between supporting a household staple in the family or berating an alleged abuser of numerous woman. While the average sitcom covered conventional age and gender barriers, this show elevates standard sitcom discourse with a mix of new and old wave feminism and cultural diversity. The show exudes an acute self-awareness without preaching.
However, just as the show devotes to multi-dimensional views of a topic, so too the characters remain fully fleshed. Maxine is not always right in her preaching activism. Nor, is Bobby always the culprit of his own failures. In discussing, Bobby and his estranged wife Nekeisha’s recent eviction—a classic lazy brother living on the couch—the Carmichael’s debate gentrification. On cue, Maxine berates the notion of gentrification, yet Jerrod quips with a reminder they live in a recently flipped neighborhood. These characters do not always get it right. The Carmichael’s find the truth somewhere in the middle—just like normal family matters
Network television recently finalized their fall 2016 schedule. Notably, The Carmichael Show is absent, likely with a midseason season 3 premiere. Yet, two sitcom legends have new shows debuting. Both Kevin James and Matt LeBlanc star in their respective shows as stay-at-home dads maneuvering their new terrain. So, bumbling dads actually having to parent? I’ll take Jerrod Carmichael instead.