'The Carmichael Show' is Low-key One of TV’s Most Woke Sitcoms

It’s undeniably hilarious too!

By: Michael Arceneaux

When I saw the first commercial for The Carmichael Show, I had very little interest in watching the show. As happy as I was to see another Black show on network television, it looked a wee bit too familiar. My feelings on multi-camera sitcoms are akin to Kanye West’s thoughts on suit jackets and CDs: I’m over them. Multi-camera shows tend to be a bit less inventive and too reliant on television tropes that feel far beyond passé in 2016. Simply put, I was not into the idea of checking out Throwback Thursday TV.

However, after watching The Carmichael Show’s six-episode run that aired last summer by way of Hulu, my feelings have changed. Unlike Donald Trump on any given debate stage, I can admit that I was wrong. Mr. Trump should listen to more Mary J. Blige and K. Michelle. It would change his life.

In any event, the show is still very much a standard family sitcom. Its premise is pretty banal: Jerrod (played by comedian Jerrod Carmichael) finds himself torn between his liberal, therapist-in-training girlfriend Maxine (Amber Stevens West) and his old-fashioned parents, blue-collar dad Joe (David Allen Grier) and Jesus-praising mama Cynthia (Loretta Devine). Jerrod and Maxine move in together and hilarity ensues between them and Jerrod’s family.

And yet, while The Carmichael Show has a simple plotline, it is not a simplistic show. Likewise, while its multi-camera format may feel familiar, the show harkens back more so to family sitcoms of the 1970s than the 1980s, 1990s, or 2000s. Shows like Good Times and All in the Family tackled issues like racism, classism, and poverty, whereas many of the shows that came in the following decades did not. That is, with the exception of sitcoms like Roc in the early 1990s, which was the first TV show to feature a gay wedding, and Everybody Hates Chris, the early 2000s sitcom that made chronicling racism a priority. Outside of those, though, most Black-centered sitcoms have relatively played it safe in terms of pushing storylines tied to social and/or political issues.

Shows like ABC's black-ish, Survivor's Remorse on Starz, and now The Carmichael Show are bringing back a level of awareness that had been missing from Black TV. black-ish is superb television and in its second season, shown itself to be in a league of its own, but as others have pointed out, The Carmichael Show took on Black Lives Matter and gun violence first. The TCS also tackles politics, gender and sexuality. It’s episode guide confirms that each show tackles a particular subject with titles like “Protest,” “Gender,” “Gentrifying Bobby,” and “Prayer.”

To wit, in last night’s season two preview, the subject of cheating surfaces and Jerrod notes the double standard applied to men and women: “Hillary Clinton’s running for president, and we think she’s weak because she should have left,” he says. “But if Bill Clinton walked through that door, we’d all go, ‘Oh my God, it’s Bill Clinton!’”

The show’s second episode, “Fallen Heroes,” is set to air Sunday and tackles Bill Cosby. Spoiler Alert! In it, Jerrod will surprise Maxine with tickets to Cosby’s stand-up show. Maxine rejects the offer due to the dozens of women who have accused the comedian of sexual assault -- focusing on whether or not you can separate art from the IRL person.

The Carmichael Show reminds me that certain formats still work if executed properly. Its visual simplicity can be disarming at first, but if you pull back the curtain you'll enjoy how it tackles varying degrees of controversial targets in a smart and humorous way. The writing is clever and the ability to consistently entertain and deliver a thought-provoking message in a half-hour is a testament to the talent of the shows cast. More importantly, I’m glad to see a working class Black family have a socially and politically aware voice on network TV again.

The Carmichael Show isn’t driving to drill an opinion into your head, but it does push you to laugh and think. It succeeds every single time. I’m hoping NBC gives it the time to cultivate an audience so that it can continue to do so for many years to come.