TV Review - The Carmichael Show: Season 2

In Episode 2 of Season 2, this show dedicates itself to debating whether or not people should still support Bill Cosby in light of the overwhelming sex scandal that has embroiled the legendary black comedian. It's a great debate that hits great points about separating art from the artist, separating court of public opinion from the court of law, as well as certain celebrities getting a pass and where the line should be drawn. It's a debate that was interesting to see. It doesn't go far enough because it has to be interrupted every few seconds with the occasional punchline, so it's not all that deep a debate, but the problem is that I don't go to a comedy series to hear a debate. I go to any series to be told stories and see characters develop.

This second season so far is doing better than last season with telling stories and seeing characters develop, but the first two episodes still feel like we're watching debates on various, hot-button issues. There's no real direction. Each episode just gathers the cast to stand around and deliver talking points rather than have real or genuine dialogue. I get that the makers of this show are probably inspired by Norman Lear and shows like All in the Family (1971), but for a show like that to work, one has to have a really strong core character to bump up against, an Archie Bunker-type, and this show just doesn't have it.

Jerrod Carmichael stars as Jerrod. It's assumed that he's playing a version of himself, but I don't think it's been stated as of this season what Jerrod's occupation is. I don't think his character has ever mentioned what his job is, unless I missed it. Whether his character is a stand-up comic or not, functionally his character acts like a stand-up comic. He just stands or stands up and comments ironically or satirically almost moment-to-moment like a comic.

It's only until Episode 3 of this season, titled "The Funeral," that he deigns to have a sincere emotion finally. Episode 3 of the first season, titled "Kale," approached sincere emotions, as the show seemed to be at its best when Carmichael is bouncing off David Alan Grier (In Living Color) who plays Jerrod's father, Joe, the best possible candidate for the Archie Bunker-type. Carmichael and the writers seem to understand that, but not once has let things go too far. It's disappointing.

The writers also can't seem to find other things for the rest of the cast to do but be a peanut gallery. This can be a problem for all comedy series, produced the way this series is. This series is filmed in front of a live, studio audience in the typical, multi-camera format. Having its supporting cast be a peanut gallery is a problem that even a comparable show like Undateable has, but it can be forgiven because Undateable has propulsive stories with a higher joke ratio. The characters don't stand around and debate. They do extremely funny things. The Undateable writers recognize they're not doing a show for FOX News or MSNBC.

The writers here don't recognize that. For example, Episode 1 of this season, titled "Everybody Cheats," is basically the cast standing around and debating the issue of adultery or having secret, sexual affairs, even among unmarried couples. Jerrod learns that this girlfriend Maxine, played by Amber Stevens West, had cheated on her previous boyfriend, and Jerrod wonders if she could do the same to him.

Now, the debate yielded some great points and it ended up being a somewhat, nuanced conversation on the topic, but again Carmichael and his writers fail to tell a story or develop character. We never learn what Maxine's relationship was like with this previous boyfriend or ultimately why she cheated. We don't learn what she was feeling or what she was thinking at the time. Jerrod asks for a timeline, but that's skipped over. The cheating just becomes a talking point. It's never anything that feels real in the episode, or in the narrative.

This could be due to the fact that Carmichael isn't the greatest actor to be cast as a lead. To reiterate, Episode 3 showed promise in terms of him expressing sincere emotion, but I'd argue that he still has some ways to go. There have been plenty of black actors who didn't start out well but grew like Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but at least Smith had charisma to spare. Carmichael doesn't but it doesn't mean he can't grow as an actor.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG-DL.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Sundays at 9PM on NBC.


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