You've heard the debates surrounding such serious topics as sexual consent and the n-word. You've probably been pulled into one.
But you haven't done it like the family at the center of NBC's The Carmichael Show, which returned May 31 in back-to-back episodes for its third season. Some topics seem as if they would not be fodder for a network TV sitcom, but The Carmichael Show hasn't found a subject yet that it's unwilling to tackle, while making its viewers uncomfortable doing it. (Please see the Bill Cosby episode from the second season. Please. I'll wait.)
Weirdly enough, that's part of the show's charm.
Creator Jerrod Carmichael, a stand-up comedian handed the reins of this show without any fanfare, has a lot to say.
(The show itself is somewhat of a second thought. You may have missed it because it seems to have been wedged into the NBC schedule, debuting at the end of August in 2015. Subsequent seasons have started in March and now this one in May. It also didn't arrive with the star power of, say, blackish, but it apparently has staying power.)
Carmichael uses his TV family, loosely based on his own, as the mouthpiece for every point of view, taking on hot-button topics within a family dynamic. They may disagree, but they have to come to some resolution because they still have to interact with each other, day after day, week after week, year after year.
Comedic veterans David Alan Grier (wearing world-weary well) and Houston's Loretta Devine (delightful) are there to deliver some of the more shocking lines. Lil Rel Howery, who proved so effective as the audience stand-in during Jordan Peele's cinematic breakout hit Get Out, isn't a bad add, either. They're all so good and lightning-fast, making Carmichael seem out of sorts in his surroundings.
One has to believe that's intentional. Carmichael, who plays himself, couldn't care less about anyone else's feelings; that's why he has fiancee Maxine around. But even she continually challenges his comfort zone, just as the viewers' will be.
Here are three reasons to watch the show, which airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on Channel 5.
While other sitcoms use familiar tropes to serve up lessons, The Carmichael Show uses incisive cuts and rapid-fire dialogue, lots of dialogue. Set your DVR because you'll want to rewind at least once per episode. So much is packed into each scene, about the characters and the lesson they're trying to impart, that each episode bears repeat watching.
In the season's first episode, "Yes Means Yes," big brother Bobby wonders if he's a "raper" after his date doesn't return his text the next day. You see, they had drunken sex and under the "new rules" of sexual consent, he doesn't remember hearing her say, "Yes." The family talks it out and Bobby learns some other truths.
In the second episode, "Support the Troops," dad Joe, in the midst of an argument about soldiers and the wars they wage, says, "I just think when it comes to slavery, you need to see the big picture."
Jerrod: "Are you about to defend slavery right now?"
It's very much like All in the Family, if they had actually tried to see the other person's point of view.
Cast of characters
This show seemed to come fully formed. It was intriguing from the moment the cast was announced: Devine (Being Mary Jane) and Grier (In Living Color) play the parents. Howery (Get Out) plays unemployed big brother Bobby, who still lives with ex-wife Nekeisha (Tiffany Haddish, Keanu).
I don't envy Amber Stevens West (Greek), who plays straight woman to everyone else. As Carmichael's girlfriend and a burgeoning counselor, she's always the outsider stuck with the task of starting dialogue around delicate topics, the kind you teach yourself not to bring up in mixed company: politics, religion, Heinz vs. Hunt's.
It's funny because it's true
The Carmichael Show is so compelling because you've probably heard one of the outlandish opinions before and marveled that someone would or could even think that way. (It's also one of the reasons the series can be off-putting when you watch it for the first time.) It's nice to hear your opinion validated, even if it's only to be debunked later. As Facebook silos take over, it's a good thing that someone can nudge an audience out of its comfort zone and make them laugh out loud while doing it.