Although this is its third season, NBC’s The Carmichael Show has yet to make the kind of pop-cultural impact it should have long ago. Since its premiere in 2015, The Carmichael Show — co-created by standup comic and star Jerrod Carmichael — has been one of the rare current network sitcoms that addresses hot-button issues in a funny manner. Really, its only competition in this area is Black-ish, and there are times when The Carmichael Show is at least as good as that ABC hit.
In tonight’s season premiere, this show about a comedian named Jerrod spends a half-hour exploring the definition of rape. Jerrod’s doofy brother, Bobby (Lil Rel Howery), becomes worried that he didn’t get the proper verbal consent from a woman he had sex with, and that he therefore may be a rapist. It’s at once a serious premise and a comic one, because it carries an abstract idea to an extreme.
It’s clear that Carmichael has heard the response to his show from previous seasons — that the episodes that have dealt with the topics of gun control, Black Lives Matter, and Bill Cosby (to cite just a few) are provocatively interesting. The danger in continuing along this path is that, in addition to being provocative, the show also has to be funny — and tonight’s episode, titled “Yes Means Yes,” isn’t very hilarious. It spends too much time setting up the premise, and it forces Jerrod’s girlfriend, Maxine (Amber Stevens West), to deliver a number of speeches about the appropriate attitude toward rape that drag down the proceedings.
The Carmichael Show has some prodigious comic firepower. Jerrod Carmichael is an engaging figure, radiating a sly wryness. The show sometimes explodes with amusement whenever we get a prolonged scene involving Jerrod’s parents, played by Loretta Devine, in a fine turn as Jerrod’s ditzy mother, and a nicely grumpy David Alan Grier as his father. But in the three new episodes I’ve seen, the show too often makes the laughs secondary to its progressive message.
NBC always seems as though it’s slightly embarrassed to have The Carmichael Show on its schedule. I say that because the network frequently airs two episodes back to back, as it’s doing tonight. This gives the impression that NBC has no idea which shows it ought to schedule before or after The Carmichael Show for a maximum ratings boost, and so the network seems willing to burn off the season order two at a time. Even when it’s preachy, the show is always engaging, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes a sitcom with a sting. I hope The Carmichael Show gets a fourth season renewal to further explore what its star wants to tell us.
The Carmichael Show airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.