“The Carmichael Show” came to a relatively unceremonious end on Wednesday night. Left to live out the remainder of its episodes by both the show’s co-creator and the network that broadcast it, one of the best sitcoms in recent memory was robbed of the proper sendoff that it deserved.
It’s been a tumultuous final season for the NBC show, one in which its timeliest episode was pulled right before it aired. But “The Carmichael Show” did get a chance to air its final two episodes in a one-hour primetime block on its regularly scheduled evening.
And even if it had gotten a chance to craft a series finale with the full knowledge that it would be its sendoff, it’s hard to imagine that much would have changed in the two episodes that made up its farewell. “The Carmichael Show,” by its nature, treated every episode as if it were a finale. The issues that it tackled and the subjects that it broached with its title family were always poised to be part of a conversation bigger than the show itself.
Viewers who tuned in to see how the series wrapped were treated to two episodes that weren’t necessarily the show’s best, but did have many of the signature qualities that made “Carmichael” worth tuning in to every week. Most other network multi-cam shows would have made the marriage between the show’s central couple an all-out event, complete with accompanying promos and a prominent spot in that episode’s logline.
Instead, Jerrod (Carmichael) and Maxine’s (Amber Stevens West) marriage came as a surprise, low-key, natural culmination of an episode-long discussion about sexuality, relationship dynamics, and what couples intrinsically owe to each other.
What now stands as the farewell for this family is an episode centered around Bobby’s (Lil Rel Howery) relationship with an older woman. Once again, not merely a “dating older people” episode, it provided a representative look at how this family uses and then examine its own double standards. Those shifting perspectives have come with changes in outlook on race, gender, sex, class, and the greater societal expectations for families of all kinds. These episodes weren’t so much about the inciting incident themselves, as they were about how those flashpoints affected this way the way this family saw its relationship to the greater world around them.
But the last two episodes also reinforce the idea, built over all of Season 3 and the show itself, that this wasn’t a chronicle of the Carmichael family vs. the world. Through confusing and at times troubling chapters, this was a family that truly loved each other, even when they had less than conventional ways of expressing that love.
That extended to the women who joined that family through committed relationships. The latter half of the season really gave West the chance to do more with Maxine than just be the progressive counterbalance to the family’s more traditional reflexes. And recently minted superstar Tiffany Haddish also got a chance to send Nekeisha out on a high note, proving why her ex-wife character still held an emotional place in this family, even after she split up with Bobby.
The central push and pull at the heart of “The Carmichael Show” was the tension between living by conventional wisdom and recognizing the unique opportunities to embrace a different direction. This was a family that wrestled with which self-imposed rules to follow and which of those were worth bending in the light of new experiences. That was a series-long theme that also brought in disparate topics as adult divorce, domestic abuse issues, and what it means to be black in 2017 America.
Those topics also afforded one of the most talented casts on TV to address these topics with some joyous comedic touches. In the finale alone, Loretta Devine and David Alan Grier’s respective deliveries of “cyborg” and “gargoyle” showed how effective they were at honing in on the best parts of these characters, even on a word-by-word level. Howery gave Bobby some of the season’s best moments, arriving at convoluted conclusions in the most unexpected ways. (Very few actors could pull off the “Well, I’m sorry to tell you this…” he gets at the end of Season 3’s invaluable “Yes Means Yes” episode.) Even West’s incredulous, wordless glance over her shoulder at the suggestion of a new pet parakeet showed that “The Carmichael Show” knew plenty of ways to sell its best material.
By the end, the show had done a supremely effective job at painting these characters so that whenever a particular issue arose, the audience could have a solid guess as to where these family members stood. But even with that firm foundation, “The Carmichael Show” always found imaginative ways to keep any episode from reaching an easy family consensus. Events out of their control, surprising new characters, and genuine changes of heart all showed that there’s a danger to having fixed notions of how the world works. The series didn’t condemn characters for having beliefs that were built off personal experiences, but it also always gave them the option to amend their viewpoints, free of judgment.
For audiences new to “The Carmichael Show” looking for an episode that may have operated in a more traditional farewell mode, look to Season 3’s “Morris.” After finding out that Joe had a son before he married Cynthia, Jerrod and Bobby struggle with whether or not they should continue to keep the secret from their mother. Much as it did in the show’s most serious moments, “The Carmichael Show” wasn’t afraid to let a beat go by without a laugh track, to avoid covering up real tension with an easy punchline. When those laughs eventually came, they came from the same human impulse that longs to fill uncomfortable situations with a therapeutic laugh.
But at least those kinds of moments came in the middle of meaningful heart-to-hearts. Whatever Jerrod Carmichael and the cast and crew pick as their follow-ups, that’s the underlying legacy that they leave with this part of their careers. There’s lasting value in the idea that there are things unsaid that are worth talking about, that the first step in mutual understanding should be verbalizing rather than converting. It’s a shame that now the TV world has one less platform to help us do that.
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