‘The Carmichael Show’ Shouldn’t Have Been Canceled

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Jerrod Carmichael, Amber Stevens West, Aurora Perrineau, Loretta Devine, and David Alan Grier in The Carmichael Show. (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)

Although it will air a new episode on Wednesday night, The Carmichael Show already seems over, a closed chapter in smart network sitcoms. Its co-stars are scattering: Lil Rel Howery, who played star Jerrod Carmichael’s brother, has seen success in the hit movie Get Out and will appear in the new season of Issa Rae’s terrific HBO show, Insecure. Tiffany Haddish, who plays Jerrod’s sister-in-law, is set to become a breakout movie star in the upcoming comedy Girls Trip. And Amber Stevens West, who plays Jerrod’s girlfriend, Maxine, has been cast in the Craig Robinson-Adam Scott sitcom Ghosted, coming this fall on Fox.

NBC canceled the series after three seasons and a near-complete failure to promote the show in a smart way. There was so little on the network’s comedy schedule that was deemed compatible, NBC burned off back-to-back episodes of The Carmichael Show for most of its existence. (When the fall TV season starts in September, NBC’s only sitcoms will be Superstore and The Good Place, either of which could have been good time-period companions for a smart piece like Carmichael.)

The very thing that made The Carmichael Show distinctive — its energetic comic discussions of serious subjects — is also what doomed it to cancellation. NBC yanked one episode about Jerrod’s emotional well-being after surviving a mall shooting because it would have aired around the time of the congressional softball game shooting in which Republican congressman Steve Scalise was wounded. This, despite the fact that the episode — which aired a couple of weeks ago, titled “Shoot-Up-Able” — was all about the healing that needs to occur after such an awful event.

Show co-creator Jerrod Carmichael was interested in exploring topics that network TV usually doesn’t touch: the Bill Cosby scandal; an unwarranted fear of new Muslim neighbors; Maxine’s attendance at a Black Lives Matter rally. The show was both pointed and funny about these and all of its hot-button topics, and you never felt that Carmichael was straining to come up with a controversy-of-the-week. The series had perfect comic foils in Jerrod’s old-fashioned parents, played superbly by Loretta Devine and David Alan Grier. As Cynthia and Joe Carmichael, they offered hilariously out-of-step, socially conservative counterpoint to the strong progressive arguments of Maxine.

The series wasn’t perfect. I’d have suggested, for example, that the show have Jerrod take Maxine’s side more frequently and more forcefully, so that his character did more than act as a neutral observer lobbing acerbic comments. (It may be that Carmichael was sometimes too modest, pushing his co-stars to the forefront.) But The Carmichael Show deserved a fourth season. On a recent edition, Cynthia paused during a debate about alcoholic drinking to remark, “It’s like an episode of Black-ish!” I’ll miss that kind of funny self-consciousness as well as the show’s insistence on having those debates.

The Carmichael Show airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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