NBC’s The Carmichael Show is, like CBS’ Mom and Netflix’s One Day at a Time, a ’70s throwback: a traditional multi-camera sitcom that’s not only comfortable getting dramatic and tackling important issues of the day, but that’s usually better when it’s doing that than when it’s telling more basic comedy stories. But where those other descendants of All in the Family and Good Times excel in the heavier moments because they’re simply better at drama, Carmichael Show is actually funnier the darker the subject matter gets.
NBC sent critics the first five episodes of the third season, which debuts tonight at 9 with two episodes. (Later weeks will feature only one.) They tackle, in order, rape and the importance of verbal consent, what it means to “support the troops,” assisted suicide, mass shootings, and whether it’s fair to judge people on their looks. The troops and looks stories are the two most likely to be featured on other comedies; not coincidentally, the jokes don’t land nearly as well as they do in the other three.
There’s something about the collision of loud sitcom punchlines with incredibly difficult topics that’s made Carmichael Show one of TV’s best and most unexpected comedies. Filled with with familiar setup/punchline rhythms most of the time, and performers — especially Loretta Devine and David Alan Grier as the parents — playing to the cheap seats of the live studio audience, it nonetheless is able to offer nuanced, multi-dimensional arguments about complicated societal issues, to have different members of the family take surprising positions on them that are usually well-argued (even Lil Rel Howery’s sweet but dim Bobby gets to be right now and then), and pepper jokes in between the talking points in a way that undercuts neither part of the conversation.