'Carmichael Show' Continues to Court Controversy, But Not for "Shock Value's Sake"

"I think its important for content to challenge," creator and star Jerrod Carmichael told reporters Wednesday at TCA of his acclaimed NBC sitcom.
Courtesy of NBC

Gun control. Gender identity. Religion. In just six episodes, The Carmichael Show was able to tackle hot-button topics that some network sitcoms will go six seasons without touching.

And now that the well-received multicam comedy is returning for season two, the writers are showing no signs of slowing down, or more importantly, backing off.

"I think its important for content to challenge," creator and comedian Jerrod Carmichael told reporters Wednesday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. "I think people have a need to be challenged and people want to be challenged."

The semi-autobiographical comedy was fast-tracked to air last summer after being picked up for a six-episode first season in March. After opening to favorable reviews and impressive ratings, NBC picked up the series for a second season and opted to move the series from summer to spring in hopes of building on the series' initial buzz.

"I grew up in a household that wasn’t afraid to talk about anything. Nothing was off limits," Carmichael said when asked about his motivation to tackle newsworthy topics. "That’s where my perspective comes from and that’s where the idea for the show came from."

Upcoming episodes of the series, which is just kicking off production on its' second season in advance of a spring return, will cover political topics like the Muslim community and gentrification, as well as more sitcom-friendly issues like cheating.

"What we try and do is gauge genuine conversation, the things that people are really talking about," Carmichael said. "If you just pick from the headlines, you end up trying to write something that you don’t feel passionate about."

Added executive producer Danielle Sanchez-Witzel: "We would never pick something for shock value's sake."

Another key to making these controversial topics TV-friendly, executive producer Nicholas Stoller explained, is that the series does not preach, or push particular viewpoints. "None of the characters are wrong in what they think," he said.

Many critics have drawn parallels between The Carmichael Show and Norman Lear's classic sitcoms that rarely shied away from the topics of the day.

"So many times in comedies, it's kind of like they exist in this bubble and the real world is outside and they never really talk about what's happening in the real world," said David Alan Grier, who plays the father of Carmichael's character. "It should be, when we're successful, very organic because that’s what people do."

So why did it take so long for another controversial comedy to make a splash the way Lear's collection of comedies routinely did back in the day? Carmichael blamed networks' obligations to advertisers. "In the fear of making everyone happy, we forgot to write real opinion and we forgot to write real perspective," he said. "The American viewing audience is smarter than I think we give them credit for."

Grier also attributed the success of The Carmichael Show to the rise of other TV platforms, namely cable and streaming services, which is "forcing networks to take chances."

As Loretta Devine, who plays the mother of Carmichael's character, pointed out, the times have changed quite a bit since Lear first made a name for himself by the stirring the pot. "We live in such a politically correct society where you can lose everything by saying the wrong thing at the right time," she said. "[This] has a truth to it that rings very loud."

The Carmichael Show returns for season two this spring on NBC.

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