‘The Carmichael Show’ Remains Topical but Sidesteps Trump in Season 3

The star and exec producers of the acclaimed comedy discuss the show's yearlong break and what tough topics they'll be discussing in future episodes.
Chris Haston/NBC

What a difference a year makes.

When The Carmichael Show wrapped its second season on May 29, 2016, with a finale titled "President Trump," the idea of the former Celebrity Apprentice host becoming commander-in-chief seemed a bit of a stretch.

"I kind of knew it was going to happen. That's why we made the President Trump [episode],'" star, co-creator and exec producer Jerrod Carmichael told The Hollywood Reporter at a recent NBC press event. "I was in a different stage of grief, if you will."

The episode, which centered on Trump's campaign and the 2016 election as a whole, was one of many the NBC comedy has seemingly ripped from the headlines since its 2015 debut. The Carmichael Show's calling card has become its penchant for diving deep into uncomfortable conversations that many other comedies go out of their way to avoid. In addition to tackling such issues as guns, depression and Islamophobia, the multicam also famously produced an entire episode discussing Bill Cosby and the many rape allegations made against him.

"I've never liked mindless art," said Carmichael. "I don't like when you know how it's going to end. When you know all the talking points, you're basically listening for catch phrases at that point." 

Although The Carmichael Show had the foresight to tackle a potential Trump presidency even before he received the Republican nomination, the show hasn't been able to comment on his time in office yet. Why? Because the show has been off the air ever since that finale. While production on season three started in January, the show wasn't scheduled by NBC until last week, when a May 31 premiere date was announced.

The uncertainty of when the show would return also made it difficult for the writers to dive in to the many headlines stemming from the new administration, and its sometimes divisive positions, thus far.

"We had to be careful because we didn’t know when we were going to be on. Is Trump still going to be president? It's difficult. I think we would have preferred to create and air [episodes] closer to each other; it just wasn't an option for us," said showrunner Danielle Sanchez-Witzel. "To be really really topical, we needed a different scenario that we didn't get. So in our world, Trump is president. We might have to front-load it and make sure it airs before anything changes."

Joked co-creator and exec producer Nicholas Stoller: "It might be [Russian President Vladimir] Putin by then."

Carmichael also had personal reasons for not leaning too much into Trump's presidency in season three. "It's not just the easy, 'Trump is bad' [perspective], which may be true, but we've heard it. But it's like, what's the finer point? What's the more specific approach?" he explained. "I haven't done an episode about Trump this season for that reason. Every week, I read a headline, 'Blank takes down Trump,' and they don't. They never do. So until I find the really specific way …"

Just because The Carmichael Show won't be taking on Trump doesn't mean the series will suddenly be shying away from sensitive subjects altogether. Season three topics will include the n-word, in an episode in which the word will air on NBC uncensored, and patriotism.

"We ended up leaning hard in to Trump on that," said Sanchez-Witzel of the latter episode. "Hopefully, we've picked things that are relevant enough. Certainly, I know there are a ton of topics that, unfortunately, are going to be relevant for a long time that we're dealing with."

The timing may not have worked out for The Carmichael Show to more directly tackle President Trump, but producers hope the many ongoing national conversations his tumultuous tenure has spawned about issues such as women's rights and immigration will set the stage well for the series' return.

"The world we live in right now and how people are so consumed by the news and where the country is should help the show in sense that the show is about these topics," said executive producer Ravi Nandan. "If it's a [mass] shooting, if it's an episode about the right-to-die movement, things like that that are very much in people's minds right now, hopefully [we] will then create a conversation through the show."

While several other series have also begun to tackle the issues head-on, Sanchez-Witzel believes The Carmichael Show will prove uniquely cathartic in its approach.

"People want to talk about this stuff, but also I think people want to laugh about this stuff. And that’s where a half-hour is going to do it differently," she said. "When you see it in a drama, maybe you want to cry about it… but laughing about it is much more of a release to me than crying about it. So hopefully that conversation will help us."

The Carmichael Show's new season premieres Wednesday, May 31, at 9 p.m. on NBC. Seasons one and two begin streaming on Netflix on March 31.

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