Wednesday, March 9, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Carmichael Show' - Jerrod is Surprised When Maxine Reveals a Past Cheating Experience in 'Everybody Cheats'

NBC's The Carmichael Show - Episode 2.01 "Everybody Cheats"

When Cynthia sees her friend's husband out with another woman, the family comes together to discuss cheating and consequences. Jerrod is shocked when this family discussion reveals that Maxine is no stranger to infidelity.

The Carmichael Show was such a surprising show that came out of nowhere last year. NBC not only dumped it in the late days of summer - the typical sign of network burn-off - but it was doubling up the episodes so it only aired across three weeks. That wasn't a great way to build momentum for this show. Despite those logistics though, the show did find a way to break out because of its high quality. This is a show that has a unique perspective and voice. Jerrod Carmichael is still growing as an actor. But he is very impressive as a writer. He has surrounded himself with a terrific cast that truly make the dialogue and situations shine. This show bases itself in conversation. That's what every episode is about. It's this family coming together and just having regular conversations in their living room about big and important topics. But it never comes across as too preachy. It's a show that has big ideas on its mind and isn't afraid to dig deep into what these situations mean for all the characters involved. It's a skill set that is only bound to grow in the comedy's second season - which is being treated much better by the network.

Of course, NBC doesn't have a great comedy launching pad right now. So it can only give The Carmichael Show so much support. It aired tonight in a special sneak preview behind a two-hour recap special of The Voice. And then, it will make its regular time slot debut on Sunday, March 13 with two episodes at 9/8c. and 9:30/8:30c. A Sunday comedy block is untested waters for NBC over the past few years. They've tried many different things on the night after football finishes its run. But it's seemed more and more clear that football is the night's big attraction for NBC and without it they're just flailing around unsure of what to do. It would be great if The Carmichael Show is able to get some traction on the night because it needs as much support as it can get because it's so special. The first episode airing on Sunday is pretty great as well. But that's a conversation for later on.

Right now, it's just so good that the show is back at all. It opens the new season with a conversation about cheating and all the moral complications that arise from such a subject. It's a wonderful episode because of how personal this story actually becomes for members of the Carmichael family. All of it starts because Cynthia and Maxine notice that the husband of Cynthia's best friend is out with another woman. It's a conversation simply in the abstract because Cynthia is unsure of what she should do. She is torn over doing the morally right thing and not being a snitch. It's a very amusing conversation. Jerrod's explanation about the correlation between a man's socio-economic status and having a mistress is a pretty astute talking point. It's not as simple as that though. It may be in this instance. Maxine has a very high moral compass and she keeps talking until Cynthia finally just caves in on the pressure and tells her friend - which then ruins that friendship.

But this episode because so much more fascinating and compelling when the experience of cheating becomes personal to the characters. Cynthia is rightfully angry at Maxine for forcing her to destroy one of her only friendships in the world. Maxine comes from a genuine place. But no one in this family really believes that she has had the life experience to really know what to do in this situation. She's a woman filled with ideals but not a lot of meaningful action. Of course, she then surprises the entire family in saying that she was in a relationship where cheating was involved. That's a very cagey way to word that revelation. It's because she cheated on her former boyfriend with Jerrod and that's how their relationship started. It's a surprising reveal to Jerrod. At first, he makes fun of the opportunities they missed out on in the early days of dating. He was working so hard to win her over. And now, he learns that that wasn't necessary at all. It probably ensures that this is a relationship that may actually last - as compared to a cheating dynamic that gets boring once the cheating element is removed. But he still thinks they missed out on a lot of fun.

And yet, all of this still builds to a wonderful scene between Jerrod and Maxine discussing what this news means for the future of their relationship. They have been really stable as a couple. Maxine has been welcomed into this family - even though Cynthia is still a little too giddy by the prospect of Jerrod breaking up with Maxine. They have had their disagreements before and probably will again in the future. This relationship has been meaningful to both of them. They make each other better people. And now, they are struggling with what all of this means for them because Joe and Cynthia want to generalize the experience. Cynthia gets it into their heads that "once a cheater, always a cheater." It's a fear that is prominent in every serious relationship. A person is opening themselves up to someone knowing fully well that it may end in heartbreak. Neither Jerrod nor Maxine want to experience that pain. But they don't want to pull away from each other either. It's really beautiful and funny when Jerrod realizes that this fear is what can keep the two of them together. The fear that either one of them could cheat on the other and destroy this relationship. They trust each other and that's really all they can promise right now. It's a very realistic approach to the whole issue.

Realism is a huge part of this episode too. Bobby continues to live in his own world where he wants relationships to be filled with happiness and no struggles. Even though he has a failed marriage, he still wants to believe in "happily ever afters." Joe has his own opinions on what makes the perfect woman to be with. He even has a chart that can help explain all of it. That's an amusing visual that helps fill the time and give the rest of the family something to do while Jerrod and Maxine are working things out. And in the end, it's just very funny listening as Jerrod, Joe and Cynthia share their fantasies about how they'd cheat on their respective partners. It's a fun sequence that shows that this is something they've put some thought into. Jerrod thinks a camping trip would be the perfect excuse. Meanwhile, Joe would want to do it with someone with a terminal disease. But it's most insightful when Cynthia has this really thought out and elaborate plan on how she'd get away from Joe without him realizing it. She catches herself eventually but it's still so amusing to see these various personalities and ideas play off of one another.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Everybody Cheats" was written by Jerrod Carmichael & Ari Katcher and directed by Gerry Cohen.
  • Bobby is still a work-in-progress character. He still doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the ensemble. He's simply another person to react to all the crazy things being said by the family. And yet, the joke about him not handling things well when left all alone was pretty good - though not as funny as the studio audience thought it was.
  • Cynthia loses Karen as a friend because she tells her about her husband cheating. And yet, her track record suggests that Cynthia isn't the best at maintaining friends. Though she does reconnect with another one by episode's end. So she still has other people in this world she's close with besides her family.
  • Maxine didn't so much end things with her former boyfriend. It was more like phasing things out. A phrase that Jerrod just doesn't understand at all. The episode gets a couple good jokes about Maxine's ex-boyfriend, Garrett, too. But it also seems unlikely that he'll ever pop up sometime in the future - though that would be amusing.
  • Joe: "Honey, how would you rate your self-esteem?" Cynthia: "Well, I'd say I'm about a seven. Maybe a seven and a half depending on how much Beyonc√© I've listened to."
  • Cynthia: "So are y'all swingers now?"