Sunday, March 13, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Carmichael Show' - Jerrod and the Family Have a Complicated Conversation About Bill Cosby in 'Fallen Heroes'

NBC's The Carmichael Show - Episode 2.02 "Fallen Heroes"

When Maxine rejects Jerrod's invitation to a Bill Cosby concert, Jerrod offers the tickets to his parents as an anniversary gift, and the family is divided on whether or not you can appreciate entertainment free from scandal surrounding the entertainer.

It's very ambitious of The Carmichael Show to tackle Bill Cosby as a subject for only its eighth episode ever. And yet, this is one of the few shows out there that could truly delve into all the complexities of the situation. Honestly, ABC's black-ish is probably the only other show on television that could also have a thought-provoking take on Cosby's legacy. It's an ambitious concept and note-worthy because The Carmichael Show is doing it on NBC - the network that had massive success with The Cosby Show in the 1980s. Things have really changed. The creative team should be applauded for wanting to talk about this sensitive subject. Not everything that happens in this episode works. It's a bit more clunky and problematic in parts than last Wednesday's season premiere was. But it's still very impressive and truly allows each of the characters to shine in their own unique ways.

The Cosby Show was so iconic and meaningful to African American audiences. It was a show that was universally acclaimed. But it also meant so much personally to the Carmichael family. They all have deep personal feelings about the man. He impacted all of their lives. His show brought the family together. His stand-up career also brought a ton of joy and memories. Jerrod wants to celebrate those happy moments one last time - despite all the accusations surrounding the man as of late. It's been over a year since this whole unraveling of his personal life has happened in the public eye. His legacy has been tarnished forever. He is even facing criminal charges. It's a very sensitive time. But it also opens up a dynamic amongst families about whether or not the man's morals trump all of the professional accomplishments he had over the years.

"Fallen Heroes" makes sure to look at the situation from many different perspectives. Maxine wants nothing to do with the man anymore. To her, he has become this vicious sexual predator who needs to be punished for his crimes. He should no longer have a successful career or be able to get out of these accusations because of his celebrity. Meanwhile, Joe has a counterpart that says Cosby needs to be seen innocent until proven guilty by a court of law. To him, that is the foundation of the justice system. If people are convicted in the court of public opinion, than the entire system falls apart and people like him are at risk of being worse off because of it. The rest of the family is torn. Jerrod doesn't want all of the accusations to ruin the happy memories of Cosby for him. Cosby brought him many joy over the years. If he turns against him now, he worries that that means he's turning his back on all of those happy memories. Cynthia knows that she should be upset and not want to see Cosby perform stand-up. She knows that that's what she should do but she just needs to make sure that that is what she wants to do. Meanwhile, Bobby doesn't hold these accusations against Cosby. He just doesn't like his stand-up and his frequent attacks on youth culture. And lastly, Nekeisha doesn't even know about the accusations. Her response is one of the funniest moments in this entire episode. She's the one who points out all of the other successful things he has done in his life besides The Cosby Show. But she also quickly changes her tune once she learns about the 55 women who have come forward.

All of this plays against the backdrop of Joe and Cynthia's 34th wedding anniversary. They aren't doing anything special for this anniversary. As Joe puts it, there are only 17 ways to celebrate anniversaries and he needs to hold something special back for the 50th. Meanwhile, Jerrod thinks surprising Maxine with tickets to see Cosby's stand-up makes him the best boyfriend in the world. That backfires for him immensely. He still ultimately decides to go to the event though. He doesn't want anyone to take the experience of this event away from him. He wants to cherish this moment because he doesn't know how much longer Cosby will be doing this - both because he's old and because of the criminal charges. Joe goes out as well despite how disappointed Cynthia is in him. And yet, neither one of them are able to enjoy this experience. Joe doesn't even go in. He instead chooses to go get a nice looking coat for Cynthia instead. That's a fun moment that shows just how morally compromising these characters are as well - while being perfectly fine with that. Jerrod actually does see Cosby perform but spends the entire performance wondering whether or not he should be laughing at these jokes.

For better or worse, Cosby's career and legacy have been tarnished by these accusations. Even though Jerrod wants to enjoy seeing him do stand-up, he can't because of everything he knows about the man now. And yet, the family still wants to watch an episode of The Cosby Show in the end for good time's sake. They all have fond memories of the show and voice which episode is their favorite. They still watch knowing just how different the experience is now compared to when the show first aired. But even that opens up an interesting conversation about talent versus morals. The need to separate a famous person's personal life from the work that they do. Cosby isn't the only subject of criminal speculation that the show talks about in this episode. He's the one who is the most personal to this family. But the show also brings up the fact that Michael Jackson, Chris Brown, Steve Jobs, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Richards and Woody Allen all have horrifying scandals but people can still enjoy their work. So it's very tricky to determine what's acceptable to do and what's not. It's a thought-provoking conversation that has no easy answers. This episode doesn't try to simplify things or condense them down to a bunch of jokes. That's why it's so successful. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Fallen Heroes" was written by Jerrod Carmichael & Mike Scully and directed by Gerry Cohen.
  • You can tell that the studio audience isn't sure how to respond to this conversation either. They are uncertain whether or not they should laugh at the situations the characters find themselves in while they are taking about Bill Cosby and his scandal. That hesitation is very much felt but it doesn't derail too many of the punchlines.
  • Basically the episode boils down to everyone having to come to terms with the moral line they are willing to accept. Jerrod needs to find his while Cynthia is more than comfortable enjoying the stolen coat Joe got for her.
  • The joke about Jerrod and Bobby being inspired by The Cosby Show that they could go to college even though they ultimately didn't was great. But it would help if the audience knew what work both of the brothers actually do.
  • Why does Nekeisha always come over to the Carmichael house? There is still a ton of tension between her and Bobby. They only share one word responses with each other. She does have a relationship with everyone else in the family. Plus, she provides a nice outsider perspective to the family that is different than Maxine's. It's just a little curious why she spends so much time with this family when she doesn't have to.
  • It's also great that Joe is willing to have Cynthia be upset about him going to see Cosby do stand-up until he sees that it costs twenty five dollars to park in the building - which is somewhat expensive for a neighborhood that later turns out to be bad.
  • Joe: "The best thing our heroes can do is die before they disappoint us."