Sunday, May 29, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Carmichael Show' - Joe and Maxine Go Crazy Discussing the Presidential Election in 'President Trump'

NBC's The Carmichael Show - Episode 2.13 "President Trump"

Joe decides to vote for Trump after meeting him, much to the dismay of Maxine, as each family takes up for their candidate. Meanwhile, Jerrod attempts to hear all sides of the election debate and attends a Trump rally with Joe.

This has been another great season of The Carmichael Show. It has evolved in so many fantastic ways creatively this year. Of course, it still struggles immensely in the ratings. It was in limbo for a long time before NBC picked it up for a 13-episode third season. It just goes to show that NBC really doesn't know how to program comedies right now. The second season of The Carmichael Show has been more consistent than its first. The network does trust it as a show that gets a ton of acclaim. And yet, not many viewers showed up on Sunday nights. That's not surprising considering how much competition from cable there is during this hour. But it's also weird that the finale is airing an hour earlier than usual for no good reason except the network wanting to do an American Ninja Warrior special tonight as well. It's just very weird and isn't how to build a show into being successful.

But again, this show has succeeded so much this season because of the risks it has made with subject matter. In its first year, it wasn't afraid to tackle some truly sensitive topics. That only continued in this season. There was only one episode that didn't really work well - the Islamophobia one. But 12 out of 13 is such a good run too. Most of the conversation about this season revolved around the Bill Cosby episode that aired near the beginning. It was a highly anticipated episode that showed just how serious The Carmichael Show wants to be taken. It's approach to the delicate situation was also very admirable while never losing sight of the characters. That's another thing that has really been good this season. The character work has gotten to be more important than the topics of discussion in every episode. Yes, it's still important when the Carmichaels get to discuss Bill Cosby or Donald Trump. But it's been just as significant to spend an episode with Maxine and her father's difficult relationship. All of that character work is on strong display throughout this finale. Yes, it's another episode with a big theme in tackling the presidential election. But it's about so much more than that as well because of the deep understanding of the characters.

So much of this episode works because of the dichotomy between Maxine and Joe discussing politics and Jerrod and Maxine getting engaged. One action is something that can bring happiness and unity to a family. The other is what can drive wedges between people who love each other so much. Everyone is taken aback when Joe returns from the deli ready to pledge his support for Donald Trump. It's an outrageous declaration that Maxine can't understand. But the show doesn't just allow Donald Trump to be a punching bag for jokes either. The writing takes a very critical look at a number of the candidates for president as well as the people who support them. Maxine gets so enraged whenever she sees something related to Trump. She doesn't see how anyone can support such a despicable man. And yet, the show wants to look at things from a number of perspectives. Labeling Trump supporters as "crazy" is the easy way out of the situation. In that version of this episode, Maxine would have been able to argue Joe into changing his mind. But the reality of the world isn't as simple as that. And The Carmichael Show should be applauded for not taking the easy way out of this discussion.

Political discussions amongst family members can easily get emotional and nasty. People may say things to each other that they don't really mean. Joe and Maxine are sticking to their views of the world and their candidates. Neither one of them wants to see things any other way. They've made themselves aware of the issues and have made their final decision on who to support. Maxine isn't supporting Hillary Clinton just because she's a women. She's feeling the Bern because she respects his honesty and believes her generation is starting a movement. Now, that can play just as crazily as Joe wanting to support Trump. But it's in how people defend their decisions that the true heart of the situation emerges. Joe and Maxine aren't going to find peace over this issue any time soon. In fact, things are probably only going to get nastier between now and November - especially considering Trump is the presumptive nominee for the Republican party. Before this debate, Joe and Maxine really liked each other. She needed his support when she and Jerrod were going to tell the family about their engagement. But things got complicated because politics got involved. It's something that every citizen should take seriously. But it has the power to disrupt lives and relationships as well.

Jerrod's position in the main story is very interesting too. He approaches the debate as the most level-headed. He's willing to listen to every side of the conversation in order to make a well-informed decision. He doesn't want to blindly label people as crazy because of what they believe. It's a surprising position for Jerrod to take because he often enjoys being in the wrong in the various episodic arguments. Jerrod Carmichael the writer isn't afraid to make his character a little unlikable with his situational beliefs. But here, he seems very rational and wants to create a dynamic within his family that fosters differing opinions. That's already a part of their dynamic because of how much they talk and argue. But politics stirs up something different in the family as well. They are talking about the President of the United States. It needs to be something that is taken seriously by everyone. This election cycle has been almost too unbelievable. The things the candidates have said and gotten away with is so surprising. The public's reaction to all of it is very telling as well. The finale only briefly touches on that aspect of the issue. But it is still meaningful because of the ambiguity of the debate. Things don't reach a nice resolution in the end. This is still going to be a point of contention between Joe and Maxine moving forward. But they are also still committed to being family. No matter how crazy they make each other feel.

Jerrod and Maxine's engagement is also a meaningful development for the future. It largely provides this episode with some levity as something to be mocked. It's not your typical kind of proposal. Jerrod just wants to know if they should be having that conversation. Both of them want to take their relationship to the next level. It's something that just sort of happens. It's completely true to the characters. This show is very much about conversations between the family. So, it's great that Jerrod and Maxine's engagement starts as a conversation. But that leaves it open to be mocked by Cynthia and Joe once they learn that it's happened and how it did. It's crazy and weird but also sweet and true to the characters. Their relationship has been an important part of the stories over the course of this season. They are strong as a couple. And now, marriage has the potential to change how they view things as a couple - which should be very engaging to watch next season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "President Trump" was written by Jerrod Carmichael & Nicholas Stoller and directed by Michael Zinberg.
  • Cynthia is a main player in the debate about politics throughout the episode. But her perspective doesn't seem as important as Joe, Maxine or Jerrod's. Though it's still pretty amusing when she believes Jerrod is on his deathbed because of this debate.
  • Bobby and Nekeisha have really grown as characters this season. They've really stepped up as members of the ensemble. Which is why it's so surprising that they are basically non-existent in this finale.
  • Though it's totally fitting that Nekeisha would sell Trump merchandise at one of his rallies just because she needs the money - not because she supports him as a candidate. She feels the Bern just like Maxine but really doesn't elaborate on why.
  • Jerrod and Cynthia joking about not understanding what Barack Obama's past as a community organizer means was pretty great.
  • I'm really not sure if the show has any chance at the Emmys. It's great and really deserves the recognition. But it may not be on radar of many voters. If it is, I'd love to see Loretta Devine get nominated or win for her work in "The Blues" episode. Plus, Jerrod Carmichael has really gotten strong as a writer.
  • Again, the show will be coming back for 13 episodes next season. It won't be during the fall. So it's unknown when those episodes will air or if it will be in a good position to grow. But it's still so good that the show is coming back at all.