The Carmichael Show Recap: Gender Is Over

Amber Stevens West as Maxine, Jerrod Carmichael as Jerrod. Photo: Chris Haston/NBC
The Carmichael Show
Episode Title
Man's World
Editor’s Rating

As is the norm for The Carmichael Show, "Man's World" is driven by a classic sitcom story line with a slightly modernized twist. The catalyst is simplistic and familiar enough: When Maxine offers to change a flat tire, Jerrod laughs at the thought of her doing a "man" task ("I only laughed because I found it really, really funny," he claims), prompting Maxine to call out the men on their inability to also do similar rough tasks (in this case, fixing the roof). From there, the battle of the sexes is on. The dudes take to the roof while Maxine and Cynthia — who is only competing for the $100, rather than any need to prove Jerrod wrong — head to the garage.

Much has been said, both in these recaps and elsewhere, about how The Carmichael Show is a throwback to old-fashioned hot-button and "controversial" sitcoms. But it's very much a product of all sitcoms, too — as well as the tropes that routinely propel them. We already got a gender-related episode with season one's aptly titled "Gender," a smart and inspired half-hour in which Jerrod meets a transgender youth. "Man's World" isn't nearly as creative or refreshing, but instead reminiscent of a number of sitcoms that have tackled similar issues. Even when The Carmichael Show gives us a familiar episode, though, it finds new jokes in old situations.

In the cold open, the men dance around what they're really thinking, forcing Cynthia to be the one to say that women shouldn't change a tire. ("Why did you make me say that sexist thing out loud?" she says, blaming Maxine in a nice bait-and-switch moment.) And then, when Maxine protests the stereotype of women cooking and cleaning while their husbands sit back and rub their stomachs, the wide shot reveals that's exactly what's happening. The Carmichael Show leans into a standard sitcom trope — the contentious dynamic between men and women — in order to introduce the multiple sides of this week's debate.

As we've seen many times, Carmichael prefers to explore differing opinions of a singular issue. In "Man's World," we get that through both sexes. The episode explores masculinity in terms of modernity ("You raised us to be men for a world that doesn't exist anymore," Jerrod says) rather than the old-fashioned concept of the rugged handyman that Joe is accustomed to. When it comes to feminism, the episode uses the differences between Maxine and Cynthia to highlight that there isn't one correct way to be a feminist. "True feminism," according to Cynthia, "is when a woman knows where she wants to be in the world." Cynthia wants to be baking cookies in the kitchen, and it's no one's place — not even a fellow woman — to tell her that she's wrong for doing what she wants.

If there is one consistent problem with The Carmichael Show, however, it's that it often doesn't know what to do with Maxine. For the most part, she slips into the role of know-it-all girlfriend or the voice of reason when the Carmichaels are caught up in their own little argumentative world. She's barely seen as more than just Jerrod's girlfriend, meaning Amber Stevens West doesn't get many chances to show her comedic or dramatic chops. Fortunately, "Man's World" recognizes this problem and brings Maxine to the foreground. It certainly helps that she's paired up with Cynthia, as the duo has the most contemptuous and complex relationship of anyone in the cast, which means immediate dramedy.

In the episode's best scene, as Cynthia lectures about what feminism really means, she asks Maxine why she's trying to prove something that she doesn't need to prove. When Maxine finally gets a chance to speak her mind, she says that this obviously isn't just about changing a tire or gender roles — she's sick of no one taking her seriously. Cynthia and Joe always laugh at Maxine and put her down when she tries to take a more serious role in their discussions. More often than not, even Jerrod laughs at her. She's frequently seen as the cute, nice girl who dated her way into the Carmichael family, rather than what she actually is: a strong, smart woman with opinions to share. It's a self-reflective moment for The Carmichael Show, lobbing such an accurate description of its Maxine problems into a story line. I'm hoping her character continues to get stronger and more developed as the second season continues.