The Carmichael Show Recap: The Pressures of Porn

Amber Stevens West as Maxine, Jerrod Carmichael as Jerrod, David Alan Grier as Joe. Photo: Chris Haston/NBC
The Carmichael Show
Episode Title
Porn Addiction
Editor’s Rating

In the grand scheme of The Carmichael Show, "Porn Addiction" doesn't feel quite as big or urgent as what we're used to seeing. This isn't entirely a criticism, though: The episode is another solid entry in the show's stellar second season.

In fact, this downshift might not be such a bad thing. Throughout this season, I've routinely praised The Carmichael Show for its dedication to tackling an Issue of the Week. The buzz surrounding the sitcom has been driven by its All in the Family–like approach to these big topics: gender roles, racism, depression, and even Bill Cosby. But it's also important to note that The Carmichael Show isn't just about the big, classic issues. It has also done an admirable job providing attention to smaller (and more modern-ish) topics. A few weeks ago, an episode debated social media effect's on IRL relationships. This week — the week before a sure-to-be-controversial, Donald Trump-centric finale — the series takes on another relatively lighter, technology-focused topic: porn.

"Porn Addiction" takes an interesting approach by not, as I assumed it would, having Joe or Jerrod be the center of the "controversy." Instead, the character with the titular porn addiction is never seen, though the reveal packs just as much of a blow: It's the reverend at Cynthia's church. Religion has always been a character of sorts on The Carmichael Show, particularly with regards to Cynthia, who is deeply religious and attends church a few times a week. It's always portrayed naturally — it makes total sense why a black family in North Carolina would put a great emphasis on religion — so it never seems, well, preachy. Still, religion's presence has been big enough for us to know that this reverend issue will send Cynthia into a tailspin.

The episode begins in the living room, as the family arrives home to discuss the sermon. Cynthia can't understand why anyone would watch porn … and then the three Carmichael men all "admit" that they watch. It's not surprising to anyone but Cynthia, who finds the news deeply upsetting and believes that porn has the power to ruin marriages. She believes this so strongly that she bans Joe from watching porn and starts a mission to figure out how to block the sites from their home computer. On the opposite side of Cynthia's argument, as usual, is Maxine. She believes that porn can actually be healthy — when used in moderation — and help people understand human sexuality.

From there, the episode switches gears to Jerrod and Maxine back at their apartment. "Porn Addiction" places the couple in a pretty basic argument as they reveal more about their porn habits. (Not basic as in "uncommon," but basic as in "I expected something more from a show that's this consistently good.") Maxine is a little taken aback at Jerrod having a billion favorite adult actresses (as well as knowing details about their lives and following one on Instagram) and she's surprised by the frequency with which he watches, but she takes this news in stride. Jerrod, however, flips out when Maxine reveals that sometimes she watches even when he is home.

Fortunately, The Carmichael Show avoids the trap of falling into some overdone argument about pornography. Instead, "Porn Addiction" uses this as a jump-off point to discuss Jerrod's relationship insecurities. It's a smart move and it proves that the show doesn't have to stick to bigger stuff to succeed; it can add gravitas and insight to lighter topics, too.

Jerrod and Maxine's relationship is a given. They were already dating in the series pilot, already established in the roles necessary for their dynamic to work, and already showing off the strength of their bond. Their relationship works without question because The Carmichael Show doesn't want to portray a young couple on the rocks. It wants to portray a young couple facing things together. We never have to worry if an issue will tear them apart. Instead, we get to see how they will learn to talk through it. This week, we get to see how Jerrod reacts to Maxine occasionally opting for solo bathtub time when she wants to get off instead of waking up her boyfriend in the next room. For Maxine, it's not a big deal — and it isn't! — but for Jerrod, he worries that she is no longer as sexually interested in him as she used to be. He thinks she might be bored, or maybe the passion is gone. Of course, neither is true and the two naturally work things out and find a compromise.

It's a clean-cut ending for them — as well as for Cynthia, after Bobby reveals that he knows Cynthia and Joe made a sex tape but that he won't judge them for it, which convinces her that she shouldn't judge the rest of the family for watching porn. That's something we don't always get on The Carmichael Show. It's safe, it's fine, but you can't help but want a little more. Even if it does work.