Amber Stevens West as Maxine, Jerrod Carmichael as Jerrod, Tiffany Haddish as Nekeisha, Lil Rel Howery as Bobby.
As an obsessive sitcom fan, I would love to get a behind-the-scenes peek of any comedy on television. Lately, I find myself doubly wishing this for The Carmichael Show. It seems like the writers start off with one hot topic — Plan B, Bill Cosby, gentrification — and then list off every opinion one could have on the subject before throwing it all into a family-orientated narrative. Such a dedication to controversial topics in a half-hour sitcom can run the risk of feeling a little forced (as “Gentrifying Bobby” does at times) or seeming too much like a Very Special Episode. The majority of The Carmichael Show episodes do have a natural feel, though — and even when they don’t, they’re still entertaining.
“Gentrifying Bobby” has some trouble exploring the topic of gentrification in a flowing way. Instead, the dialogue can come off as stilted, a little too explanatory. Then again, gentrification isn’t a topic that often pops up in casual conversation without someone having to explain what it is (or explaining what they believe it to be). The catalyst within the episode is Bobby suddenly moving out of his parents’ house and back in with his ex-wife, Nekeisha. (He says they’re giving the relationship another shot; she says they’re two platonic friends sharing a space to save money.) Just as he moves in, Nekeisha’s landlord (the always-funny Kirk Fox!) evicts them because she hasn’t been paying rent. Turns out the rent has doubled since a Whole Foods was built around the corner — and bam! — the discussion shifts to gentrification.
Gentrification, a.k.a. “one of those long words [Joe] was told to be afraid of,” isn’t as loaded a topic as some of the others we’ve seen during this show’s run. It’s nevertheless a personal topic, with a person’s opinions shaped by everything from their hometown to their race to their tax bracket. Jerrod thinks gentrification is “a beautiful thing” because it makes the neighborhood more attractive. Maxine is against gentrification, but she’s clearly someone who takes advantage of it (she loves the Japanese shaved-ice shop, for example). She doesn’t realize that she not only supports gentrification, but she’s — gasp! — a villain herself. Maxine’s unsurprising guilt leads to her inviting Nekeisha to stay in their apartment, which Jerrod immediately balks at.
Although there were bits of “Gentrifying Bobby” that didn’t fully land, it’s still successful, especially in terms of how the show once again finds an ideal way to introduce personal viewpoints. In the world of The Carmichael Show, Bobby is mostly used as comic relief; he’s a reliably funny character who pops up with dumb quips and a humorously sad-ish life. This episode goes a bit deeper into Bobby’s authentic personality (and allows Lil Rel Howery to get some smart and substantial screen time) while also showcasing the complicated sibling relationship between Bobby and Jerrod.
As all siblings will confirm, sibling rivalry is very real — even if you don’t realize that you’re competing, you likely are on a subconscious level. There are times when this can be harmful and damaging, but there are plenty of times when it’s harmless or even beneficial, as the siblings push each other to work harder and be better. A bit of both elements are at play in “Gentrifying Bobby,” as Jerrod essentially tells Bobby that he believes he’s better than him. After all, Jerrod lives in an apartment that is doing the gentrification while Bobby just got evicted because of gentrification. Jerrod is active when it comes to getting what he wants (a nice apartment, a good job, and a hot girlfriend) whereas Bobby takes a more passive approach to his whole life. Jerrod aptly describes this as lying on the ground to complain how lumpy it is.
Even though what Jerrod says comes off as mean and hurtful — not to mention arrogant — he does mean well. He knows that Bobby can be better, and that he can accomplish whatever he wants when he actually tries. The Carmichael brothers don’t talk that way, and their complicated relationship twists Jerrod’s encouraging feelings into discouraging words. (There are likely some issues related to masculinity/fear of talking about real feelings, too, if you’d like to get even deeper.) “Gentrifying Bobby” even remarks on different parenting styles, as Cynthia and Joe raised each of their sons differently. Jerrod was more independent — he once told his parents that “affection is for the weak” — and Bobby needed coddling. Cynthia and Joe recognize that their sons are different people with individual personalities, so they adjusted their parenting accordingly.
This episode doesn’t aims to give viewers a definitive answer on gentrification, just as it doesn’t claim that one style of parenting is superior or that one child was raised better than the other. What it does show is that these two vastly different people — Bobby and Jerrod — can both be successful. For Bobby, that means managing to get an apartment, meeting a hot woman, and finding a job all within 20 minutes, thanks to a murder in the building and a job opening for a super. Though the Carmichael boys took different roads, they arrived at the same destination.