The Carmichael Show
Joe Carmichael might be the most interesting character on The Carmichael Show. For the most part, the series uses him to highlight the generational gap between him and Jerrod. He’s the black equivalent of The Simpsons’ “Old Man Yells at Cloud” gag, a crotchety dude who hasn’t adapted to the changing world around him. Joe’s ridiculous statements are presented in a humorous way, rather than an offensive one. This isn’t to say that much of what Joe utters isn’t offensive, but the writing on the show makes it clear that he doesn’t say these things from a place of genuine hatred or with malicious intent. He just doesn’t know that it’s offensive — and when he’s called out on it, he doesn’t know why it’s offensive. The character works really well because he provides a natural way for Jerrod, Maxine, and Co. to find opposition. His backward ways of thinking allows the show to begin debates without forcing them.
This is Joe’s main role in “New Neighbors.” (Ditto for Cynthia, who also exhibits characteristics that provide an oppositional take.) The titular neighbors who move next to the Carmichaels are a young Muslim couple (“a man and a woman — you’ve got to be clear these days,” Joe says). And what’s more, Cynthia notes, is that the woman is wearing “the head thing and everything.” When the older Carmichaels spot their neighbors for the first time, they go out of their way to talk around their religion, saying things like, “Of all the things they could be, they are Muslims” and “This should be very interesting.” But that wouldn’t make for a good sitcom, so Jerrod calls out his parents for being politically correct. In a slightly forced way, he reassures them that they’re in a safe space and should speak openly and honestly. Now that Joe has the clearance to say what he wants, he immediately blurts out, “What are they doing in my America?”
The Carmichaels fall into their typical roles, with Joe and Cynthia spouting Islamophobia but not really understanding why their statements are Islamophobic, Maxine taking the most socially conscious and politically correct role (she can’t even bring herself to say “terrorist” out loud), and Jerrod hanging around somewhere in the middle. He understands his parents are wrong, but also somewhat defends their views. Though Jerrod is smart enough to know there’s no reason why they should freak out, a small part of him is still that empty-headed kid who thinks his parents could be right.
Throughout the series, Jerrod’s political beliefs aren’t explicitly defined. He’s clearly progressive and liberal — it’s hard not to be when you’re a black man in this tumultuous racial climate — but he also thinks it’d be a good idea to build a wall around the entire country. He’s not “anti-immigration” but “pro-walls.” (In one of the episode’s funniest jokes, Jerrod refers to slavery as an “aggressive invitation.”) Even so, when Jerrod’s parents go too far, he knows that he has to intervene.
When Joe and Cynthia decide to introduce themselves to their new neighbors (because they want to get on their good side in case they’re, uh, terrorists), they bring over a gift basket full of items that represent America — some Pringles, Coke Zero, a few Susan B. Anthony coins, and a (possibly bootleg) DVD copy of Evan Almighty — but then screw up the exchange and further alienate themselves. To make matters worse, when the mailman leaves a package from Pakistan on the doorstep, Joe and Cynthia steal it because they’re suspicious of its contents.
This is where “New Neighbors” gets a bit crazy. It’s one thing for Joe and Cynthia to be suspicious of their neighbors; it’s quite another for them to steal someone’s package and commit a felony. This whole episode is reminiscent of the 30 Rock episode in which Liz Lemon believes her new neighbor (played by Fred Armisen) is a terrorist when, in fact, he’s just training for Amazing Race. It didn’t play so well then, and it doesn’t play too well here, either, but it’s tough to find the proper, balance when exploring a subject as delicate as this one. To its credit, The Carmichael Show does try, and this ridiculous escalation doesn’t totally miss the mark because of what we already know about Joe and Cynthia. The Carmichaels are perfectly aware that what they’re doing is wrong — they just decide to do it anyway.
As for the episode’s conclusion, The Carmichael Show has definitely had stronger instances of telling complete, well-rounded stories. “New Neighbors” basically boils down to the neighbors calling out the Carmichaels and Jerrod selling out his parents for stealing the package. One exchange rings true, though: When the woman remarks that she can’t get angry about judgmental looks because people fear angry Muslim women, Jerrod relates because of the fear of black men in hoodies. There isn’t really anything solved, and it doesn’t feel complete, but at least The Carmichael Show includes enough standout bits to keep the episode going.