The news that NBC renewed The Carmichael Show was a little surprising — not because it didn’t deserve a third season, but because it’s a relatively small sitcom that hasn’t drawn loud demands for a renewal. It was almost like we’d all quietly accepted the inevitable: As of late, broadcast TV has taught us that smart, funny, well-written sitcoms will almost always be canceled in their primes. The Carmichael Show certainly fits that bill.
Although the renewal is surprising, it’s certainly well-deserved. Nearly every episode this season has dug deep to find laughs in tough situations, and most have contributed to the larger conversations about topics like Bill Cosby, the stigma of depression, and now, the 2016 election — primarily Donald Trump.
In “President Trump” — an uncomfortable episode title, as it edges close to the notion that this could actually become a reality — The Carmichael Show mixes the political with the personal (as real life often does), reinforcing one couple’s bond while also threatening the interpersonal relationship of two characters on opposite sides of the electoral spectrum. It’s a brilliant episode trajectory: The cold open has Jerrod sort of proposing to Maxine (hilariously, too, interjecting the conversation with orange-juice-related annoyance) but then everything spins out of control when they go to share the news with Jerrod’s family — not because of the engagement, as you’d expect in a family sitcom, but because of political disagreements.
I love that “President Trump” doesn’t make Jerrod and Maxine’s engagement a capital-letter Big Deal. It feels pretty inevitable; as I touched on last week, Jerrod and Maxine are a given and this isn’t the sort of sitcom that would seriously put their relationship in jeopardy. It wouldn’t dedicate an entire episode to, for example, mishaps of Jerrod trying to get a proposal together. Instead, the proposal and acceptance amounts to:
Jerrod: “What up?”
Maxine: “I guess I’m in.”
Jerrod: “Yeah? Cool!”
This strengthens the bond between Jerrod and Maxine, while also giving us a nice little arc to look forward to next season. (I can’t wait to see how a wedding will fit in with the series’ overall sensibility.) It also provides some tricky tension as the couple can’t find the right time to share the news because everyone is concerned with the election. Over at the Carmichaels, Joe reveals that he’s going to vote for Trump (after a handshake photo op in the store) which unsurprisingly sends Maxine into a tailspin. Maxine starts angrily sputtering, even unable to actually put into words why Trump would be so terrible for the country. “No Trump. Never Trump. I just. I can’t,” she says.
Joe doesn’t have a particularly solid reason for voting for Trump (aside from repeating Trump’s slogan and something about bringing jobs home), but this provides the episode with a jumping-off point to have the characters debate and discuss their choices. Maxine is voting for Bernie Sanders because he’s “the only honest candidate,” and she talks about how “we’re starting a revolution” only to get laughter in response from Joe. (A nice touch: Cynthia wondering why Maxine isn’t voting for Hillary, citing Maxine’s feminism, is an all-too-common argument for women this election.) Jerrod plays his usual role: listening and commenting, but never committing to one or the other.
The discussion turns heated, as political discussions are wont to do, especially between Maxine and Joe. It also quickly turns personal: It’s no secret that the rest of the Carmichaels think Maxine can have a know-it-all, holier-than-thou attitude, and this time Joe brings it up in terms of her relationship with Jerrod. Joe calls out Maxine for claiming to be open-minded, but “if people don’t agree with you, then you think they’re stupid.” Then he suggests this way of thinking will cause problems in her personal life and with Jerrod. This hits Maxine hard (plus, you know, bad timing) and she bails.
Back at home, Jerrod tries to convince Maxine to at least give Joe the benefit of the doubt. He suggests she attend the Trump rally with Joe — and maybe Joe will go with her to the Sanders rally — and then they’ll both see the other’s side. This isn’t so much about politics for Jerrod; it’s about trying to get his future wife and his father to hang out together, to be open to each other’s ideas, opinions, and experiences before Maxine officially becomes part of the family. Maxine refuses to the Trump rally, and Jerrod goes instead. Cut to: Jerrod in the hospital after getting stabbed at the Trump rally. That’s one way to end an argument!
Yes, this conclusion feels a little too easy. It allows everyone to rally around their concern for Jerrod, rather than talk out their differences. But it still works. Jerrod tells his parents about the engagement and the family comes together. (It also helps that The Carmichael Show is self-aware about this easy plot development; Jerrod likens himself to Jesus, saying he got stabbed in order to mend the family.) It’s also clear that this doesn’t suddenly make everything better: Maxine still disagrees with Joe (but loves his hugs) and Cynthia accepts the engagement but is still hesitant about Maxine being an official member of the family.
“President Trump” is a solid end to an especially solid season. It showcases the two traits that make this such a lovely show to watch: a commitment to the big issues and a commitment to smaller family moments. The Carmichael Show brings these both together effortlessly, and it will surely continue to do so when it comes back for a third season.