On Sunday, NBC’s The Carmichael Show aired an episode that would have been a shocking departure for any other sitcom. “Perfect Storm” begins with a couple, Jerrod and Maxine (played by Jerrod Carmichael and Amber Stevens West), going out to buy emergency contraception after a condom breaks during sex. Because of a serious storm, they’re diverted to his parents’ house, and Jerrod’s religious mother, Cynthia (Loretta Devine), objects when she finds out about their plan, prompting a discussion about a woman’s right to choose, family planning, and Jerrod’s own fears about being a parent one day. It’s the kind of episode that could easily feel stagey or polemical, but Carmichael works hard to keep things as natural as possible.
That’s been his goal since creating the series, which premiered last year. Like its obvious classic-sitcom influences (from All in the Family to The Cosby Show), The Carmichael Show tries to dig into topical material every week, while strictly avoiding any sense that it’s talking down to its audience or teaching them a valuable lesson. “I just wanted an adult show, a show that a smart adult would feel comfortable watching,” Carmichael told me. “We have these real conversations every day, and then we turn the television on and it doesn’t reflect that.” Literally and figuratively, The Carmichael Show is a grown-up family sitcom, one that doesn’t look to pander for quick laughs or sanitized moments of togetherness.