Let’s see, the last time a stand-up comic decided to create a TV vehicle for himself, it didn’t turn out so well. The comic was John Mulaney, who is talented; the show was “Mulaney,” which was dreadful and died a protracted, long-overdue death. If anyone had watched it, they would have begged Fox to put it out of its misery.
Before you can say “Next!,” Jerrod Carmichael comes along as the co-creator (with Nicholas Stoller) and star of “The Carmichael Show,” premiering with back-to-back episodes Wednesday on NBC. This time, it works better.
Carmichael (“Neighbors”) is the more grounded of the two sons of Joe (David Alan Grier), an argumentative, opinionated dad, and Cynthia (Loretta Devine), a sweeter-natured but equally overbearing church lady mom. Ne’er-do-well brother Bobby (Lil Rey Howery) rounds out the family.
Jerrod and his mixed-race girlfriend, Maxine (Amber Stevens West), have just moved in together, but Jerrod is in no hurry to tell the folks he’s “living in sin.” Maxine thinks otherwise and plans to tell the elder Carmichaels the next time the family is all together. Every time she tries to introduce the subject, Jerrod conveniently switches to a topic he knows will push either or both of his parents’ buttons.
Virtually every time a stand-up comic does a sitcom, the show tends to be imitative of one or several of its forebears. “Mulaney” was a Roman Catholic grandchild of “Seinfeld,” for example.
If you think this is where we compare “The Carmichael Show” to “Black-ish,” think again. Its closer relative is actually “Everybody Loves Raymond.” In fact, the set for the elder Carmichaels’ home looks like a rebuild of Ray and Debra Barone’s living room. You even get a grouchy, know-it-all dad, a semi-loser brother, and as for Mom, you can almost hear Ray delivering the warning to Debra when Jerrod tells Maxine she has no idea what she’s in for if she allows his mother to get into her head. To top it off, Maxine can’t cook to the family’s liking.
All of this is ok, though, because in the TV world, imitation is the sincerest form of content production. What counts are the performances and the dialogue, and “The Carmichael Show” scores adequately in both categories.
Jerrod Carmichael is a natural, easily adapting his conversational standup style to the sitcom format once again. That said, there are awkward moments here and there where Carmichael seems to go out of character and onto the stage of a comedy club, delivering dialogue that veers too close to a standup routine. With time and closer attention to character in the writing, that problem can be fixed.
Devine is a delightful scene-stealer, given to breaking into hymn-singing whenever the spirit moves her. And Grier is great as the tough but loving dad. West is a knockout, but she’s also a versatile character actress.
The show does have something in common with “Black-ish,” though, and that is its deft handling of very current events and the national shouting match about race taking place every day in the U.S. A young African American man is rousted by the police and a protest is planned. Maxine wants to participate, but so does Cynthia, who recalls protests of her younger days. Jerrod doesn’t want his girlfriend to get involved, but Joe helps him understand that he could have been the young man targeted by the cops.
Yeah, it’s a teachable moment, and there are others, but some at least are nicely counterbalanced with humor.
August is a challenging time for any new show to get the recognition it needs to survive, but it can also be an advantage for a sitcom like “The Carmichael Show” because it gives the writers a chance to tinker with a promising project before the deluge of noise we call the fall TV season.
“The Carmichael Show” debuts at 9 p.m. Wednesday with back-to-back episodes on NBC.