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‘The Carmichael Show’ review: Bill Cosby the talk of season opener

Amber Stevens West and Jerrod Carmichael have different

Amber Stevens West and Jerrod Carmichael have different views on going to a Bill Cosby show in the season opener. Credit: NBC / Chris Haston

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 9 p.m. on NBC/4

GRADE A-

WHAT IT’S ABOUT After a preview Wednesday, “The Carmichael Show” begins its second season with an episode about Bill Cosby titled “Fallen Heroes.” Jerrod (Jerrod Carmichael) wants to take his girlfriend Maxine (Amber Stevens West) to a Cosby concert, but she refuses. So Jerrod asks if his dad, Joe (David Alan Grier) or mom, Cynthia (Loretta Devine) want to go instead. The debate ensues! Joe says Cosby is innocent until proven guilty. Cynthia, however, has doubts but she’d really like to go . . .

MY SAY Too soon?

Or to further elaborate, too soon to do a sitcom episode about Bill Cosby and the dozens of women who alleged that they were drugged and sexually assaulted by him, with punchlines, and a few other jokes about Bobby Brown and Michael Jackson thrown in, with all of this tenderized by studio audience laughter?

Depends — I suppose — on what is meant by “too soon.” Would a year from now be OK? (How about “never”?) Answers also depend upon your familiarity with Jerrod Carmichael, the smart, young comedian and smart sitcom that bears his name, launching a second season Sunday — with this controversial episode.

Consider that unexpectedly, or perhaps counter-intuitively, “The Carmichael Show” has direct lineage to “All in the Family” instead of that foundational black family sitcom “The Cosby Show.” This was obvious for anyone to see from the first episode back in August, when Joe first sized up Jerrod’s new light-skinned girlfriend, Maxine. She had just given his parents a bottle of Pinot Grigio, saying: “You like white, right?”  Said Joe, “Not as much as your daddy . . .” That was a line Archie Bunker would have used.

 Cynthia is a sharp-elbowed Edith, and Maxine is Michael “Meathead” Stivic — the implacable moral force who must clash with the immovable object. (What’s different — also funny — is that her clashes most often tend to be with the placable Jerrod himself.)

“All in the Family” never wondered whether it was “too soon” to address Watergate, Vietnam, racism, abortion, or homophobia. And so announcing its big ambitions to the world this Sunday, “The Carmichael Show” begins a new season with this episode.

Sway Calloway, the radio personality, actually pinned down Carmichael’s type of comedy in an interview last year with this one sharp line: “Your standup can be emotionally jarring.” That’s exactly what Carmichael brings Sunday, pushing viewers to a place most would probably rather not go, but — once there — sets about deconstructing why they don’t want to be there.

Maxine is their proxy — an eloquent one — and Cynthia, who always gets the best lines, is where the discomfort comes in:

“This is tough,” she says. “Joe made good points about the judicial system. Maxine has made good points about rape.”

That gets a big, uncomfortable laugh. But Cynthia, and the show, aren’t done:

“Is there an acceptable number [of victims] by which someone could then go to the show?”

Like Seinfeld, Carmichael’s humor is sometimes about locating what’s funny in our narcissism, or his. But this episode wouldn’t work as well as it does if there wasn’t a moral, wrapped in a truth.

“I can’t forget all the good things Cosby has done,” says his character. “Finding something that brings you joy is hard to find. Letting it go is even harder.” Wonder how many “Cosby Show” fans feel exactly the same way?

So your final answer: Not too soon.

BOTTOM LINE Humor in this particular tragedy? Believe it or not — yes.

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