Jerrod Carmichael is the next Chris Rock but his sitcom is “Pootie Tang”

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There’s a scene in “Pootie Tang” where a gorilla fatally mauls Pootie’s dad. It was unexpected, absurd and Pootie_ParamountPicturesthe ONLY funny scene in the entire flick. The fact that this movie even made it into theaters is a testament to how hot Chris Rock was in 2001. Rock’s collaborations with HBO (two stand-up specials and a comedy series) were solid gold and made him an icon. But for whatever reason, his brilliance didn’t translate into long-form storytelling. I see the same pitfalls in Jerrod Carmichael’s The Carmichael Show”.

Carmichael is a unique and brilliant comedian, the personification of millennial black consciousness, but his new sitcom is plodding and contrived. It debuted on NBC this past Wednesday to solid ratings but the young comic should definitely hold off on cashing in his chips.

The format of The Carmichael Show” is straight out of the 90’s. There’s a live studio audience (which is mentioned during the opening titles) and liberal use of a laugh track. It’s a fictional depiction of the comedian’s family. Most of the action takes place in the living room of his characters childhood home. The mother is played by legendary hallelujah-voice, Loretta Divine. She moves between the kitchen and the living room fretting about her son’s well-being and shakingNBC her bible.  David Alan Grier plays the work-long-shifts-so-I-deserve-to-eat-ribs-and-talk-shit father. The cast is rounded out by Amber Stevens West playing the girlfriend and Lil’ Rel Howery playing the brother. You can almost feel Carmichael reminisce about sitting on the couch with his family and watching episodes of Roc.

Whatever you think of his sitcom, get to know Jerrod Carmichael before he dethrones the Kings of Comedy and relegates them to an episode of TV One’s ‘UnSung’ (a damn fine series). He had a big 2014 with a standout performance in Seth Rogen’s movie Neighbors and an HBO stand-up special directed by the legendary filmmaker Spike Lee. His slow-paced, deliberate delivery makes it easier to digest his theories of talent over morals and his appreciation of slavery. Hollywood is understandably ready to co-sign on Carmichael’s concepts but maybe he’s hit his first major hurdle.

The Carmichael Show” did have some LOL moments. The NBC trailers don’t do it justice. It’s worth watching just to see David Alan Grier’s performance. His chemistry with Loretta Divine saves more than a couple of scenes and he reminds you of the amazing talent that made him a cast favorite on ‘In Living Color’. Grier’s been popping up all over TV again and you get the feeling that he could earn an Emmy nod if The Carmichael Show last a few seasons. Similarly, Lil’ Rel Howery’s blue-collar swagger manages to steal every scene he’s in. The heavy socio-political talking points of Jerrod are perfectly balanced by brother Bobby’s well-timed “Oh hell naws” and pyramid schemes. The cast has enough talent and diversity to carry the load in the short term.

It’s unclear whether Jerrod Carmichael’s goal of infusing topical news into family comedy is doable but it will certainly take time to work out the kinks. In the first scene of the first show, he goes from Biggie Smalls’ influence on black culture, to a tampon joke, to the failings of electoral college. No doubt he could’ve made those turns on stage at The Comedy Store but it feels out of place in a plotline about cohabitation.

HBOOn second thought, it was unfair to say that “The Carmichael Show” is “Pootie Tang”, there are way more laughs and an actual point to it all. Jerrod Carmichael’s ambition to combine intellectual and casserole-comedy is admirable and worth rooting for. He’s picking up the baton from Chris Rock and running with blinders on. Instead of “Pootie”, this show promises to at least be ‘Head of State’.

The Carmichael Show premiered August 26, 2015 on NBC

Eric Goldson