You wouldn’t think there was room left for a fresh take on the sitcom but The Carmichael Show stands out from its peers for having long takes, a small number of recurrent sets, and filming the show multicamera. There’s also the part where the show addresses big topics from multiple perspectives. Last season those included Donald Trump and Bill Cosby. This season, which will be its third, is no different, with episodes looking at consent in allegations of rape and mass shootings.
David Alan Grier, who attended the show’s Vulture Festival panel Sunday in NYC, described the show as an “old format but the process is more inclusive and collaborative.” Joined by the rest of the cast (Tiffany Haddish was absent), writer, Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, and executive producer, Ravi Nandan, the conversation defined some of the qualities that make an episode of The Carmichael Show distinct, and looked at the writing process for choosing an episode’s theme.
While in many ways sharing more in common with sitcoms from the seventies than its own generation (as moderator and TV critic, Matt Zoller Seitz, reflected) star and creator, Jerrod Carmichael, pointed out some of the ways The Carmichael Show split from the seventies model: characters didn’t come to a realization every episode, and seventies sitcoms were “terrified of blue collar… and true perspective.” “Perspective,” Carmichael later defined, is “what drives us, versus circumstances,” the core of a person’s being when, “try[ing] to change someone’s mind is almost impossible.”
One of the benefits to filming multi-camera in front of an audience, Carmichael noted, is that the show “is able to stay in the pocket of a real, human turn.” You don’t have that sudden, drastic change of a character saying, “you were right.” “Stories usually come from arguments in the writers room,” and Carmichael sports a “shower-based creative process.” Another joy of the writer’s room: writing for Loretta Devine. Known for “add[ing] syllables to words,” Sanchez-Witzel gave the example “cyborg” as a word she couldn’t wait to hear sounded in Devine’s voice.
More than anything, honesty is pointed to as the reason the show is able to tackle such heady topics, with six characters to tell different sides of a larger subject (and not always the side shared by the actor playing them). Grier didn’t support Trump, and Devine initially had some words for why her character was always moving and cooking, while Grier’s sat, or Amber Stevens West’s had monologues. Now in season three, Devine says, it’s, “…not so much what she [her character, Cynthia] says but how she feels. I feel real clear about who she is.”
The Carmichael Show returns May 31st on NBC.