SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s The Carmichael Show Season 2 finale.
Wrapping up its second season tonight, The Carmichael Show continued its proposition of staying topical and straddling the great contemporary American divides. Early on in this latest 13-episode run, the Jerrod Carmichael co-created and starring series took on Bill Cosby and the allegations by over 50 women that the actor drugged and sexually assaulted them over the decades.
With the iconic bar set high almost from the get-go by that ‘’Fallen Heroes” episode, it seemed clear that the boiling and polarizing Presidential campaign would be fodder for The Carmichael Show before the now-renewed NBC comedy called it a day for this season. And on tonight’s “President Trump” finale, that’s exactly where the former home of the Celebrity Apprentice host went – from many different perspectives on what could make America great again, to paraphrase the Republican candidate’s motto.
After Carmichael’s on-screen father Joe, played by David Alan Grier, met the GOP contender and announced his intention to vote for Donald Trump, newly-anointed fiancée and Bernie Sanders supporter Maxine, portrayed by Amber Stevens West, contemptuously got into it with her future father-in-law. Punctuated by a strategic swipe or two at Hillary Clinton and that ex-community organizer Barack Obama as well, and the added reactions of co-stars Loretta Devine, Lil Rel Howery and Tiffany Haddish, tonight’s show sought to peel apart not just how the inflamed and sometimes bloodthirsty 2016 race for the White House can sever families, but the body politic too.
Amidst upcoming features, stand-up, and getting ready to start up on Season 3 later this summer, Carmichael took some time to talk with me about the decision to go Trump for the finale, the role of race in the show and that last minute renewal by the Comcast-owned net. He also discussed his satisfaction and intentions with the just-completed second season of the Ari Katcher, Nicholas Stoller and Willie Hunter co-created series, as well as possibly working with one of his heroes, Norman Lear.
DEADLINE: Donald Trump now has the delegates and is the de facto GOP nominee for President as of this week but why did you hold off on him, his political rise and the often harsh perspectives both supporters and opponents about him until the finale?
CARMICHAEL: I’ll be honest, at first I was really on the fence about even doing a Trump episode because I wanted to make sure we had an original take, an original angle. It became increasingly clear that it was an unavoidable conversation – which is what I want the show to be all about. It felt like the right note to end on this season. I mean, it is going to be the saga that develops over the summer and until we come back. So I thought let’s leave it on that.
DEADLINE: The finale sees your character getting stabbed at the Trump rally he attends with his father. While non-fatal, you have him breaking up a fight between Trump supporters and Trump opponents but you keep it ambiguous about who used the knife. With all violence we’ve seen this election so far, why not point a finger?
CARMICHAEL: Because even under the most extreme circumstances, we have to have room for discourse. So, I thought what’s a place we can go to and still have that? Most of the episode is as I’ve said, about holding up a mirror, the same thing with the Cosby episode “Fallen Heroes.” So, it’s more about how we view the people who are voting for Trump and the people who are voting for Hillary and Bernie. I want us to try to avoid being repulsed or dismissive of people who disagree with us. I’m not disgusted by your decision and I’m not going to ignore you. We have to hear that out because that’s the only way to grow.
DEADLINE: The Season 2 finale isn’t all Trump all the time, there’s equal opportunity commentary of sorts, with Obama, Clinton and Sanders in the mix too. You mock the current President by asking what a community organizer really is, as was one of Barack Obama’s pre-political positions, But you really take Hillary Clinton down in the finale as well by saying, and I hope I don’t mangle it, that you often forget she’s actually running for President. Adding that you think she’s the Toyota Camry of presidential candidates, that’s pretty scathing stuff.
CARMICHAEL: I like saying that a lot that I almost forget that she’s running. That’s honestly a response to her personality. It’s speaking to a personality argument. Policy aside, from a pure entertainment standpoint, Hillary Clinton isn’t the most engaging candidate. She’s just not the most interesting candidate, that’s just true and we all know it.
DEADLINE: Now, Season 2 is over, besides getting renewed, did it accomplish what you wanted it to?
CARMICHAEL: I think so, it sparked a lot of conversations. When I watch television with my friends and with my family, what’s fun is when television inspires us to have our own conversations and that’s what I want this show to do. This show, I hope and think, does a really great job about holding up a mirror. It’s about you, and your feelings while viewing it. If it sparks a conversation in your own home, then mission accomplished. I feel really proud of what we’ve done so far and I want to do more and more going forward. So I think, coming off the 6-episodes of Season 1, Season 2 was a good springboard for our intentions.
DEADLINE: Speaking of going forward, what can we expect for Season 3?
CARMICHAEL: I’m just trying to figure it out. I’m in full Socrates mode; I’m standing on street corners debating with people. I have a few ideas. For one, I want to explore the relationship with Maxine. After that twisted proposal, Season 3 will explore the characters even more than we did in the second season.
— The Carmichael Show (@CarmichaelShow) May 30, 2016
DEADLINE: what was the drama of that 11th hour renewal by NBC like for you earlier this month?
CARMICHAEL: It was like the middle of a hurricane, because I was very calm. I was just off doing stand-up and writing. Look, I feel very confident in what we’ve done so I kind of ignored it and let them figure it out. I’m really confident in what we contributed to NBC so I didn’t think there would be a true issue that would see us not getting picked up.
DEADLINE: You did 13-episodes for Season 2 and now for Season 3, seems very cable…
CARMICHAEL: (Laughs) I think the response to the show has been almost cable so it’s fitting to say that. We almost operate like a cable show within one of the most traditional networks. Look I’m only human so I think that 13-episodes is the sweet spot number for me. As a writer and co-creator, it allows me to maintain the integrity of the show and the arguments. It allows us really craft and control these episodes. I never want them to be factory made. We can really take the time to personalize each episode with a thirteen-episode run so I’m really happy with that.
DEADLINE: When are you actually starting Season 3?
CARMICHAEL: No premiere date yet. We’re going to open the writers’ room in two or three months, maybe. Do a few weeks of preproduction and jump in. We’re still figuring out the schedule. We already have ideas for a few episodes so I may even write a couple of scripts before the room starts.
DEADLINE: I ask because at the end of the finale, as everyone is arguing again about politics, you say, and I’m paraphrasing, “welcome to your new family Maxine, see you in November,” and I was wondering if you were hinting a fall return of some sort before the election?
CARMICHAEL: No, that was more so for that argument over the election that they are having isn’t going to end until the election, if then. Listen, ideally, we would love to come back before the election as we see how much more a part of our lives Donald Trump becomes and there is even so much more I’d like to talk about that at this point. But there is no plan for that now.
DEADLINE: It’s very intriguing and unusual, how you’ve approached issues like Bill Cosby or an African-American man like Joe being a Trump voter but you haven’t made the racial component a larger part of the discussion, why is that?
CARMICHAEL: Because racial issues were a small part of those discussions that I have. And when they are a large part, we focus on that. I didn’t grow up thinking everything is about race. Race in entertainment is a very popular topic but it is never my intention to capitalize on that. Of course, I have very real discussions about race but I won’t contrive it for a story or force it to bend towards anything.
I think we’re talking about the leader of the Free World here in this particular topic and there are so many other things to talk about.
DEADLINE: Outside of the political hoopla, one of the more interesting cultural situations of the past year and a half has been the damning accusations of rape and more against Bill Cosby, his fall and the spotlight on his apparent victims. In, this season’s second episode, the show looked at the claims by dozens of women against Cosby for sexual assault and the mixed reaction by your characters to the actions of the man and the career and influence of his work with The Cosby Show and more. This past week has seen a judge in Pennsylvania rule that Cosby will have to stand trial for an alleged 2004 drugging and rape of a then Temple University employee, a trial that could see the 78-year behind bars for a decade if convicted on the criminal charges. What is your take now on the evolving situation of a once American icon?
CARMICHAEL: You let it evolve, that’s what the justice system is in place for. You see how it plays out and you hope that justice is served. I feel horrible about the whole situation for the alleged victims. I think what we did in the episode still stands and it is still about being a reflection. So my thoughts are essentially the same and we will see how it plays out.
DEADLINE: Do you feel pressure to be less balanced in your approach to the topics the show covers, to go for a big flag planting on one side or…
CARMICHAEL: It’s my natural inclination to explore and to try to figure out what a thing is and that’s inherently comes with balance. Everything you think of, you think the opposite as well and you try to explore to find some sort of truth. It’s very natural for me, I did it for years with stand-up and now we’re doing it with the show, which I make with some of my closest friends who have a similar way of thinking.
Look in culture now, it’s very easy to preach to our respective choirs. We have a very niche culture now where everyone you follow on Twitter probably agrees with you, it’s a cyclical thing. The balance I’m interesting in exploring is about combining the other side and hearing it out. I think that is really really important.
DEADLINE: NBC is your show’s home but it was also home to shows from Cosby and Donald Trump – was there any pushback from the network when you focused in on their former stars?
CARMICHAEL: I think everyone is beyond that now. Besides any specific legal ties they might have to these figures, they realize that regardless of any affiliation, these people are very important to what’s going on in culture and politics right now. Cosby and Trump are part of really important conversations right now. I think NBC is able to see the big picture and go beyond any personal connections.
DEADLINE: Norman Lear is someone you have drawn inspiration from, any plans to actually work together – over the break or otherwise?
CARMICHAEL: Listen, obviously, I would love to collaborate with Norman on anything from dinner to a television show. But we’ve both been too busy right now. I’m excited to see the new One Day at a Time, he and Mike Royce’s project. So we’re both a little busy now but perhaps in the future we’ll do something together, that would be really great.