"The Carmichael Show is taped in front of a live studio audience."
Those are the words that begin every episode of stand-up comedian Jerrod Carmichael's eponymous television series, which returned for its second season last week, and they're important to remember. The show's old-fashioned living-room setting and the presence of a laugh track could scare away modern audiences, but they're actually a blessing. The fakery makes the show feel real. It creates intimacy. It adds tension.
This was especially true Sunday night, when the show took on its most controversial target yet: Bill Cosby.
In its first season, which debuted on NBC last August, the family sitcom indicated that it wasn't afraid to tackle complicated subject matter with a combination of modern South Park button-pushing and vintage Norman Lear empathy. With only six brutally funny episodes, the show examined the Black Lives Matter movement, religion, gender, and gun control. The writing could occasionally feel clumsy, but it was also fearless. And now that fearlessness has paid off.