The Carmichael Show specializes in queasy catharsis, but it also creates enough room for opposing viewpoints to emerge. Throughout last night's episode, each character had an opportunity to voice a specific opinion on the Cosby rape allegations. His accomplishments were mentioned. His flaws were explored. No cheap Jell-O jokes were made.
At first, Jerrod's parents have no problem taking the tickets from Jerrod as an anniversary gift, but when his mother is reminded of the many women who have come forward to accuse Cosby, she becomes a little less comfortable. Maxine pulls up Cosby's Wikipedia bio on her phone. The conversation has the texture of a debate you've probably had in a bar, a dorm room, or your own family's living room.
"Talent trumps morals," says Carmichael at one point, offering up the closest thing the show has to a thesis, but that idea is quickly attacked as well. Throughout the episode, the family mentions other popular entertainers -- Michael Jackson, Woody Allen, Mark Wahlberg, and Seinfeld's Michael Richards -- who have come under public scrutiny. Can we still enjoy the entertainment they created? The episode doesn't have answers -- only tough, very funny questions.
"Fallen Heroes" arrives at a moment when the "very special episode" is having a bit of a moment. In addition to this Carmichael episode, ABC's Black-ish recently centered an episode around the police shooting an unarmed young black man. Both shows point a way forward for sitcoms looking to deal with heavy issues without wading into Diff'rent Strokes territory.
Ultimately, The Carmichael Show doesn't deliver a verdict at the end of the episode, because it doesn't have to. Instead, the characters gather around the TV to watch a rerun of The Cosby Show, but you get the feeling it won't be comfortable viewing for anyone. As this tough-minded show proves, sometimes comfort food is at its best when it makes you a little uncomfortable.
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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter: @danielvjackson.