In last year's second season finale of "The Carmichael Show," Jerrod's quest to understand his family's political divide takes him to a Donald Trump rally.
He winds up getting stabbed in the arm while breaking up a fight.
"Dad, how come democracy hurts so much?" Jerrod, sitting up in a hospital bed, asks his Trump-fan father, Joe.
It's a good question – one still unanswered a year later as "The Carmichael Show" returns Wednesday to explore a split nation through a loving, if bickering, extended family perennially at odds over seemingly everything. Now the NBC program kicks off its third season poised to become to our times what "All in the Family" was to the Nixon years.
If that sounds overblown, then blame Jerrod Carmichael and his team for raising expectations through characters who defy expectations. During 19 episodes over two truncated seasons, the consistently smart and funny sitcom tackled everything from gun control to Bill Cosby to Islamophia through an anything-but-monolithic African-American family in Charlotte, NC.
In the most recent installment, family patriarch Joe (David Alan Grier), a truck driver, donned a red "Make America Great Again" hat, while wife Cynthia (Loretta Devine), a secretary, pulled for Hillary Clinton. Jerrod's well-educated half-black, half-Jewish fiancee, Maxine (Amber Stevens West), felt the Bern – so did his brother's earthy estranged wife, Nekeisha (Tiffany Haddish), even as she hawked Trump T-shirts at the rally to make a quick buck.
But the characters often find their beliefs challenged – and sometimes shaken to the core.
Jerrod, in one standout episode, went to a Cosby performance, saying he could separate the comedian from his disgrace – only to leave mid-show, disillusioned. Maxine, after decrying over-incarceration, learns that Jerrod's warnings about his recently sprung childhood friend were on target. Joe and Maxine felt shame over their own prejudice when their fantastical suspicions of their new Muslim neighbors prove unfounded.
People change, and so do circumstances. The second season finale aired last May amid the some of the earliest polls suggesting Trump had a shot at the presidency.
Trump’s ascendency has spurred a TV comedy boom, largely confined to late night players like Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, “The Daily Show” and “Saturday Night Live.” Sitcom production schedules don’t allow for the same kind of immediacy.
But “The Carmichael Shows” plays the longer game, returning with the promise of wielding humor and humanity to cut to the heart of larger issues.