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TV can talk about uncomfortable things. The Carmichael Show's episode on gun violence proves it.

The NBC sitcom was abruptly canceled. This standout episode shows why that’s a real shame.

Jerrod (Carmichael) comforts his mother (Loretta Devine), even though she’s trying to comfort him
NBC

Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for June 25 through July 1 is “Shoot-Up-Able,” the sixth episode of the third season of NBC’s The Carmichael Show.

On the day The Carmichael Show’s episode about a mass shooting was originally set to air, two very real mass shootings unfolded at a Congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, and a UPS facility in San Francisco, California. NBC responded by pulling “Shoot-Up-Able” from its evening lineup to give the episode some space from the news — a move that series co-creator and star Jerrod Carmichael publicly disagreed with, saying that delaying the episode did “a disservice” to NBC’s audience. What he really wanted the episode to be, Carmichael insisted, was an “opportunity to talk about these tragedies in a meaningful way, to really lend itself to conversation.”

Now that I’ve actually seen the episode — which NBC finally aired on June 28, before outright canceling the show on June 30 — I can confirm that Carmichael was absolutely right.

Written by Aeysha Carr, “Shoot-Up-Able” isn’t exploitative of tragedy, nor preachy in an after-school special kind of way. In fact, it doesn’t show any of the actual mall shooting that main character Jerrod (Carmichael) lives through, instead focusing on the quiet aftermath of a single person trying to process the fact that he lived through a really awful thing. It’s grounded and frank, thoughtful and smart. It lets The Carmichael Show’s characters not only process a horrifying event that’s nonetheless become an everyday occurrence, but question what that means.

“Shoot-Up-Able” takes a tricky premise and turns it into comedy that’s insightful, considerate, and, yes, funny. It’s everything The Carmichael Show — a sharp multi-camera sitcom — has become so good at in three seasons of taking on fraught social issues. Even if it didn’t air in a week when it might have been sorely needed, “Shoot-Up-Able” will no doubt inspire necessary conversations among those who see it.

“Shoot-Up-Able” doesn’t just address a mass shooting, but makes it personal

Before I started watching “Shoot-Up-Able,” I wondered how the episode could possibly dive into the repercussions of a mass shooting while still remaining funny — but my question was answered immediately. Jerrod walks into his apartment to find his girlfriend Maxine (Amber Stevens West) bopping around and belting out a song. He sits down, listens, and even claps for her before she asks how his day was, and he drops the news that he’s just survived a mass shooting at the mall.

“Three people are dead,” he says to her with a blank smile. As Maxine’s face falls through the floor, Jerrod tries to start up the song again so they can both go about their business. He survived, didn’t he? He’s fine.

Except he’s clearly not fine; he just doesn’t want to talk about it. Jerrod says he would love to forget the shooting ever happened, and spends most of the rest of the episode brushing off the concerns of Maxine, his parents (David Alan Grier and Loretta Devine), and brother (LilRel Howrey). “These things happen, okay?” Jerrod says in response to Maxine’s horror. “Unfortunately, this is the society we live in. Some places are just shoot-up-able.”

And as everyone tries to convince him that what he went through is a big deal and that there’s no shame in admitting as much, each has their own distinct reactions. Maxine keeps trying to get him to open up; Cynthia (Devine) thanks God for letting her favorite son escape; Joe (Grier) insists the incident will build character; and Bobby (Howrey) posts the news on Instagram in a bid for sympathy by proxy. (“Near death experiences get you the most likes on social media!” he exclaims.) At one point, Bobby’s ex Nekeisha (Tiffany Haddish) even bursts in to cackle that Jerrod’s finally “popped [his] shootout cherry,” so hey, welcome to the club!

In true Carmichael Show fashion, no one comes out looking particularly right or wrong. As Bobby tallies his Instagram likes, Maxine gets off on Jerrod’s uncharacteristic vulnerability and Joe blames him for going to such a “shoot-up-able” place as the mall at 2:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon, because everyone knows “that's ISIS happy hour!" Even though they’re all supportive and worried — and make no mistake, they absolutely are — they’re all still recognizably real people grappling to make sense of something so awful happening to someone they love.

The boldest thing “Shoot-Up-Able” does is refuse to provide any easy answers

NBC

When a police officer comes around to ask Jerrod for his eyewitness account, Jerrod is forced to acknowledge the fact that running from a mass shooter when he was just trying to buy a food court pretzel might have been legitimately traumatizing. He tells the story he’s been trying so hard to gloss right over, with everyone in the room tearing up as it becomes clear that Jerrod truly did experience a very narrow scrape with death. (Credit where it’s due here to Grier, Devine, and Carmichael in particular for making this scene as much of a gut punch as it needs to be.) By the time the cop leaves, Jerrod is very obviously far more shaken up than he wanted to be.

“Acknowledging the reality of your feelings is incredibly hard,” Maxine tells him gently, “but it's the first step to healing."

“How is that possibly a good thing?” Jerrod chokes out, helpless and furious. “I mean, all that proves is that I have no control over my life whatsoever. It just proves that life is this endless cycle of death. It just proves that one day you can be standing in line for a salted pretzel, and the next you can be choking on your own blood. Why feel anything? Does anything even matter?"

That’s when something completely remarkable happens: No one attempts, or knows quite how, to say anything reassuring in response. Jerrod is hurt, and angry, and confused, and his family and friends don’t have any idea what to say, or how to begin comforting him. The truth of the matter is that this kind of thing truly does happen all the time in America, and there’s usually no way to predict it. Telling Jerrod otherwise would be a lie, and they all know it.

To emphasize how bold a move this is for the show to pull: The Carmichael Show is a multi-camera sitcom that’s taped in front of a live studio audience and airs on a broadcast network, not cable. Even though multi-cam sitcoms have always tackled controversial, political issues, they generally still try to wrap each episode in some kind of conclusive way, the better to move onto the next week’s episode without having to bear the weight of unresolved issues. But “Shoot-Up-Able” doesn’t bother. Instead, the episode emphasizes that what Jerrod went through is messed up, that there’s no guarantee it won’t happen again, and that it’ll take real time for him to work his way through how he’s feeling. It acknowledges that life is messy, and hard, and unfair — and then it ends.

But even if “Shoot-Up-Able” has no real answers for Jerrod or its audience, it creates a space for both to process Jerrod’s experience. It’s bold, but more importantly, compassionate. Even if we don’t come away from “Shoot-Up-Able” feeling better about the terrifying randomness of gun violence and mass shootings, we can at least know we’re not alone in nursing very real fear surrounding those issues, admit that it’s fucked up that “these things happen,” and find a real way to talk about them rather than delaying the conversation for another day.

The first two seasons of The Carmichael Show are currently available to stream on Netflix; all three are available on Hulu.