by Kathryn VanArendonk | via Vulture
As many critics have noted, The Carmichael Show’s brilliance partially lies in the way it uses a deliberately conservative structure to explore tricky, controversial issues.
We’re now so inured to the Norman Lear multi-cam style that it lulls us into a sense of security. Even when sitcoms that look like this veer into Very Special Episode territory, the fundamental structure of the show is soothing. How can it be current or controversial? It looks like an episode of Growing Pains!
Putting an iron fist in a velvet glove is central to The Carmichael Show’s premise, introducing the opportunity to use its main characters as a Socratic dialogue. Everybody gets to represent a perspective on the issue of the day, allowing the chosen topic to bounce around various angles and viewpoints. (Ever notice how Carmichael rarely has guest stars? They’re beside the point. Why bring in outside voices when the Carmichael family is a fully functional discursive forum all on its own?)
Of course, this is all familiar ground to Carmichael viewers, but I bring it up here because these elements are so fundamental to the show’s DNA that they tend to also be responsible for its successes. And, yes, they’re equally responsible for moments when it falls short. This week’s “Facebook Friends” does both.
The topic of the week is social media, as the episode’s title suggests. It’s a hard issue to talk about clearly at any length and in any context, much less in the skeleton of a fictional form that came to power long before personal computers existed. So, the degree to which “Facebook Friends” manages to say several compelling and funny things about what it’s like to live online is already impressive. Our entrance to the topic is Joe, who gets a “Facebook website” after asking Cynthia to take 25 different profile pictures before landing on one that he likes. He’s got 52 friends, Bobby’s reading his status updates out loud at the barbershop — he is “killing it.” Jerrod’s none too pleased by this, given that no one seems to enjoy his deliberately offensive Twitter persona as much as they like Facebook Joe. But he’s much better off than Cynthia, who gets quite angry when she learns that Joe’s ex-girlfriend Vicki “Muffin Top” Collette friended him, and is now clearly trawling for a reconnection.
The debate about social media raises a few divisive questions. What responsibility do you have to those in your private life for the things you post online? At what point does Joe’s fairly innocuous online friendship with Vicki become something that Cynthia has a right to police? Or, as we soon see, how much of a right does Jerrod have to get angry at Maxine for posting a naked photo of herself on Instagram? How much say should Maxine get in Jerrod’s troll-ish Twitter identity?
The broader issue — the responsibility caught up between a person’s private relationships and his or her public online persona — is the main focus of the episode, but the topic inevitably also pulls up a random assortment of comments about internet culture and social media. Some of these ring eerily true: Cynthia’s close-reading of Vicki’s “hey you” versus a simple “hey,” the description of a Facebook like as meaning “I see you” more than “I like this,” the pressure Joe feels to maintain his “killing it” Facebook presence, and the ease with which Cynthia glides into cyberbullying all feel accurate and funny.
Although the other descriptions sound a bit out of step with current social practices (oh hey, Snapchat exists!), for the most part, “Facebook Friends” is an impressive consideration of some important internet-culture debates. And the subject is unquestionably an interesting one — one I haven’t seen discussed thoughtfully all that often. How much your internet behavior reflects on your partner, and whether your partner should get a say in your choices, is a debate I’m very happy to see get thoughtful attention.
To read the rest of the recap, “Facebook Friends,” click HERE!!!