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Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show review – the most astonishing, emotionally raw reality TV ever made
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Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show review – the most astonishing, emotionally raw reality TV ever made

Unlike most reality television stars, Jerrod Carmichael doesn’t seem to care about showing his best self. In fact, in Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show – which candidly documents the stand-up comedian’s life in the wake of his Emmy award-winning comedy special Rothaniel – he seems happy enough broadcasting things most people would take to the grave. He films a painfully awkward romantic rejection when he confesses his love for long-time friend Tyler the Creator over room service. He admits his love of race play and spitting into people’s mouths. And, after hours of therapy over a potential sex addiction, we watch him cheat on the first person he has ever loved.

For a talent like Carmichael, whose work has netted him huge acclaim, reality television might seem an odd choice. The genre is largely populated by the talentless and desperate, after all. Yet Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show wears the label proudly. And it’s not such a wild leap for him. As well as his confessional standup, he was previously behind the Norman Lear-style sitcom The Carmichael Show (gone too soon) playing a fictionalised version of himself. This new show brings things closer to home – and not only perfects the reality TV form but dismantles it.

Indeed, as the series continues, it becomes increasingly astonishing that anyone would expose their life in this way. But the jaw-dropping openness is not limited to this programme alone – it also cuts to clips of his stage shows in which he is equally candid. At one point, Carmichael pulls out his phone mid-routine to see that Tyler has ignored his invitation to be his Emmy date which publicly devastates him. However, he collapses into giggles when an audience member yells out “I’m still hopeful”. That small moment of encouragement aside, it’s hard to see what, if anything, Carmichael gains from exposing himself in this way. As a viewer it feels like being complicit in masochism, yet it is so artfully done that it’s impossible to turn away.

Fans of reality TV are normally aware of its insincerity. Love Island contestants are after Instagram brand deals not just romance. The Real Housewives are not really friends, and The Apprentice winners aren’t likely to work for Alan Sugar for long. But Carmichael has always had access to a deep well of honesty in his work. Here, he tells his anonymous friend (who despite being on screen with a ski mask and a distorted voice is clearly Rothaniel director Bo Burnham): “I’m trying to self-Truman Show myself, trying to let cameras be what God is.” His pal shoots back that this is exhibitionism and that “there’s public and private and then there’s masturbatorily public. There’s public where you are unnecessarily shooting a camera up your asshole and broadcasting it to the world.”

Letting the cameras be God? … Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show.View image in fullscreen

Carmichael’s lack of boundaries doesn’t stop at the audience. In a road trip with his conservative father aimed at reconciliation – after Carmichael put out a comedy special coming out as gay and exposing his family’s darkest secrets – he fills the awkward silence by listing the different types of gay men, from “otters” to “daddies” to “twunks”. When his dad later explains how Carmichael’s openness has affected him, and offers that instead, “you coulda came to me?” an infuriated Carmichael hisses back: “Your way is nothing. Is silence. Is death. And yes I bring the cameras and yes that’s my way and yes I am afraid to have these conversations without them because I don’t think you want to have these conversations.” His father holds back tears and concedes that it’s good Carmichael is able to express himself, but now he’s done. “Please can I go home?” This may be an unorthodox approach to catharsis around intergenerational trauma, but it is also one of the most honest and emotionally raw things reality television has ever brought to screen.

Even as a fan of the genre, who looks forward to new seasons of Vanderpump Rules with a keenness most TV critics reserve for The Bear, Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show is clearly in a league of its own. Yet what he’s created will upset you and make you deeply concerned for him. Not much seems healed by the end of the eight episodes and there is profound cruelty in the fact that, despite all his efforts, his beloved mother still takes his hand in prayer and asks God to make him straight.

As his masked pal warns him in the finale, there’s a parallel between her devotion and how Carmichael “treats the camera like it’s God”. By capturing the most precious things in his life for public consumption, he’s put them on “a conveyor belt into fucking hell. Let’s just hope everyone is watching TikTok.” You can’t help but agree – and hope you are the only one watching.

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Source: theguardian.com