The Carmichael Show dropped the n-bomb not once, but a whopping six uncensored times in Wednesday's episode, "Cynthia's Birthday."
The use of the inflammatory word has been comedic fodder for years, so it fits right in The Carmichael Show's wheelhouse to tackle a controversial topic and spin it on its head — and once again the sitcom nailed it in an insightful and hilarious episode.
Let's look at all six instances of the word's use and how it helped shaped the episode's commentary.
First use: "Anything for you, my [n-word]."
Spoken by: Jerrod's white friend Drew, amicably to Jerrod
The key to the episode's success is that the audience is midway through the half hour show before the first n-bomb is dropped, so no one was prepared for it.
It's even more shocking that the first uncensored use comes out of the mouth of Jerrod's (Jerrod Carmichael) white friend who scored the Carmichael clan a table at his family's posh restaurant for Cynthia's (Loretta Devine) birthday. But that's exactly what sets up the heart of the debate at the center of "Cynthia's Birthday."
Second use: "So you just gonna let white people call you [n-word]?"
Spoken by: Bobby Carmichael, to Jerrod
The rest of the episode is spent with the Carmichael family discussing Jerrod's nonchalance about the word's usage and whether it's okay to stay at a restaurant where Jerrod's friend used the word or if they have to leave because of the racist implications of staying — a decision made harder by delicious, warm pretzel rolls delivered to their table.
Third use: "Dad, stop. I wasn't slurred. Yes my friend Drew called me [n-word] but he said in a sweet and loving type of way."
Spoken by: Jerrod, to his family
The word gets used four more times by the Carmichael family as they make their arguments for when the word can be used and by whom. For the most part, it's Jerrod who doesn't mind using the word, is fine with other black people use the word, and is even okay with white people using the word, as Drew did. The rest of the family? Not so much.
Fourth use: "I think everyone should use the word constantly, so much so that it dilutes its power, makes it meaningless. I'll know we've come far as a nation the day I turn on Ellen and she says, 'Ladies and gentlemen, my [n-word] Bruno Mars.'"
Spoken by: Jerrod, explaining how the word has been weaponized
The Carmichaels' back and forth on the word's usage opens up a fascinating dialogue. Jerrod argues that he has no problem with his friend saying it because it's not used in a derogatory fashion and he doesn't believe in giving the n-word the power everyone else does. That explains why the show chose to use the word so frequently without censoring it. Bobby (Lil Rel Howery) recalls that his friend got expelled from school because he beat up a kid who called him the n-word, and now his friend is selling drugs because he didn't get to finish his education. The n-word actually ended up costing him the most.
Fifth use: "Hey, we are not [n-words]!"
Spoken by: Maxine, to Drew
Naturally, it's Maxine ( Amber Stevens West) who takes the most firm stance against the word and the family staying in an establishment where it's used casually. She tries to rouse the family to go back to their original dinner plans at the black restaurant they originally wanted to go to, but when they get too distracted by the opulence around them and Drew checks in to see how they're doing, an angry Maxine ends up yelling the n-word to Drew, with the "er" instead of the "a" at the end, for the whole restaurant to hear. The decision to leave is pretty much made for them at that point.
The most genius thing about how The Carmichael Show tackled the word was that the theme of the episode wasn't just the n-bomb. It was primarily about Jerrod trying to break his family out of routines and thought processes they believed in simply for "black approval." For example, Cynthia didn't want a book for her birthday because she thinks black people don't read, the argument is made that black people have to like all movies made by black people whether or not they're good and you know, and Cynthia surprises everyone when she confesses that she doesn't think Denzel Washington is a good actor (this was admittedly the hardest truth to swallow).
In that context, the debate about the n-word isn't just about who can and can't say it and why. It shifts the conversation to how does the black community view that word. For some, it's unacceptable to use it at all. For others, it's a term of empowerment to be used only between black friends. For people like Jerrod, the word has been turned into a weapon and he'd prefer everyone use it until it is drained completely of its political power. That subtle change in the conversation allowed The Carmichael Show to make the discussion less about the word and more about how black people see themselves and their place in society. The inherent racism in that conversation is actually hilarious when tackled in the right way, which is exactly what the show does here.
Sixth use: "Oh Lord, I miss Florentine's. Got me up here on my birthday eating with all these [n-words]."
Spoken by: Cynthia
Ironically, it's Cynthia who gets to drop the last n-bomb. Once the family relocates to Niecey's, devoid of steaming pretzel buns, honey butter, bathroom mints and sparkling water, Cynthia laments her new birthday spot with the above zinger that closes the episode. You have to be in on the joke to laugh, but that's kind of the point.
The Carmichael Show airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on NBC.