LOS ANGELES (AP) — On this week's episode of the sitcom "The Carmichael Show," Grandma Francis has invited her son and two grandsons over to the house to break some news.
"I've been diagnosed with Alzheimer's," she announces.
"Well, mom," the son says. "We've known about this for six months!"
The studio audience laughs heartily, but not for long.
Grandma reveals she wants to take her own life. "I'm confused all the time," she explains. "And I'm scared of what's coming, of losing who I am."
Occasional serious episodes have been around almost since the first sitcom series. But NBC's "The Carmichael Show" (Wednesday 9 p.m. EDT), which returned for its third season May 31, tackles serious issues every time.
Some critics have compared "Carmichael" to producer Norman Lear's 1970s classic "All in the Family," the first sitcom to routinely tackle serious subjects such as sexism, racism, sexuality.
The 30-year-old Carmichael said he and the Lear, 94, frequently text.
"He and I connect because we don't mind making people a little angry," Carmichael said. "The only thing we really care about is that you care and you really think."
Lear said he loves "The Carmichael Show" and acknowledged his influence on the show's star and co-creator. "We all walk in on the shoulders of people who preceded us," Lear noted.
Carmichael recently appeared on Lear's podcast, "All of the Above," and discussed the upcoming episode "Cynthia's Birthday," in which the N-word will be spoken on broadcast television about a half-dozen times — as part of a story line about whether the word should stay taboo.
To simply call "Carmichael" ''The New 'All in the Family'" doesn't quite cut it for one of Variety's television critics, Sonia Saraiya.
"What's fresh about 'Carmichael' is that it takes the (Lear) format and then puts it on a contemporary landscape," she said, noting the country's wide political divide. "'The Carmichael Show' is kind of predicated on the fact that if everybody sits and talks about it, you can come to a place of understanding."
The characters in "Carmichael" are inspired by those from the star's own family. "I think a lot of the language, some of the ways that we talk, are really authentic to my upbringing," he said. "So, my obligation is to truth over everything. And as they reflect the black experience, yeah, it's a black show. And as it reflects a family experience, it's that, as well. But it's truth above everything to me."
Which brings us back to Grandma, contemplating taking her own life.
Carmichael says you'll just have to trust him.
"It is actually funny," he said. "But it's a real, real topic. And it's dealt with in such a real way, it creates tension. And out of tension comes comedy. I promise."
Mike Cidoni Lennox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/cidonilennox