It’s always refreshing and encouraging when a premium cable or streaming network does something that network couldn’t or wouldn’t do that isn’t just getting away with more sex or grislier violence. Jerrod Carmichael’s Home Videos is just that, a deliberately small and unassuming special for HBO that casts a series of long shadows in terms of the precedents it sets and how it goes about setting them.
In Home Videos, Carmichael conducts a series of conversations with the black women in his life in and around his hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, all intercut with cinema verité shots of the family playing and at ease with each other. One woman acknowledges that Carmichael has a tendency to provoke her into getting passionate in various issues in conversation. That’s essentially what he’s there to do, while he told the New York Times that his only demand of his subjects was “just don’t lie.”
Carmichael gently encourages more transparency from all involved, whether he’s asking a niece why she enjoys going to school so much or stoking a debate about listening to R. Kelly with a group of relatives as their supply of red wine slows to a drip. However, these are not interrogations, nor does the special spend any time in the murky waters of artists turning the camera on their home and families to try and reflect some of that introspection back onto themselves. These conversations are specifically designed simply to give the women in question a bit to voice their opinion and/or perspective.
This is especially evident in the special’s centerpiece—an incredibly candid conversation between Carmichael and his mother about how she’s processed her husband’s infidelities (something alluded to in other Carmichael projects) and what her life is like these days. She seems to have reached some kind of peace, though Carmichael is concerned that she hasn’t been allowing herself to truly live. “You ever done cocaine?” he asks. “No,” she says. “Me either,” he replies. “I’m just saying, it’s out there.”
It’s extremely telling that the headline-grabbing moment where Carmichael tells his mother he’s hooked up with other guys is almost tossed off in the interest of getting her to open up about her own sexuality. It’s not only reassuring that Home Videos is visually intimate and deliberately ungarnished, it’s also that it refrains from drawing its own conclusions and analyzing it’s subjects. Carmichael has no interest in trying to speak for the women in his life via the composition or editing of the special itself. This is a deeply felt half-hour and an exciting preview for what TV could look like in the future.
Home Videos can be watched on HBO Now, HBO Go and HBO On Demand.
Graham Techler’s writing has been featured by McSweeney’s and The New Yorker, and he performs at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York. You’d be doing him a real solid by following him on Twitter @gr8h8m_t3chl3r.