Cast: Yara Shahidi, Trevor Jackson, Francia Raisa
Since premiering on ABC in 2014, Black-ish has been a breakout comedy hit .Resonating with critics and audiences alike, the show has carefully balanced finding comedy within the fictional Johnson family with its unique political perspective. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the show has been spun off on the network Freeform.
Black-ish creator Kenya Barris has teamed up with writer Larry Wilmore to helm the new comedy Grown-ish, a comedy that sends Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi) off to college.
Like many college freshmen, Zoey isn’t prepared for her new world. She’s moved away from her parents and befriended an eclectic group of fellow students. The premiere episode introduces them in a class, where Zoey begins to learn more about her new classmates.
Her newfound friends include the drug-selling Vivek (Jordan Buhat), the politically-attuned Aaron (Trevor Jackson), and the argumentative Forster sites (played by Chloe and Halle Bailey). The first episode places Zoey in a midnight class about drones and that’s where these main characters get to know each other. As the program introduces these characters, Zoey provides details about their backgrounds in a voice-over.
During that class, Zoey reveals that one of her first college experiences was befriending a girl named Ana (Francia Raisa), a Republican she abandoned at her first college party. In one of the show’s early turns, Zoey discovers that Ana is her new roommate.
This scenario helps set up one of the show’s greatest strengths, which is its focus on a young adult learning about the personal consequences of her decisions. Separated from her parents, Zoey makes her own choices and sometimes that choices lead to disastrous results. Of course, Ana and Zoey have a difficult relationship at first but the show allows us to witness firsthand Zoey’s growing process.
The show’s second episode finds Zoey growing more as a person and admitting that she doesn’t recognize the person facing her in the mirror. “Ever since I got here, I haven’t been myself,” she says.
A later episode shows Zoey struggling with the complexity of the “U up” text and what that signifies to potential recipients. The program includes different perspectives on that question, leading to Zoey herself finding her own path. The program celebrates the mistakes (and the undeniable flaws) of the main character, while giving her room to navigate her own way through her issues.
Grown-ish isn’t as fully fleshed out as its parent program but that’s part of the show’s charm. It’s struggling to find its own identity as Zoey struggles to find her own. The first episode was reminiscent of The Breakfast Club in that it introduced all of these unique characters and placed them in a school setting. Latter episodes have seen the show develop more openly, exploring college life in a distinctive way.
Regardless of where it’s going, Grown-ish works pleasantly as a humorous exploration of today’s college life. The show is willing to show its lead character as a flawed and naïve young person who makes plenty of mistakes but still has a great heart. It’s not going to be easy to guess where this show is headed but it’s fun to be there for the ride.
Review by: John Hanlon