It’s a popular anxiety that the first year of college will be scary and challenging, given that it is like stepping into a brand-new world. I too came to college incredibly nervous about what the experience would be like. It seems that before entering this space, we all have our visions of the perfect college life and are shocked when we arrive to find out that this vision was a mere illusion. This is one of the primary feelings that Zoey Johnson from “Grown-ish” is forced to contend with. “Grownish” is a spinoff show from ABC’s “Black-ish” and it follows Zoey Johnson’s journey as she heads to college and realizes that it is not easy.
In the pilot, we are immediately thrust into Zoey’s life at the fictional California University, where the show introduces her future friends. We meet Ana, who Zoey ditches after Ana drinks too much alcohol and throws up. Ana ends up being Zoey’s roommate and we get a glimpse into the hostility that ensues between them. We then meet Nomi, who is a Jewish-American feminist who has not yet come out to her family as bisexual. Next, we meet Aaron, the campus activist who considers himself to be “woke,” followed by Vivek, a drug dealer. Then, we meet the twin track athletes, Jazlyn and Skylar, who are incredibly funny and sassy. Lastly, we are introduced to Luca, an artist and stoner. Zoey’s friendships develop as a result of each of these characters missing pre-registration for a variety of reasons, and this episode is an introduction into the mistakes Zoey makes while navigating college.
One thing that makes “Grown-ish” worth watching is the diversity of the main characters. The show revolves around characters who are impacted by a variety of different identities, allowing us a glimpse into how Vivek’s experience as an Indian man, for example, is vastly different from Ana’s, who undergoes struggles informed by her identity as a Cuban and Republican. In one instance, Ana and Aaron get into an argument about having an all-Black dorm, as well as the presence of Republican students in that dorm and how that impacts their experiences of feeling comfortable in that space. Another example is Zoey trying to convince Vivek to quit selling drugs over concern for his safety, only to discover that the issue goes deeper than that for Vivek, whose decision to sell drugs is influenced by multiple factors, including family and race.
For Zoey, the show explores her adjustment to college and her realization that she has freedom, but this freedom also makes her vulnerable. She discusses her use of Adderall for the first time, as well as drinking and relationships. This make the show feel real. Drugs, sex, relationships and politics of identity are all issues that college students are often forced to grapple with, and “Grown-ish” attempts to do its best at portraying this. It also discusses the prominence of social media in exploring Zoey’s internship at Teen Vogue. Social media has a significant influence on our generation and it is nice to see that “Grown-ish” has incorporated that in the show.
A criticism that has come up is the mature content in the show. Many viewers expect the show to be like “Black-ish,” where Zoey was innocent, but this is a different atmosphere. In college, Zoey is changing, and along the way, she will make mistakes, which she is determined to deal with and learn from. The mature content does not take anything away from the show, but rather, adds a dimension of realness to the college experience. Critics have also attempted to try to compare the show to “A Different World,” which is a spinoff from “The Cosby Show” (“Review: ‘grown-ish’ a different world for ‘black-ish’ star,” TribLive, 01.01.18). However, the two shows are from two completely different eras; “Grown-ish” gives a modern perspective of what it is like to be in college. It is a new take and that makes it enjoyable.
I have seen some episodes of “Black-ish” and I have to agree to a certain extent that “Grown-ish” lacks distinctive character by comparison. It needs to step away from the same methods used by “Black-ish,” such as the voiceover narratives. Even though the narrative from Zoey allows viewers to clearly comprehend her thoughts and feelings, this tactic can grate on one’s nerves at times. However, the cast is amazing, especially Yara Shahidi, who plays Zoey. She is entertaining to watch and delivers a remarkably realistic portrayal of a college student, despite not having been one yet.
The first season of “Grown-ish,” overall, was outstanding. It ends with a finale that circles back to Zoey making a huge adult decision on her own, while giving her potential suitors advice about relationships. The show has been renewed for a second season, and I am excited to see what is in store. It has a lot of room to grow as there are so many ways it could progress in the future.