Yara Shahidi Did Not Disappoint In Last Night’s Premiere Of Grown-ish
While “Grown-ish” may call ABC Freeform home, don’t let that dissuade you from giving this show a shot. Though the network might be known as the resting place for your biggest guilty pleasures (R.I.P “Pretty Little Liars”), “Grown-ish” is a show you can definitely be proud of embracing. The spin-off to Kenya Barris’ acclaimed hit “Black-ish,” “Grown-ish” sees the always magnetic, delightfully intriguing Zoe Johnson (played by Yara Shahidi) breaking out on her own and heading off to college. From the opening scenes of the pilot, it is clear that “Grown-ish” isn’t just “Black-ish”-lite. It is a show with its own personality, its own strengths and its own future forward.
In episode 1, “Late Registration,” we’re treated to an introduction to Zoe’s new world. We see her trying to put some distance between herself and her dad (played by Anthony Anderson), who is certainly not ready to let his baby girl go. And while “Black-ish” fans have come to know Zoe as a confident and poised young woman, “Late Registration” feels a bit more honest than that. While Zoe provided a great character foil to the other children on “Black-ish,” removed from those comparisons, it was a smart call to show that while she might be more put-together than many young women her age, she’s still young and still learning to navigate the world around her. She’s got some of her ish together, but by no means has she got it all figured out.
This is evermore evident as the episode progresses and we see Zoe in class with a motley crew of fellow collegians. She finds herself in a night class where most of the attendees aren’t exactly your typical college students. However, we do meet a small group that, despite their vastly different backgrounds and upbringings, come together and begin building a foundation of friendship as they all tell the truth as to how they missed registration and found themselves in this night class. And though, admittedly, the episode felt a little contrived at points, it served its purpose: In a very short period of time, we were introduced to the people who will largely shape Zoe’s college experience. And, they seemed to be interesting characters with the potential to smartly explore issues that face college students today. We won’t be relegated to the standard “college years” tropes that we’ve seen in shows past. After the premiere, audiences should definitely walk away thinking that they will see something refreshingly new and probably pretty woke. And though the episode may have lacked the uproarious laughter and slick jokes that “Black-ish” fans might be used to, “Grown-ish” brings to the party a subtle charm that will make audiences tune in week after week.
The second episode on premiere night felt more settled and a bit more on track. Here we see Zoe not only swooning over her crush Aaron (played by the adorable Trevor Jackson), but we also see her tackle being introduced to the different vices college has to offer. Specifically, this episode might be superficially-labeled as the “drug episode.” As Zoe struggles to keep it all on track, balancing her social life with her school work, she is coaxed into giving adderall a try. And while many such shows often treat their “drug episode” in what feels like an after-school special, “Grown-ish” showed that it gives its audience a little more credit than that. Given that the show is airing on Freeform and is clearly going for a younger audience, it’s nice to see that producers understand that today’s teenagers and early 20-something’s don’t need to be preached to or scared straight in their primetime television block or on their DVR. Zoe’s foray with those little blue pills is shown in a somewhat light-hearted way: While she hoped the intense focus that adderrall gave her would help her to focus on a paper she had to write about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, instead her focus turned intently on shoes and she went on a crazy shopping bender. And though some might think that this approach makes too much light of what can be a serious situation, we strongly beg to differ. By approaching more serious topics and those relevant to today’s college student in a way that feels more relatable and entertaining makes the message ring louder and clearer than a more serious and frightening approach. And the decision to handle these topics in this way, is only further enhanced by Shahidi’s honest and very real portrayal of what it means to be a young, black woman in college these days. Though leading a show is certainly a tall order for a young actress, if anyone is up for the challenge it is Shahidi.
So with two episodes under its youthful belt, we have to say that we were pleasantly surprised with “Grown-ish.” Often times spin-offs disappoint, trying to rely on old formulas with just slightly new characters. But instead, “Grown-ish” attempts and often succeeds in flipping the script. They aren’t just moving our favorite character to a new zip code and calling it a day. They’re really developing a story and show that feels unique to that character, while continuing to grow the relationship that viewers had already developed with young Zoe Johnson. We’re invested in her future and now we get to see a more honest portrayal of it and her. And with Shahidi’s personality and charm that will easily captivate audiences, we’re confident “Grown-ish” will continue to mature and come into its own in the weeks and months to come.