Grown-ish Review from a College Girl Who’s Never Seen Black-ish

The last American sitcom I watched was Friends a fair number of years ago, so watching Grown-ish took some time to get used to. The first two episodes have a rather formulaic feel to them as the show tries to orient itself by rapidly introducing the main character, Zoey Johnson, the Johnson’s eldest daughter from Black-ish, and all her college friends. 

Zoey’s first class in college is from midnight to 2:00 am, which is geared towards adults with full-time jobs trying to improve themselves by attending college classes at night. As a freshman, Zoey’s enrollment in the class is played off as a rookie mistake. In an incredibly meta moment, the show and Zoey both reference The Breakfast Club as all the students attending are asked to write down the reason why they decided to take this class. Their quirky African American professor leaves the students alone for a ridiculously long time to allow them to ponder the subject. 

All those seated around Zoey quickly bond in sharing their stories about why they are in this midnight class. Appearances are deceiving as all of Zoey’s friends simultaneously fulfill some stereotypes and subvert others. Aaron Jackson seems like a typical handsome African American jock, but he is politically and socially minded. Luca Hall, also African American, is a chill, weed-loving man with beautiful dreds, later revealed to be quite the creative soul. 

Nomi Segal is a pretty, blond Jewish girl, but has not yet come out to her family that she’s bisexual. Jazlyn and Skylar Foster are twin African American track stars, yet they’re from the hood. This gives them the incentive to succeed more than anyone else, desperately trying not to disappoint all those who have supported them on their way to college. Vivek Shah has the typical helicopter Indian parents who support his aspiration to become an engineer, yet he has turned to drug dealing to make some serious money on the side. 

As a protagonist, Zoey is hard to get behind. Having never seen Black-ish, I had neither any exposure nor expectations of Zoey and her character. She is a beautiful, young girl who goes to college to get an education and believes she will conquer it. All her struggles, at least in the first few episodes, are from realizing that the real world is not as nice or cheery as she expected it to be. She is also rather shallow, caring far too much about what other people think of her. 

This shallowness is reflected in Zoey’s main conflict in the first episode: the first friend she made in college, Ana Torres, had an embarrassing drunken moment at a party, and Zoey left Ana there. This moment comes to bite Zoey in the butt as Ana shows up as her new roommate, and the two roommates’ relationship has a shaky start. From this, Zoey grapples with her former action, believing it makes her a bad person, and tries to rebuild her relationship with Ana. Despite all her flaws, Zoey’s coming of age story reflects many of our own. She is confident in that foolish naive way, easily spouting her beliefs and making mistakes left and right, sometimes hurting those around her. However, it is Zoey’s willingness to reassess her actions, admit her faults and continually strive to be a good person that really makes her an appealing heroine.

Many of her mistakes are reflected in hugely embarrassing, cringe-worthy moments. However, perhaps they are so cringe-y because we all went through that awkward phase as freshmen. At one point, we all believed that we would conquer college and adulthood, yet upon entering college we had to quickly reassess all our actions and values. This constant questioning of oneself is part of growing up; it is part of being an adult. Perhaps the very reason she took some getting used to was because her flaws are many of the same I once had when I was younger. 

Another thing the show does well is in its discussion of some of the darker aspects of college life, such as the prevalence of drugs. In the second episode, after going out many consecutive nights, Zoey succumbs to the appeal of Adderall in hopes the drug will allow her to focus on writing her paper. Drugs are so accessible and commonplace in college that it is difficult to remain completely unexposed to them. Zoey’s decision to take Adderall is foolish and misguided, again, but it is important for her to decide early on as a young freshman how she will approach these drugs. It was interesting to see how the show and Zoey dealt with this issue, and I hope that it will continue to not shy away from other grave issues that plague college campuses, like rape. 

The cast is also wonderfully multicultural. It is heartening to see the kind of diversity they all bring to the small screen. Zoey and most of her college friends are African American, yet there is variety in their backgrounds and personalities. Spicing things up are the innocent Ana, a Cuban, and Nomi, a feminist bisexual. My personal favorite is Vivek, the South Asian drug dealer; he’s flat-out hilarious.

The show has its growing pains, but the storyline really gained traction in the third episode. Zoey makes rookie mistakes, yet quickly grows and learns from them.The multicultural cast as an ensemble really makes the show: all their different ethnicities, personalities and backgrounds inform their dialogue, and in the scenes where everyone is together, it is fabulous to see the rich exchange they all have. Like it or hate it, Grown-ish is a ridiculously honest reflection of everyone’s freshmen year. Finally, in 2018 we have a true portrait of America’s young generation. 

Photos courtesy of Freeform