Zoey Johnson arrives at California University certain she will be a hot shot on campus, but quickly learns she may have a little more growing to do.
The series premiere of Grown-ish drops tonight on Freeform and it is absolutely fantastic. It’s one of the most enjoyable new series you’ll watch all year. Having screened the first three episodes, I can say that it’s one of my favorite new series of 2018. If there was any doubt (there was none from me) about how great the spinoff to Black-ish would be, the series opener erases all of it.
Yara Shahidi shines and more than delivers as she moves from supporting to lead and we get to follow Zoey Johnson entering the next phase of life…college. The series opens with Zoey on the phone with her dad, Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Dre completely freaking out three days after Zoey leaves for college and it is glorious. It’s the perfect transition from black-ish to grown-ish and the last time we see anyone else in the Johnson crew for who knows how long. Once that scene is over, it’s all about Zoey, just the way it should be. That doesn’t mean however that all ties to black-ish are removed.
Throughout the series opener, we discover that Zoey is taking a midnight class from none other than Charlie (Deon Cole). That’s right, remember, he’s a Professor as well. Professor Telphy and he teaches Zoey’s two hour Digital Marketing Strategy Class. This is where we meet the ensemble. And what a cast of characters it is. It’s the perfect representation of a diverse college experience which embodies the typical, familiar types we’d expect but with varied backgrounds and perspectives that will surprise any freshman, thus begins the opening up of their world.
There’s Nomi (Emily Arlook), the Jewish liberal who hasn’t come out as bisexual, oh and her Uncle is the Dean (played by Chris Parnell). There’s twins, Jazlyn and Skyler (Chloe and Halle Bailey) who are the track stars and golden children of their town (the hood) with a lot of pressure on their shoulders to be the ideal black success stories. There’s Vivek (Jordan Buhat) a first generation Indian immigrant who grew up in a devout Hindu family, was raised to be a scholar, though he grew up poor and deals drugs to live the more comfortable life. Luca (Luka Sabbat) is the most carefree of the bunch, the new-school hippie so to speak, who smokes weed and enjoys life as he sees fit.
And finally, there’s Aaron (Trevor Jackson), the Black Lives Matter advocate and fine specimen that is Zoey’s first college crush. Zoey would do anything for her crush, including being completely oblivious to the one guy who really does enjoy her company entirely. But that’s in a future episode so I won’t go too much into that.
We also meet Ana (Francia Raisa) outside of the classroom. She’s a sheltered Catholic who is so innocent and naive and too pure for this world. Let’s see how long it takes for college to corrupt her. But also, I hope the writers keep the essence of what makes Ana, Ana over the course of the show. I love the pacing of the character development and the show overall, so I don’t want a thing to change here. There’s plenty to explore and what a perfect cast and great, authentic cast of characters to do that with.
grown-ish explores the life changing journey of making the friends you’ll have for life, many of which are often people you would otherwise never meet or engage with. Through Zoey’s freshman year, we’ll dive into what it means to make the right choices when you’re on your own for the first time and facing the consequences head on, something most freshman haven’t had to really truly experience until now. grown-ish dives head on into what it means to make mistakes, what it means to realize we’re not as great of a person as we think we are, and finally begin to quietly accept that we definitely don’t know all that we’re in for in college and in life.
Whether we’re watching Zoey in class, facing off with her roommate, hanging with her girls, or hooking up, there’s something to say as Zoey realizes that every single choice she makes moving forward is hers and hers alone.She can no longer depend on other people to help her be responsible. She is, by the title definition, grown-ish. Through Zoey and her rat-pack crew, viewers will come to realize so many things. How good they have it. How much they do or don’t want to be like their parents. That they’re not alone in being insecure, nervous and scared of being a disappointment as they navigate embracing themselves as an individual and what that means for their impact on the world.
grown-ish is entertaining and thought provoking and everything one can hope for in regards to smart, mature, timely, complex and wonderful shows in 2018. grown-ish is the show that 2018 needs and was meant for. And Yara Shahidi has put her heart and soul into this seemingly effortlessly but of course it’s not, so let’s not take away from all of the hard work that led up to this amazing show and her carrying this show as a young adult. She’s rocking it and I’m so excited to go on this journey as Zoey Johnson discovers who she is outside of the external factors that we saw moved her so on black-ish.
My only concern here is the external was what brought the comedy to Zoey’s character on black-ish and right now, on grown-ish, the characters and situations *around* her are what’s bringing the laughs (not many at that). So if the show wants to add more depth to Zoey while also presenting itself as a half hour comedy rather than half hour drama, it’s got a bit of work to do on that front. Which is fine, this is the first season and I’m totally in for the ride as this freshman series gets to know its freshman lead. With that, grown-ish gets an A from me.
As grown-ish premieres, I can’t help but think of The Cosby Show spinoff, A Different World, how it’s been 25 years since that show went off the air and how long overdue grown-ish is. I’m also thinking about how A Different World evolved and really found its groove over time. The premiere of grown-ish is strong but we know the potential this show has, so I am ready for it all to be unleashed, hopefully over the course of the next handful of years. I am so ready.
Finally, I love the theme song. Written by the show’s own talented singer/songwriters, Chloe and Halle Bailey, this is the best original theme song not only of 2018 but in the past handful of years. Everything about this show is so dope. I can’t wait for more.
Kenya Barris, Anthony Anderson, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Sugland and E. Brian Dobbins executive produce the series and I cannot wait to see what the entire cast and crew have in store for the first season (13-episodes) and beyond of grown-ish. I can’t wait to see what bold decisions the show decides to make. Freeform has got a gem on its hands. So be sure to watch/DVR tonight. You don’t want to miss the beginning of this magic.
Watch the series premiere of grown-ish, “Late Registration,” TONIGHT on Freeform at 8/7c.