This article originally appeared on Crossfader
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
In my recent assessment of ALONE TOGETHER, I commended Freeform for moving ever forward into the realms of legitimacy, finally showing signs of shirking their subpar veneer. Well, friends, little did I know that they had already checked that box with one of first shows of the year, GROWN-ISH. A spin off of ABC’s hit sitcom BLACK-ISH, it looks like Freeform finally has a good show to call their own, maybe even a great one. Featuring a diverse cast, a strong and complex female protagonist, and distinctly strong writing, don’t let its somewhat humble roots detract you from jumping onboard.
If you’re not up on your BLACK-ISH lore, the end of the third season saw Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi) head off to college. An easily incorporated and well warranted spin-off, GROWN-ISH picks up with her as we get a more intimate glimpse into the daily trials and tribulations she faces at university. The most readily apparent trial and tribulation is the fact that she is stuck in a class that meets from midnight to 2 AM and must navigate finding a social circle amongst all the weirdos that that time slot appeals to. However, what’s far more troublesome is a roommate switch that leaves her with Analisa Torres (Francia Raisa). As all the freshmen were arriving at college, Zoey and Ana went to their first party together, but Zoey abandoned her when she became too drunk. Missing a chance at redemption by shunning her again during registration the next day, Zoey must now live in close quarters with someone who hates her, all while trying to find her footing.
Mfw you’re expressing an opinion on the Grammys either way
Most strongly in GROWN-ISH’s favor is the excellent writing. I don’t use “excellent” easily or lightly, but I have no problem signing off on it as a descriptor for the pilot. Bright, vibrant, and effortlessly funny, Zoey and the people she meets feel like actual teenagers, albeit definitively odd ones. The montage-esque sequences of us meeting the members of Zoey’s class are a standout, a frenetic editing pace just barely letting the humorous introductions land before whisking us away to the next one: Nomi (Emily Arlook) has to hide her sexual fluidity from her uncle, the dean of students, Jazlyn (Chloe Bailey) and Skylar (Halle Bailey) are the odd twin duo that don’t get along at all, Aaron (Trevor Jackson) is a Woke Bae entirely consumed with Black activism, Luca (Luka Sabbat) is an easy-going stoner, and Vevek (Jordan Buhat) is a Drake-worshipping genius that prefers selling drugs to hitting the books. We are efficiently and effectively introduced to each character’s flaws and motivations, and the narrative economy with which we’re fully introduced to the cast is impressive.
What’s more, GROWN-ISH expertly balances its tone, referencing and acknowledging the sociopolitical climate and conversations that are occurring on college campuses without ever feeling like there’s an imperative onus to. It knows it’s not DEAR WHITE PEOPLE and doesn’t try to be, confidently establishing the belief of its characters as the context of the show, not the main focus. I’m sure as Zoey navigates her dual attractions to Aaron and Luca that we’ll get more direct, on-the-nose discussions, but for now GROWN-ISH is comfortable focusing on its clear-cut comedic aspects, which feels like a stronger step out the gate then hurriedly trying to check all the boxes of cultural awareness.
THE BREAKFAST CLUB remake looks dope
In addition, the show takes the interesting route of putting Zoey on blast almost right from the start. Though we know that she ultimately means well and was simply acting out of anxiety and trepidation of losing social standing, Zoey’s recounting of what happened with Ana is met with scorn from her peers. While GROWN-ISH’s willingness to admit that its main character isn’t perfect may have something to do with the fact that audiences got to know her over the course of BLACK-ISH, it’s still refreshing to see that Zoey is just as human as the rest of us, and her attempts to patch things up with Ana are sure to face many obstacles.
Apart from one or two lines that are clunkers, I have virtually nothing bad to say about GROWN-ISH based on the pilot ,and I have something bad to say about almost everything. Diverse, warm, organic, and funny, the way in which GROWN-ISH introduces all of its key players is good enough to be studied in a television writing class. I don’t need to watch more to know that it’s a hit, but I look forward to doing so regardless.
GROWN-ISH airs on Freeform on Wednesdays