Despite forced humor, ‘Grown-ish’ boldly tackles the realities of college

 (Photo via @grownish on Twitter)

(Photo via @grownish on Twitter)

ABC’s “Black-ish” has been a staple sitcom for the network since 2014 and is now in its fourth season. The show about the everyday life of the Johnson family features their five kids and recently, producers decided to do what many shows don’t- have the eldest daughter actually go to college. So many family shows find a way around characters leaving and create some excuse for them to remain present for the show’s entirety, but spinoff series “Grown-ish” features “Black-ish” star Yara Shahidi as Zoey Johnson as she starts her freshman year at the fictional California University.

The show made its debut on Freeform instead of ABC, likely because of some of its less-than-wholesome content. The show comes as one of a few new Freeform series aimed towards older teens and young adults. In the first two episodes, they approached topics like parties, drinking, drugs, relationships, roommate problems, peer pressure and sexuality. Johnson faced a series of firsts that many college students find themselves facing as well, and the series approaches them with a good mix of light-hearted humor and seriousness. Freeform manages to hit the nail on the head when it comes to college struggles and social issues, without glamorizing or presenting a jaded experience.

The new characters introduced as Johnson’s friends were all extremely diverse and culturally aware, to the point where it seemed almost excessive and forced. Yet they were a well-cast group of up-and-comers, including the fashion influencer Luka Sabbat, music duo Chloe and Halle Bailey, “Secret Life of the American Teen” star (and Selena Gomez’s organ donor) Francia Raisa, as well as fresh faces Trevor Jackson, Emily Arlook and Jordan Buhat.

The majority of the first episode took place in the midnight class where the friends first meet, a class taught by a zany family friend from the original series. Zoey narrates how their group feels like “The Breakfast Club” as they all recount why they missed the course registration period and ended up in this class, ending their bonding session in tears. The best word for this episode is, again, forced. It felt like a bit of a let down coming from all of the show’s extensive advertising.

One thing “Grown-ish” does very well is the aesthetic. Shahidi is herself a style icon, social justice advocate and a trendsetting teen star. All of the characters are fashionable and well-dressed, the party scenes are used just sparingly enough to be appreciated and the soundtrack doesn’t disappoint. Shahidi as Zoey Johnson was maybe the best current television character to make a spin-off with this concept, as she was recently accepted into Harvard and is going to go through some of these college experiences herself later this year.

“It’s almost like Zoey has lived that life so Yara doesn’t have to!” Shahidi said of the timing of the show to W Magazine. “So I feel like there’s going to be many an experiment that people will go through where I’ll be like, my character’s already done it so I don’t need to.”

Johnson undergoes some serious character change between the two shows, from cool and confident oldest sibling to uncertain college freshmen and she makes some questionable decisions along the way. But her classic sense of sarcasm remains the same, helping the transition between shows.

In a world of high-school teen dramas, television was seriously lacking a sitcom set in college. “Grown-ish” was trying it’s best to be deep and relatable to a young audience, and while it didn’t do an excellent job blending that with the original humor fans were familiar with from “Black-ish,” it certainly shows potential to be that series. Since only a few episodes have aired so far, viewers will have to stay tuned to Freeform to see how the show progresses.


Julia Mancini is the associate life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.mancini@uconn.edu.