Editor’s note: This review contains little to no direct spoilers about the first three episodes of grown-ish.
The latest new show on the block has huge expectations, and rightfully so.
Becoming a successful spinoff of an extremely successful series is not an easy thing to do.
Alas, here we have grown-ish, which follows Zoey, portrayed by standout, upcoming talent Yara Shahidi, Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Rainbow’s (Tracee Ellis Ross) popular, entitled, stylish and socially active 17-year-old daughter from black-ish, as she leaves home and heads into her freshman year of college down the road at the fictional Southern California University.
The first trio of episodes quickly cement Shahidi as a force to be reckoned with as leading-woman material, and the extremely likable grown-ish cast as the next big thing.
In the series, Shahidi narrates as does her on-screen father, Anthony Anderson, on black-ish. However, this concept is taken a step further in grown-ish. While Anderson’s Dre mostly only narrates during the beginning and ends of the episodes, Shahidi talks to the audience during most of the show, and even breaks the third wall multiple times an episode, directly turning her head from the scene and speaking to the viewer. It is a super useful technique to employ, given that the motivations of Zoey and the rest of the characters aren’t always given to us directly as an audience.
The show has assembled a diverse group of young talent as Zoey’s on-screen counterparts. Shahidi is joined on-screen by series regulars Trevor Jackson as sophomore social justice warrior and leader of Cal U’s Black Student Union, Aaron Jackson, Jordan Buhat as first-generation Indian-American student and part-time pills dealer, Vivek Shah, Emily Arlook as her rebellious, openly bisexual best friend, Nomi Segal, Francia Raisa as the Cuban. conservative-appearing-but-undercover-Obama-loving Ana Torres, Chris Parnell as the helpful Dean Parker and black-ish’s Deon Cole as the funny Charlie Telphy.
Also, there’s Chloe and Halle Bailey (music stars Chloe x Halle) as clean-cut, yet streetwise track stars Sky and Jazz, Abraham D. Juste as star basketball recruit Cash Mooney and Luka Sabbat as eccentric, free-spirited stoner Luca Hall — who all recur in the series.
Aside from Shahidi, we get ample storyline and screen time for the other characters, with Chloe and Halle Bailey giving epic performances so far, stealing scenes each time they appear as Sky and Jazz. Francia Raisa, the young cast’s veteran with over 10 years in the game since Bring it On: All or Nothing, flawlessly molds like a chameleon into the layered character of Ana.
But back to the series’ headliner, Shahidi — this is a departure for her as well. The character of Zoey is in many respects the pride of black-ish. Exuding confidence and poise, she’s the black American dream; the ideal student, daughter and friend. grown-ish flips that script and this time, she’s the one who’s lost and has things to figure out. It’s a nice change of pace — and it’s done so in a way that doesn’t lose the character’s initial characteristics, even if that means having the character see herself in a different light along with the viewer.
If you thought the show was going to hold back on tackling real themes that teens go through once they enter college, prepare to be surprised. In the first episodes, we’ve got drinking, drugs and sex from the jump — proving to serve as comic relief (as well as some dramatics) as the somewhat clean-cut Zoey learns what her vices are. It is very reminiscent of most college experiences (especially that all-nighter) and it is almost as if we grow with the character as the discovers more about herself and life as an almost-adult, while the show remains realistic as can be during the journey.
One thing I look forward to the show improving upon in its following nine episodes is its continuity (particularly with her love life) — which may just be a symptom of 30-minute situational comedies in general. This also isn’t to say that Shahidi’s Whitley Gilbert-equivalent and Jackson’s Dwayne Wayne-adjacent characters need to be together-forever from the premiere until the end — but it would be nice to see if Zoey did decide to test the waters, it is led by character development and not episode-by-episode plot. I have no doubts that we’ll see some consistency going forward, as one of the reasons it made the jump from ABC to its younger-skewing counterpart Freeform was for more serialized storytelling.
All in all, in its first several episodes, grown-ish shows a lot of capability for future staying power and defining an up-and-coming generation of college television. Before netting this spinoff, Shahidi more than proved she was ready for this, and by the looks of grown-ish so far, she’s just getting started!
grown-ish premieres Wednesday, January 3 with an hour-long premiere at 8 p.m. EST and will air new episodes weekly on Freeform.
Trey Mangum is the lead editor of Shadow & Act. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org & follow him on Twitter @TreyMangum.