Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers from Season 2 Episodes 1 and 2 of Grown-ish.
2019 started off right with the season premiere of Grown-ish, a Freeform-based spinoff of ABC’s Black-ish. Characterized by pithy pop culture references and charismatic narration, the show focuses on 19-year-old Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi) as she and her friends navigate their college years. It addresses issues pertinent to our society such as drug use, free speech, and discrimination without heavy-handedness while still entertaining audiences. The show’s return was highly anticipated by fans, although it elicited some criticism from viewers when the showrunners released a promotional clip that paid homage to A Different World.
The public’s reaction to the promotional clip is an extension of criticisms dating back to when the show first debuted in January 2018. Some viewers are skeptical about the cultural relevance of Zoey’s experiences because of the show’s setting: Grown-ish is set at Cal U, a predominantly white institution (PWI), while A Different World takes place at Hillman, a historically black institution (HBCU). However, it can be argued that setting Grown-ish at an HBCU would disrupt the premise that both Black-ish and Grown-ish were founded on: navigating one’s identity in spaces that are not meant to accommodate those that differ from the norm. While the premiere did not necessarily deal with race or culture (except for Aaron’s attempts to re-establish Hawkins as a “beacon of black excellence”), they did deal with norms — how we are expected to interact with each other and how to present one’s self (or one’s relationship) to the world.
The two-episode premiere began as Zoey returned to Cal U with high hopes of having a perfect sophomore year. Yet, as time progressed, her expectations slowly began to crumble. Zoey, Nomi (Emily Arlook), and Ana (Francia Raisa) rented an on-campus apartment, only to discover that it was in horrible condition. This dilemma brought the other cast members — Aaron (Trevor Jackson), Vivek (Jordan Buhat), and Jaz and Sky (Chloe and Halle Bailey) — and the girls together, but this reunion quickly lent itself to conflict. However, most of these issues were minor; for example, Ana had to adjust to Nomi’s habits, and Aaron had to consider how to get his point across without being overbearing. Notably, most of these conflicts could be resolved through communication — each character had their own needs and wants, and in many cases, their expectations just weren’t being met.
However, this isn’t entirely Zoey’s fault — nowadays, it is easy to lose yourself in a sea of seemingly “flawless” individuals, especially on social media. We have all worried about meeting some invisible standard at some point in our lives, either because our peers were doing it or because it is actively expected of us. Yet, Grown-ish is here to remind us that it’s okay to be imperfect and that it’s important to communicate about our expectations.
One of the best things about Grown-ish is that it handles both every day and worst case scenarios with nuance. Just because you know that your perspective on a certain situation might be skewed or that your feelings aren’t universal doesn’t mean that those feelings go away, and sometimes it takes a little push to reach an epiphany. Grown-ish does its best to showcase all the pushing, the little moments that cause people to have new realizations or change their points of view. Zoey and Luca did eventually solve their communication issues, but not without an important lesson to viewers: speaking up can go a long way, no hashtags necessary.
Season 2 has already started off strong, and we can’t wait for more!
Grown-ish airs on Wednesday nights at 8:00 pm ET on Freeform.
Featured image Via Good Morning America