‘Grown-ish’ offers an authentic portrayal of college life in 2018

By Lindsey Mutz

Review of Episodes 1×01 “Late Registration” and 1×02 “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”.

 

Zoey Johnson, oldest daughter of the Johnson family on ABC’s Black-ish, embarks on a journey all her own in Grown-ish, a spinoff dedicated to exploring college life in 2018. In Black-ish, Zoey was known for her confidence and self assurance,  running circles around her parents and siblings and being the designated “cool kid” of her family. Grown-ish forces Zoey Johnson out of her element, and pushes her to admit that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing and isn’t as confident as she pretends to be.

In the series premiere, Zoey befriends six other misfit college students in her midnight class on drones, taught by none other than Charlie, Andre Johnson’s odd co-worker and a breakout star of Black-ish.

Deon Cole is great in this new role as Professor Charlie. His presence adds a wackiness to the grounded premises and his one liners get increasingly absurd as the night goes on.

In class, Zoey expresses guilt for leaving her new friend Ana after seeing her throw up at a party and worrying about what other kids would think of her. This introduces the major theme of the first episode, which carries into the second as well. When faced with her first choice in college, completely on her own, Zoey made the wrong one.

Her guilt and confusion resonate with her peers, who open up about their own issues and insecurities. Zoey befriends Aaron, a woke sophomore who she crushes on immediately, Nomi, a bisexual Jewish girl who hasn’t come out to her family, Vivek, the son of Indian immigrants who sells drugs while posing as an engineering student, Luca, an avid weed smoker who clashes with Aaron, and Skylar and Jazz, twin track stars. This merry band of misfits bond quickly, a la The Breakfast Club, and with SNL veteran Chris Parnell rounding out the cast as the dean of students, Grown-ish sets itself up with a lot to work with in the episodes and seasons to come.

In the second episode, Zoey’s busy schedule catches up with her as she struggles to juggle academics and her social life at once. She resorts to taking Adderall a total of three times in three nights to stay awake and get her work done, something she does somewhat reluctantly, but keeps coming back to as a solution.

With this episode, Grown-ish fully differentiates itself from Black-ish, introducing a true college-kid storyline that doesn’t feel overdone or glorified. Drug use is a real part of college life, but it’s not always the big deal that adults make it out to be. Zoey initially balks at taking Adderall, but comes around in the end, and her decision isn’t celebrated nor criticized—instead, we get to watch the consequences of her choice play out naturally.

 
With their first two episodes off to a strong start, Grown-ish is setting itself up to be a comedy that accurately and authentically examines college life in 2018. We can look forward to new problems and issues to be tackled in the coming episodes, because if Black-ish is any indication, Grown-ish won’t shy away from touchy subjects. And thankfully for us, Zoey Johnson and her band of friends still have a lot of growing up to do.

Featured Image: Kelsey McNeal/Freeform.

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