“Grown-Ish” Recap: I Know Zoey’s Not Popping Pills (Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2)

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As a huge fan of Black-ish, and one of the first people to defend it from critics when it premiered in 2014, I’m excited for the prospect of what the Yara Shahidi led Grown-Ish could turn into. The show premiered as a backdoor pilot in the Black-ish season 3 episode “Liberal Arts”. When I saw that they were debating on making a spinoff of the show I was hyped! I then brought myself back to supposed reality. Surely something like that would come a year or two down the line. I’d be a FVSU alumni before I saw Zoey’s zany adventures at the University of Southern California (Cal U). Yet, I was wrong!

The backdoor pilot premiered in May 3, 2017 and the show was greenlit by Freeform to get a 13 episode first season by the end of the month. Later on in the Fall they announced that the show, now called “Grown-ish”, was premiering January 3, 2018. Fast work Kenya Barris, alumnus of Clark Atlanta University! It was clear he saw the star potential that Yara Shahidi has (new generation Raven Symone, the 2003 version though) and thought a couple of steps ahead in crafting a show where Zoey would go off to college and have wild adventures as she came into her own as a young woman.

I was tuned into Grown-ish for the hour long premiere at 8 PM EST on Freeform, even deciding to not watch the Cavaliers face the Celtics for the second time (the Cavs lost 102-88 so I didn’t miss much)! I expected witty writing and varied use of narrative dialogue, the formula that Black-ish worked to perfection. I also expected side-splitting funny moments that opens you up to receive the  impactful commentary on topics relevant to the youth. I was right all the way around! Grown-ish is a hit, mainly because they don’t stray far away from the house that Black-ish built.

The first episode, entitled Late Registration, was everything that I hoped for. A clear Kanye West shout out, the episode also dealt with Zoey and her new college friends attending a 12 AM class. Of course the professor is “Professor Dr. Charlie Telphy”, a fan favorite from the Black-ish series. Charlie teaches Digital Marketing Strategy and is the type of professor that doesn’t teach what he’s supposed to. Basically, he’s the type of professor that we’ve all had before. It seems like HBCU’s are full of old Charlie Telphy’s!

 

 

Professor Telphy addresses the class and informs them that they’ll be learning about the past, present and future of Drone technology. Immediately, as I was watching, I thought back to my experience at my HBCU and drew the comparison that I tweeted below that happend to go viral on the show hashtag last night. Charlie’s class is the one you get in and you think “This crazy guy is up here talking about drones and pitbulls. I’m definitely getting an A in this class!” Meanwhile, you see your midterm and it’s nothing about drones and pitbulls and you fail and have an F for your midterm grade. Come on, we’ve all been there! I’m excited to see what “Professor Dr. Telphy” brings to the table for this new series. Shout out to him for acting like he didn’t know who Zoey was this episode too!

So, Charlie passes out a survey where he asks the students why they were in the class. Well, for many of them, they needed one more class on their balance sheet to fulfill their credit requirement and they “registered late”. However, you know that the Grown-ish writers were going to find a way to weave a more complex story into this survey. They had Zoey’s oblivious college crush Aaron, played by Trevor Jackson, ask her, “What are you here for?” Zoey then flashes back to the time at a day party where her former friend drank too much and ended up passed out in the pool throwing up and she left her. I don’t know how that ties into why she enrolled in the class, especially when Aaron said that he enrolled in the class because he enjoys being taught by professors of color. But, like I said, you know that the writers were going to make a deeper topic out of this.

Sidenote: Every time Trevor Jackson comes on the screen I think of Burning Sands, the polarizing Netflix film about Greek pledging that came out last March. I guess other people feel the same way and Trevor understands because he liked my tweet! Anyway, the rest of the episode consists of Zoey introducing her new cast of characters and them drawing a deeper meaning from the question “why are you here”. Along trying to find an answer to that question, they also recount stories of why they were late registering that were sort of funny but it was a reach. So, Noni was in the registration line and saw a girl that she thought was cute and she went to the bathroom and got intimate with her because they’re both bisexual. That’s why she registered late? That story then is gonna then be tied into her not opening up to her family the she’s bisexual. Ok.

We then get into Vivik being late registering for classes because he’s an undercover drug dealer because he grew up poor. It then leads into them getting into the storyline that he’s slick ashamed of his father because he’s been driving a cab for 35 years and he has “no ambition”. Once again, ok. The only reasons why they’re in the class that made sense outside of Aarons was the twins Sky and Jazz (they had a twin argument on the way to registering) and Luca (he just didn’t care). That then turned into them turning the survey into a joint letter that Zoey pens about the deeper meaning that they were there, saying that they were “scared”. Now, I don’t know how Zoey got all that meaning from a simple question about why they were taking a 12 AM class but it was a great message and she wasn’t wrong!

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We then get to episode 2 entitled, “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” which is taken from the 2013 hit from Kendrick Lamar’s album “Good Kid, MAAD City” and a the perfect response to how Zoey was acting throughout the whole episode. Luca, sudden appearing in her dorm to complete a project, said one of the realest things I’ve heard since the Black-ish episode “Hope”! He said to Zoey, “You act like you have it altogether but NONE of us have it altogether.” If that isn’t a sentence that sums up college to a tee I don’t know what is!

The whole episode Zoey was talking about how under control she was and above the things that her peers get into but it took a conversation with our residential drug dealer Vivik and Nomi to get her to start popping pills to help her “finish her paper on Ruth Bader Ginsburg”. For someone so headstrong, Zoey fell quickly into popping pills! Mind you, this is only episode 2 and we’ve yet to believe that she’s really even gotten deep into her first semester at Cal U.

I see a lot of myself in Zoey, outside of the pill popping of course. I came into my Freshman year swearing up and down that I had everything about life figured out. I knew that I wanted to pursue being an author and media personality full time and that I was going to use my HBCU as a platform to expand my brand. However, my first year was a humbling experience. I figured out that I might be intelligent and wise to certain things but life will smack you upside the head a little bit and you might be in your room shedding the Denzel tear a couple of times. At this point, Zoey is getting humbled.

It was refreshing to see her make up with her roommate that she left at the party. Zoey is a great person that makes mistakes. Basically, she’s like all of us. She’s the type of character that we love to see on TV. She’s real, relatable and can be used by the writers to convey different positive messages to the young audience watching. The only beef I have with Zoey is that she’s a straight fool over Aaron. She even popped some adderall at the end of the episode when he hit her with the “U Up? Wanna Hang?” text! Don’t go out sad like that Zoey!

If you like dude so much that you’re basically stalking him and making him even sneezing a play at your affection, ask him what’s up! See if he’s down for you. Aaron just seems oblivious! He even got a random dude that was at is party to walk her back to her dorm, which caused a mini debate on the HBCU Pulse Twitter. Was he right for pushing her off on that guy like that? Did he know him? I mean, he did say “dude” and not the guys name. It’s his party so he must know him right? Really, how many people do you know at your house party with like 100 people in the venue? But, I digress.

I’m loving Grown-ish so far. It’s going to be one of those shows that I’m sure will catch steam and become a successful series like Black-ish has been. Anything connected with Larry Wilmore and Kenya Barris turns into gold so I’m not even surprised that this was entertaining and impactful! There were a couple of times that the writers used surrealism to get cheap laughs (i.e. the thing with Noni getting with that girl in the restroom and not registering for her classes so she ended up in Charlie’s class with Zoey). The beauty of Black-ish is it’s comedy but it’s sharp and real satire of people we encounter in the workplace and in the world. I hope that Grown-ish can work up to that same nuance.

However, I’m hopeful. I see this being a prosperous show further cementing Yara Shahidi’s star power and status as a household name. I think that this will catapult Trevor Jackson to a new stratosphere as well! Only time will tell!

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