January 3, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Grown-ish”


GROWN-ISH:  Wednesday 8PM on Freeform – In Progress

ABC’s Black-ish has been a bright spot on the broadcast landscape, the rare network family sitcom to earn both wide audiences and critical praise for its combination of political sting and emotional warmth.  A spin-off created by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris (and Larry Wilmore, an original Executive Producer of the parent show) made sense, and when GROWN-ISH, focusing on the college adventures of teen daughter Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi), skewed younger than ABC’s target demo, the new series was moved to cable sister network Freeform.  Premiering with back-to-back episodes tonight (after a backdoor pilot that aired last season as part of Black-ish), the new show has its moments, but it isn’t yet in a league with its parent.

The opening half-hour, written by Consulting Producer Jenifer Rice-Genzuk Henry (another Black-ish veteran) from a story co-devised by Barris, and directed by Kevin Bray, is burdened by a warehouse full of exposition.  Much of the episode is devoted to backstories for its regular characters, presented with multiple references to The Breakfast Club:  stoner Luca (Luka Sabbat), heartthrob Aaron (Trevor Jackson), bisexual Nomi (Emily Arlook), twin athletes Sky and Jazz (Chloe and Halle Bailey), drug-dealer Vivek (Jordan Buhat), and Zoey’s eventual roommate Ana (Francia Raisa).  All of them but Ana are students in a class taught by recurring oddball Black-ish character Charlie (Deon Cole), who will be a regular here.  The episode wraps up with a handy “be yourself” message, but it feels awkward and overloaded.

Episode 2, written by Co-Producers Jordan Reddout and Gus Hickey, and directed by Stella Meghie, is more ambitious.  It presents Zoey as quickly out of control as she tries to balance college-level school work, partying, and her crush on Aaron, and beginning to develop a taste for Adderall to keep her going.  To its credit, the episode doesn’t resolve the issue when its 30 minutes are up, and it will be interesting to see how “edgy” the series intends to be about such topics.  (This being cable, the characters are allowed to say “shit,” a privilege Zoey’s ABC family can’t claim.)

Grown-ish has a lot going for it, starting with Barris’s proven skill at mixing topical seriousness with laughs, along with Shahidi’s likability.  The bumps in its road include a need to resolve its tonal relationship with Black-ish.  The opening episode, aside from featuring a cameo from Anthony Anderson (also an Executive Producer here), tries to accommodate stylistic similarities to Anderson’s Black-ish narration, as Shahidi speaks directly to camera, but it feels obtrusive, and it’s gone in Episode 2.  The character of Zoey, too, feels at something of a remove from the cool customer we knew from Black-ish, which makes sense since the new series will turn on her vulnerabilities, but still needs to be smoothed out.  Most importantly, the large number of new cast members will require stronger and more layered characters than they’ve been given so far.

Grown-ish is certainly owed a shake-out period to find its voice, and it fits with other recent Freeform shows like The Bold Type and The Fosters (and that show’s own upcoming spin-off, which will also center on young women characters).  It’s a bit early in the syllabus, though, to be sure whether it will work.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."