Review: Yara Shahidi shines on her own in Freeform's sweet spinoff 'Grown-ish'
Actress Yara Shahidi, who plays Zoey on 'Black-ish,' says being on the ABC sitcom is so much fun it doesn't even feel like she's working. (April 4) AP
Zoey Johnson can do just fine on her own. Well, fine-ish.
The eldest child on ABC's Black-ish, played with verve by rising young star Yara Shahidi, goes solo in the new Freeform spin-off Grown-ish ( ★★★ out of four), which follows Zoey to college. The new series is a compelling companion to Black-ish – funny, charming and thought-provoking — only here the social discussions, characters and humor are packaged for a younger audience.
The series, created by Kenya Barris and Larry Wilmore, kicks off a few days after Zoey has arrived at school, when she feels like she has the whole college-kid thing down. Of course, she's not prepared at all, and the first episode finds her bonding with an eclectic group of classmates about their shared foibles and mistakes.
The group includes Aaron (Trevor Jackson), a socially conscious sophomore; Vivek (Jordan Buhat), an ambitious student and part-time drug dealer; Nomi (Emily Arlook), the Dean's niece with one foot in the closet; and Ana (Francia Raisa), a religious girl who lets loose. The cast also includes Chris Parnell as the school's dean and recruits Charlie (Deon Cole) from Black-ish to teach an ill-advised night course.
Shahidi, long a standout on Black-ish, proves to be more than capable of carrying her own show (although Anthony Anderson shows up in Wednesday's premiere). The young actress is watchable and likable, and shows off new depths. She is, however, the most well-rounded character inthe series in the first three episodes made available for review: Other students are not quite fleshed out, but all play off Shahidi well.
Like the ABC sitcom, Grown-ish features Zoey's narration and asides, which helps introduce the character to anyone who missed Black-ish. Grown-ish is aimed at young women, and focuses on issues that affect them without irony or judgment. Zoey's socially conscious role on Black-ish gives Grown-ish's ambitions authenticity, so when it tackles an issue it doesn't feel like a cheap gimmick. Those issues are more specific than some of Black-ish's, such as an episode that explores how young men and young women view hookup culture differently.
The series is also not afraid to let Zoey make mistakes, an essential part of any college experience (after all, she's only grown-ish ). In early episodes, Zoey disappoints a friend, experiments with drugs and inelegantly juggles two guys. Her experience isn't glossed over or cartoonishly exaggerated. The series derives most of its laughs from her naïveté, though the humor is a bit shaky in the first two episodes.
Letting Zoey branch out from the Johnson home, and letting Shahidi branch out from her network sitcom roots, proves to be a smart choice for both series. As long as Zoey is still figuring out her life, we're glad to be invited to the party.
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