Grown-ish 2024 series review

Reflecting on the debut season of Black-ish, Kenya Barris’ ABC sitcom initially took a bit of time to fully develop its characters and establish its voice. Nonetheless, from the outset, it demonstrated remarkable confidence in both its tone and structure, setting a fine example of a TV series quickly finding its stride, which is a rarity in the industry.

In contrast, Freeform’s Grown-ish represents a more typical scenario. Having watched three episodes provided to critics, I can discern the potential of Grown-ish as it evolves into a solid show, or at least begin to grasp its promise. However, true to its title and the theme of college-aged characters, the series feels like it’s still in a phase of maturation, striving to stand on its own.

Loosely derived from Black-ish’s “Liberal Arts” episode from the previous spring—arguably one of the show’s weaker episodes aside from mandated Disney World excursions—Grown-ish introduces one of its main characters in a fall episode of Black-ish, which was more perplexing than engaging. Subsequently, the series debuts on Freeform with an episode heavy on exposition and re-establishing characters, yet light on laughs.

Zoey (Yara Shahidi), the eldest child of Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross), begins her college journey at California University of Liberal Arts. Although the reasons behind this transition were introduced in a backdoor pilot last year, they are best left unexplored. Zoey finds herself in a midnight Digital Marketing Strategies class taught by Dre’s eccentric colleague, Charlie (Deon Cole), despite Charlie lacking any teaching credentials. The class comprises an eclectic mix of individuals, including sexually fluid Nomi (Emily Arlook), aspiring rapper Vivek (Jordan Buhat), twin track stars Skyler and Jazlyn (Chloe and Halle Bailey), artsy pothead Luca (Luka Sabbat), and campus activist sophomore Aaron (Trevor Jackson). The pilot delves into how this unlikely group forms bonds in challenging circumstances, emphasizing the unique dynamics of the Grown-ish family compared to the Black-ish family.

However, the fundamental issue with Grown-ish lies in its simplicity.

It makes sense to center a spinoff around Shahidi, given her charismatic presence and proven talent. Logistically, a spinoff focused on Zoey from Black-ish is feasible, as Zoey was the most detachable character from the main family unit, despite being underdeveloped compared to her siblings.

Yet, crafting a spinoff around Zoey’s character proves nearly impossible. Of the Johnson family members, Zoey was the least defined after several seasons of Black-ish. She lacked distinctive traits beyond her popularity, rendering her a vague and unremarkable character. In Grown-ish, Zoey’s actions feel out-of-character, highlighting the challenge of shaping a comedic identity around her.

While Grown-ish struggles with character development, it also underutilizes Cole’s Charlie, who served as a comedic catalyst in Black-ish. However, his role in Grown-ish feels forced, straining credibility. Similarly, Parnell’s presence feels tacked on, lacking relevance to the story.

The series begins to find its footing in the third episode, exploring relationship dynamics in college and the digital age. This episode hints at a perspective unique to the young demographic, showcasing a comedy in the process of self-discovery.

In summary, Grown-ish is a work in progress, grappling with the challenge of establishing its own identity amidst the shadow of its predecessor.