'Grown-ish' is a very worthy 'Black-ish' spinoff

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
The cast of Grown-ish. (Photo: Freeform)

A spinoff from Black-ish, Grown-ish premiered last Wednesday and was an immediate hit for Freeform — it scored the channel’s highest series launch in five and a half years. Sure, there was bound to be substantial tune-in from fans of Black-ish, but the ratings were just as strong for the second of the back-to-back episodes Freeform scheduled for the premiere, suggesting that viewers were intrigued by the way Yara Shahidi’s Zoey Johnson has left her family to go to college.

The show immediately made good on its title: There’s more of a grown-up tone to the way Zoey comports herself as a college freshman. She is immediately plunged into a campus social life that includes parties at which drinking and an impressive amount of drugging was done by the student body; indeed, one of Zoey’s new Breakfast Club-style group of pals is a part-time drug dealer, played by Jordan Buhat. It’s as if Grown-ish is saying, “This is not your mother’s Black-ish.”

Spinoffs are notoriously tricky to pull off — a new show has to retain some of the vibe of the original it’s been pulled from while also offering something novel. Grown-ish is impressive in this regard: It’s got a very firm sense of itself right from the start, and just about all of its characters are vividly drawn. They include Trevor Jackson as Aaron, a campus activist and dreamboat Zoey has a crush on; twins Chloe and Halle Bailey as twins Sky and Jazz; and Chris Parnell as a dean of students. (Also popping up now and then is Dean Cole as wacky Charlie, from Black-ish — here he is a highly unlikely teacher but all the funnier for being so unpredictable.) The show has some distinctive touches. Where Anthony Anderson narrates some of Black-ish’s scenes, Shahidi not only does her own narration here, but she also addresses the camera at key moments. The effect is nicely confiding rather than jarring. Funny and sometimes surprisingly dramatic, Grown-ish feels both like a hit and like an artistic success.

Grown-ish airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Freeform.

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