“The real goal of the show is to portray college in its most authentic form,” says the Yara Shahidi
Grown-ish showcases the hilarious and often bumpy ride to adulthood
Don’t let the “ish” fool you. While this wee suffix imbues a deliberate vagueness that muddies a word’s meaning, the producers of Grown-ish – the first spin-off of award-winning comedy Black-ish – know exactly what they are doing as they send the Johnson family’s eldest daughter, Zoey, off to college.
With its debut in 2014, Black-ish emerged as one of the top-rated freshman comedies in the United States and a bona fide hit for the Fox network, by tapping into what was then a trendy new formula for success – prime-time shows created by and starring minorities.
Now in its fourth season, it has garnered critical acclaim, millions of viewers, multiple Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe for lead actress Tracee Ellis Ross, who co-stars as Rainbow Johnson, the mixed-race, liberal-minded doctor wife of Andre “Dre” Johnson Sr, an African-American advertising executive, played by series executive producer Anthony Anderson. Together, they are raising four colour-blind, assimilated children in a colonial home in the ’burbs.
Dre’s doubts and constant worries – that his success has alienated his family from their ethnic identity and cultural connections – is the story engine that has driven Black-ish into the winner’s circle with a cool relevance to diversity issues.
Now Zoey, played by 17-year-old American actress and model Yara Shahidi, is flying the nest, spreading her wings and heading off for higher education as the star of Grown-ish, a 13-episode, single-camera comedy that debuts on OSN on January 5.
But the life lessons that the popular, entitled, stylish, socially active Zoey is about to learn won’t all take place in the classroom. Her confidence will be rattled to the core by the bumpy ride to adulthood; she will discover that it is a road where not much goes your way. Dorm life, frat parties, dating, rejection, self-doubt and nutty professors all take their toll.
“Grown-ish reflects what we’ll be dealing with in the show – that in-between place where you’re not quite an adult, but facing grown-world problems for the first time,” says Kenya Barris, creator of both series.
“Where Black-ish examines what it means to be black, Grown-ish is an examination of what it is and what it means to be grown. On Black-ish, she was the cool kid at school. She was the pretty girl, she was the popular girl – she’s a fish out of water here.”
“The real goal of the show is to portray college in its most authentic form,” adds Shahidi, the daughter of Iranian-American and African-American/Native American parents. “Like in Black-ish, some things are exaggerated for the sake of comedy, but it’s really based in the sense of reality. That’s what we really want for Grown-ish, this ability to tell a story. There will be a lot happening to [Zoey] that may not happen to every student – but we want to address the issues that students deal with, like peer pressure and figuring out who you are.”
Shahidi cut her acting teeth as a 6-year-old doing commercials for the likes of McDonald’s, Ralph Lauren and Disney, and at the age of 9 starred opposite Eddie Murphy in Imagine That, her 2009 film debut.
In addition to acting, she is an activist for social causes, has been accepted into Harvard – with a double major in social studies and African-American studies – and appears to be remarkably level-headed for a teenaged star.
“[Staying grounded] is pretty easy, I think,” she says. “What’s nice is that, yes, I work, but what’s funny is that acting is something I do – it’s not something I am – even if my title is actor or actress. It’s allowed me to live my life. Yes, I work 60 hours a week. And, yes, I have a crazy schedule – but I still get those moments of hanging out with friends, and doing other things and really having that balance.”
Her co-stars include Black-ish’s Deon Cole who portrays Charlie, Dre’s eccentric, unpredictable co-worker at Stevens & Lido. Zoey runs into him during college orientation, where she learns that he moonlights as an adjunct marketing professor. Emily Arlook (The Good Place) portrays Nomi, a freshman know-it-all at Southern California University with a no-holds-barred attitude. Chris Parnell (Saturday Night Live) is the dean of Southern California University, while Trevor Jackson (Burning Sands) will play a socially conscious sophomore student.
While launching a spin-off isn’t all that different from sending a child to college – with many attendant worries for both parents and showrunners – early reviews for Grown-ish have been positive.
“There are a few growing pains here and there, but in general, Grown-ish is a buoyant, sprightly addition to the television scene,” Variety reported.
“Yara Shahidi takes full advantage of the expansion of her screen time, and the kind of piquant, culturally relevant storytelling that Black-ish has honed is on display here too. All in all, Grown-ish is a smart, breezy expansion of the Black-ish family.”
Grown-ish has its premiere at 11pm on Friday on OSN Series Comedy HD