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April 9, 2018

"Grownish" shows an Idealistic iGeneration

The finale of the rookie season of Grown-ish, the spinoff of the popular ABC series Black-ish, aired just last week, capping off main character Zoey Johnson’s personal journey through her first year of college at the fictional Cal U. The show clearly tries to be relatable to Gen Z. The so-called iGeneration is hard to please, but Grown-ish is the woke, relevant show we didn’t know we needed. 

Grown-ish centers around Zoey’s first year at Cal U as she navigates all the college tropes we know and love: a promising career in the fashion industry (including an internship at Teen Vogue!), three extremely attractive, respectful, talented love interests, and a diverse charismatic group of friends. Okay, so maybe Zoey’s storyline is a little less relatable than one would hope, but seeing a black girl navigate problems not rooted in racist or sexist stereotypes is quite refreshing. Her problems go beyond the teen show archetype—in one episode, she accidentally posts a picture online that gets her in trouble at her internship, and in another, she deals with friends fighting over who, if anyone, deserves a designated safe space on campus. 

The storyline of Grown-ish addresses some of today’s most salient issues. It might come off as preachy if it weren’t so sorely needed in network television. In one episode, twins Sky and Jaz discuss their move from a primarily black high school to a primarily white school, and how it impacted their dating lives. The twins steal the show in this episode by pointing out biased behavior against black women with equal parts conviction and grim humor. The episode contains a thoughtful dialogue including the perspectives of the twins’ friends Aaron and Vivek. In another episode, Nomi, who is bisexual, becomes disinterested in a boy after learning that he is also bisexual. This leads her to question the double standard about gender and bisexuality, and eventually to reconsider a relationship with him.  

While you’ll probably be left wanting to be friends with the Grown-ish cast, you may also feel unworthy of such a stylish, snarky, supportive, and talented group of people. They come closer to accurately portraying Gen Z college students than many other TV shows do. Although they often are shown using their phones, for example, they are very self-aware about our generation’s excessive use of technology. Despite everything Grown-ish gets right, the cast’s shiny, well-thought-out quality lacks the realness I find myself craving when my generation is depicted on television. The characters are just a little too thoughtful, their outfits a little too put-together, their jokes a little too mild.  

The diversity of the cast, in a day and age where casting diversity certainly has room for improvement, cannot be ignored. There is Yara Shahidi as the ambitious Zoey, of Black-ish fame. Besides that, her friends represent a huge spectrum of perspective, from Ana, a Catholic, Republican child of Cuban immigrants, to Nomi, a Jewish, bisexual liberal, to Luca, an enigmatic artist. It might seem limiting to describe every character in terms of their ethnic, political, and sexual identities, but the show is groundbreaking in the sheer array of identities represented. Grown-ish creates a platform for inclusive dialogue on every issue addressed and provides nuanced media representation.  

If you, too, have been searching for a show that accurately encapsulates the Gen Z experience, Grown-ish might not be a fully satisfying solution. Although its content is far more relevant to the iGeneration than, say, Riverdale, its characters are more beautiful, articulate versions of ourselves. The reality of our generation is that we aren’t always quite so thoughtful. Perhaps the show is not a model of who we are, but a role model for who we should aspire to be. 

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