Not Quite Grown, But Still A Lot of Fun
grown-ish FINALLY comes back for Season 3-ISH
I’ve always been delighted by the world that Kenya Barris has created around being black in America, something that has become even more potent in the last couple of years. All of the series focuses on the Johnson family have been incredibly entertaining and often very moving to watch. That said, the one I still find the most fun is the one that isn’t on ABC, and therefore has fewer boundaries when it comes to language, sex and issues in general.
It’s been more than a year since the first half of Season 3 of grown-ish aired (the pandemic has made filming difficult) and while a lot has changed, particularly for Zoey (Yara Shahdi) there are a lot of deeper issues going on. For one thing, Zoey dropped out of college at the end of the first half of Season 3 to pursue her dream of being a stylist for celebrities. Like so much in her world, it hasn’t gone according to plan. When she came back to Cal State to try and hook up with her on-again, off-again squeeze Aaron, he basically told her that he’s finally moved on (perhaps as a signal to the audience that was getting as sick of the love triangle as he is). Everyone else is dealing with a whole new set of issues, which are still being formed. Twins Jazz and Sky are trying out for the next Olympics. Nomi, who ended up pregnant at the beginning of Season 3, is now raising her child on her own. Both Luca and Aaron had moved on to other girlfriends, and Jazz has finally broken up with her own boyfriend.
This could be seen as the making of a black college sitcom, but like so many other shows by Barris (and in a different way, so many of the series on Freeform), grown-ish has a way of making so many of these issues entertaining. In the second episode, Ana (who has been gunshy about dating) learned that her most recent boyfriend is a practicing celibate. So there were a fair amount of jokes about guys all wanting to have sex. But there was also a fairly sound discussion about Ana, who has always been religious, trying to find a way to understand her boyfriend. This led her to attending a youth church service unlike any I’ve seen on any medium and it later led to her finding a way to let God back into her life.
On a more serious note Aaron, the major student activist on this series, announced that he had been ignoring the Black Student Union because they didn’t take causes seriously. When he went to a meeting, though, he learned that the university had been investing in private prisons and using that money to pay for security. Aaron began to protest as he does, and it quickly turned very serious as two campus cops told him to take down his posters, then began to treat him very much as a felon. (The fact that one of the cops happened to be African-American was a very subtle jab at the nature of policing.) Aaron ended up being arrested while his girlfriend filmed the whole encounter. I really want to see how this turns out.
Honestly, as good as Shahdi still is, Zoey is now the weakest link of grown-ish. The series is far more of an ensemble piece than almost any of Barris’ other series, and in a way, I was getting fatigue watching Zoey try to find her place in the world and bouncing between Luca and Aaron. There are far more interesting stories going on, and the series far bigger than its lead. Zoey may not be grown-ish, but the cast and the writing sure are.
My score: 4 stars.