As a sophomore in college, it’s hard to relate to “Grown-ish”
“Grown-ish” isn’t anything like “A Different World”, and that’s ok. However, it isn’t ok for the show to try too hard to be a replica of the hit 90’s sitcom. I really wanted the “Black-ish” spinoff to be the modern-day version of “A Different World” by having relatable characters with equally relatable issues. The show certainly tried to do that in its debut with Zoey Johnson’s (played by Yara Shahidi) opening monologue about her school having gender neutral bathrooms and being founded by a white supremacist. It made another attempt of being this coming-of-age show with another one of Zoey’s monologues about the various backgrounds of her newly found friends who all happen to be far from the typical white college student narrative, but it failed short of thoroughly being that representation. In fact, it’s not even reflective of a modern-day college experience, not even a black one.
As woke as the new Freeform series appeared to be, it doesn’t seem authentic. It’s an issue of both the casting and writing that makes the series both unrealistic and not enjoyable to watch. The writing of the series is particularly discouraging because it’s extremely unrelatable. For example, viewers are introduced to Zoey Johnson’s clique in a digital marketing strategies class (taught by Deon Cole’s character) that takes place from midnight to 2 a.m. I can’t say if most colleges have midnight classes, but I’m pretty sure that none of my friends are taking midnight classes because they were late registering for classes, and I certainly haven’t heard it even being mentioned since I came to college (especially during my freshman year). Additionally, in almost all of the scenes, Zoey Johnson is sporting a new hairstyle. While it isn’t abnormal for some black girls to sport different hairstyles, it definitely wasn’t an everyday occurrence. Actually, it was more common for black girls in college to figure out who was going to do their hair. It’s something that I currently struggle with.
Even after watching this, I still tried hard to relate to “Grownish” as much as the show was trying to be woke and relatable. I certainly couldn’t do it after hearing that Zoey spent $3,000 on clothes after taking adderall. While I understand that some college students do ball out and have wealthy families, it’s uncommon for college students to be that rich that they just have $3,000 to spare without their families being petrified. College is the land of the woke and broke, not woke and wealthy, and I think it’s important for the show not to be just a representation of the latter because it sells this fake reality of the college experience. More importantly, if the show’s intention is to portray college through the perspective of a black girl, which I initially believed it to be, then it’s only befitting that it’s representative of things related to that.
As a black female college student, the show isn’t at all a depiction of my experience. I’ve never had $3,000 (or even $50) to spare on online shopping. I’ve never had friends like Zoey’s who would persuade me to do something with which I’m not comfortable like taking drugs. My hair is rarely put together every day. I barely have the time to do it and only wish that I can do it as well as the styles that Zoey flaunted.
Furthermore, the casting of the show makes it even more difficult to enjoy watching the show. It’s only perpetuating this elitist narrative that’s far from the lifestyle of the average college student. That lifestyle is hard to believe from someone like Yara Shahidi, whose college recommendation was written by Michelle Obama. Her being this regular-shmegular college girl isn’t believable to me when I know that she’s currently taking a gap year from attending Harvard in the fall. I can’t take Trevor Jackson’s charming and “for the people” character seriously when I know he’s been a child star for years. I can’t take Luka Sabbat’s character seriously when he’s a famous stylist for the hip-hop community, and I certainly don’t believe Chloe and Halle Bailey’s characters considering they’re living as Beyoncé’s protegés in reality.
The show is filled with characters and dialogue that wouldn’t fit on a modern-day college campus, and it’s a bit problematic for the show to be that way considering it’s attempt to be the only representation of a college lifestyle on the small screen. Instead, the show offers this awkward depiction of college that isn’t realistic. The beauty of “A Different World” was that the characters were relatable and they dealt with issues in a way that wasn’t generally predictable. “Grownish” fell short of that in its debut. I tried really hard to like “Grown-ish”, but I couldn’t even remotely relate to any of the characters on the show.