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‘Grown-ish’ makes fun of youths rather than empowering them

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 When children go off to college, that’s typically when they have a chance to find themselves. They develop an identity once they step out of the house and tend to emerge as their own separate, interesting person. In the case of grown-ish, — in all lowercase, to perfectly mimic its predecessor— that has yet to happen.

    In this blossoming series, Yara Shahidi, reeling from success-by-association with her detached presence on black-ish, appears as a stand-alone story in what soon reveals itself to be a clear attempt to develop a character that had been used primarily as a convenient plot-crutch in the past. Within a matter of ten minutes, the viewer gets to see for themselves why, as painful as it is to admit, her character might’ve done better as a write-off.

    With jilted camera angles, poor editing, and acting that serves as a staunch reminder that everything we are seeing is likely scripted down to the last detail, most of this shows problems could be dismissed as immaturity. It might even be a purposeful style choice to convey the earnesty of youth. Or, more likely, it was simply bad directing. It shouldn’t be possible to pack more than one messily cut, poorly timed  flashback scene with graphics dubbed over it into the span of a season, but grown-ish has managed to do it three times within only three episodes. That must count for something.

    Like a newborn baby, grown-ish simply can’t stand on its own without doing some heavy leaning on its parent show. It draws a lot from black-ish, which is to be expected— they’re related. For example, the show tries to adopt the style of consistent narration that black-ish is famous for, along with its well-versed humor; however, grown-ish is neither consistent, nor is it funny. The main character switches constantly between voice-over narration to directly addressing the audience with a fourth wall break; making for a more awkward and entirely too intimate viewing experience. What is displayed in the context of these narration stretches is, more often than not, direct appeals to the audience that usually conflicts with the story; Zoey asks the audience’s forgiveness, patience, sympathy— but when viewed holistically within the story, one just doesn’t feel very inclined to give it to her.

The writers of this show managed to pack so many stereotypical behaviors into a set of one-dimensional characters. Zoey is a typical college student. Detached from reality and unaware of the socio-political climate surrounding her. Additionally, as the audience later finds out, an incomprehensibly shallow, morally-questionable human being. But in the way that all teenage girls are, right? Zoey prides herself on not being like the average kid. Not taking drugs, not knowing who Ruth Beder Ginsberg is despite her being in a place of political action and people aspiring for knowledge and social awareness— she’s written in such a way that establishes a sort of superiority complex, presenting her as unrelatable and overall, frankly, unlikeable to the audience, regardless of intent. She cares about the politics to the extent that it’ll win her favor with a local activist, Aaron Jackson.

    The character of Aaron, though, speaks to a much larger issue, perhaps rooted more in the writers rather than the writing itself. It is what separates this show from a thoughtless laugh from a true dislike. As the token ‘woke’ character, Aaron is often belittled for his beliefs in social justice. Within fifteen minutes of the first episode, someone invokes the Black Lives Matter movement as a joke; meant to ridicule Aaron. Because Black lives mattering is just so “funny” to them? It transforms the show into something more tangible, and thus, infinitely easier to hate. While black-ish was a perfectly paced satire, counterbalanced with middle class living, the black perspective with insightful, and accurate commentary involving each; grown-ish somehow manages to lose sight in all those things. It gained, ultimately, nothing useful at all from its roots.

    Grown-ish seems to be, at its heart, a show by adults, for adults, about teenagers. In spite of it trying to sell itself as a fresh, funny, coming-of-age story of development, it’s turned out to be a nostalgic look back on college and high school aimed for cheap laughs at the expense of the naivety of students. It has an apparent detachment from reality, revealing how adults tend to view kids nowadays, when in truth students are getting marginally more political than before. The continuing punchline of how silly and shallow kids are, in a show made for kids, just doesn’t land the way it must’ve been intended to.

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