ABC’s Black-ish is one of the network’s best family sitcoms and it makes sense that Disney would want to extend that success to one of its other networks, in this case Freeform. Starting January 3rd, Grown-ish hopes to boost the network’s lack of half-hour comedies by adding a new series with a percentage of an established TV audience. But is one character from a hit show enough to make a great spin-off?
Yara Shahidi stars as Zoey Johnson, Dre’s oldest daughter who has just started college and is out of the house on her own for the first time. In the opening scene of the pilot, she dodges a call from her dad (Anthony Anderson) who can’t believe his baby is on her own and is also worried that his daughter will repeat some of the mistakes he made in college. Zoey isn’t the only recurring character from Black-ish to carry over either, with Dre’s colleague Charlie (Dean Cole) somehow landing a midnight class teaching gig at Zoey’s school.
Referencing The Breakfast Club, Zoey quickly finds herself befriending some of her midnight classmates, all of them peculiar in their own way. Zoey appears to be closest to Molly Ringwald’s pretty and popular Claire. Her peers include a wild bisexual, a drug dealer, twins, and a Cuban republican. The pilot races through them all pretty quickly, but it’s assumed that the series will further develop each individual.
Spin-offs usually have a big challenge ahead of them and are rarely successful. Unfortunately, Grown-ish doesn’t quite make its mark during the debut episode and doesn’t produce a single laugh. However, there’s a lot of potential for growth and while I only saw the pilot, Freeform is premiering the series with two back-to-back episodes.
Kenya Barris, who created Black-ish, is behind this series as well and I’m certainly not the show’s main demographic. I feel that Yara is charismatic enough to headline the series and the actors cast as her peers are all likable enough. It has the makings to become something great, we just don’t observe anything close to that in the introductory episode.
Black-ish fans who are not in high school or college (both younger and older) should avoid Grown-ish. For the younger Black-ish fans, this new series pushes sexual scenarios that you won’t find in the ABC comedy. For older fans, there’s just not enough of Black-ish to warrant following Zoey’s college life. And sadly, the biggest insult is that Grown-ish isn’t funny and is overall just a 30-minute drama, which seems to miss the point of why Freeform needs it.
I believe that Grown-ish will find its footing with the Freeform audience, where it will likely attract new fans rather than current Black-ish viewers. While I have no intentions of continuing with the series, it has the potential to tell some important stories and have some fun along the way for today’s young adults. Like all spin-offs, Black-ish viewers will likely not find what they’re looking for here.
I give Grown-ish 2 out of 5 midnight class drum lectures.
Grown-ish premieres Wednesday, January 3rd, on Freeform.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.