Across our many backgrounds, identities, opinions and values, there is one thing that every single college student can agree on: Freshman year is an absolute shitshow. You’ve never had this much freedom in your life, and at the tender age of 18, you really aren’t quite sure what to do with it. Sometimes the urge to do something undeniably stupid is so strong that it takes a few minutes to stop and think, “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t have a drunken, six-hour long Cards Against Humanity marathon on a Wednesday afternoon.” (Side note: If you do, please invite me). But alongside all of the stupid mistakes and lifelong memories of freshman year, there is a level of personal growth that is unmatched by any other time in your life. This is the time to make decisions and relationships that will define the rest of your time in college, and it’s as incredibly exciting as it is excruciatingly nerve-wracking.
Nothing else on television right now truly captures this moral mess that is the first year of college better than “Grown-ish.” A spin-off of the popular ABC show “Black-ish,” “Grown-ish” follows Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi, “The First Family”) as she gets started at university. Her stories are told from the future looking back, and the series premiere takes place mostly in a single classroom, with each main character telling their new classmates how they ended up there in a “Breakfast Club” style confessionary.
For badass Jewish feminist Nomi (Emily Arlook, “The Good Place”), it was because she missed registration while hooking up with a girl in the bathroom. Drug-dealing Vevek (Jordan Buhat) was too busy closing a sale with frat boys to register for classes. And Zoey? Well, Zoey ran away from registration after seeing her first college friend, who she had left in a pool of her own vomit at a “day party,” standing in line. Despite the questionable morals of the rest of the characters, Zoey’s response is the only one that draws any backlash, immediately signaling to both Zoey and the audience that this transition into college isn’t necessarily going to be a smooth one.
Despite the glaring plot hole that for some reason, in the 21st century, these kids are registering for classes at some kind of office rather than at home on their computers, “Grown-ish” is almost uncomfortably close to reality. As a freshman myself, watching the show felt like watching a professionally filmed recap of my first semester set to hip hop and synthesizers. The water-themed frat parties, the late-night pizza runs and, most importantly, the nagging realization that every decision you’re faced with is now yours and yours alone to make are pivotal aspects of the freshman experience. And Zoey, like the rest of us, is far from perfect when she deals with them.
It is this that makes “Grown-ish” such an important show, especially for the younger audience that it targets. So many teenagers have an idealized version of college that they comb through over and over again in their minds before finally saying that last good bye to their parents and stepping foot on campus. More often than not, that picture-perfect fantasy world is shattered within the first week, and all that’s left is a scared kid who isn’t sure of who they really are, and certainly doesn’t know who they want to be.
“Grown-ish” shows us that it’s okay to not have everything figured out, and it’s okay to be lost, because even life on a television screen isn’t perfect. For the next four years, life is going to be a series of wrong choices and huge embarrassments, but through it all there will be someone coming out of every disappoint just a little bit more grown.