REVIEW: YARA SHAHIDI SHINES AS LEADER OF THE PACK IN ‘GROWN-ISH’!

Not all spin-offs are created equal. They are always a gamble, particularly when they slipstream off a hit show. Will they add to the brand, or damage it? Grown-ish, Freeform’s spin-off of ABC’s smash hit comedy, Black-ish, succeeds as a smart and funny extension of its parent show.

Centering on college-bound Zoey Johnson, played by an utterly engaging Yara Shahidi, Grown-ish is all about leaving the nest and diving into the uncertainties of college life.

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Southern California University is ground zero for Zoey and the other freshman misfits trying to navigate their way into adulthood, one mistake and one life-lesson at a time. It’s all too-cool-for-school at first, with masks squarely fastened, as if everything is just fine. And that’s Zoey…at first, the Zoey we have come to know and love from Black-ish – quick-witted, self-assured, sassy.

But Grown-ish gives the audience a chance to see another side of Zoey, knocking those walls of certainty down, giving way to the doubts, fears and insecurities that come with a new environment and stepping out on your own without the safety net of parents to catch you at every turn. It is in these growing pains that the show succeeds, with creator Kenya Barris capturing the confusion of young adulthood, striking the right balance between humor and heart.

Shahidi is supported by a great cast of characters including Francia Raisa, Jordan Buhat, Trevor Jackson and Emily Arlook. While there are cameos from the likes of Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross as Zoey’s parents, Deon Cole’s Charlie is the only Black-ish cast member that truly crosses over as a slightly off-kilter marketing professor. Cole is just as weirdly hilarious as he is on Black-ish and along with Chris Parnell, provide the adult piece to the puzzle.

Growing up is messy, less straight lines than winding roads and Grown-ish, in its early outing, shows a lot of promise with Shahidi shining in a lead role that she was born to play, the perfect blend of vulnerability, wit and an innate charm that scoops you right in.

‘GROWN-ISH’ AIRS ON FREEFORM, WEDNESDAYS, 8/7C.

PHOTO: FREEFORM

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