TV review: Yara Shahidi of ‘Black-ish’ in the Freeform spinoff ‘Grown-ish’

Launching a spinoff from a successful show is a bit like sending a child off to college: No amount of high hopes and preparation can eradicate all the worries.

But when it comes to “Grown-ish,” a Freeform comedy starring the oldest child from ABC’s well-regarded “Black-ish,” those fears are unfounded. There are a few growing pains here and there, but in general, “Grown-ish” is a buoyant, sprightly addition to the television scene. Yara Shahidi takes full advantage of the expansion of her screen time, and the kind of piquant, culturally relevant storytelling that “Black-ish” has honed is on display here too. All in all, “Grown-ish” is a smart, breezy expansion of the “Black-ish” family.

There are some differences, as is to be expected. As Shahidi’s confident Zoey heads off to Southern California University, which is not far from her Los Angeles home, she doesn’t interact with her family much in the first three episodes. The desire to give “Grown-ish” some real independence is laudable, though there is one major connection to the ABC show.

Deon Cole, the hilarious secret weapon that “Black-ish” has deployed in many side-splitting workplace scenes, turns up on “Grown-ish” as an extremely unusual college professor. His character, Charlie, teaches an evening class that actually begins at midnight, and that’s not the weirdest thing about his “marketing” course. The logic of it all doesn’t matter (and his weird teaching style is mined for solid comedy). The point of Charlie’s entertainingly bizarre class is to give the show’s characters an early focal point. As “Grown-ish” offers up an endearing homage to “The Breakfast Club” via Charlie’s eclectic collection of students, “Grown-ish” finds Zoey and her new friends and crushes grousing about their weird teacher, and inhabiting the expected parties, common areas and dorm rooms.

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BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 03: Yara Shahidi at the Brooks Brothers Beverly Hills summer camp party benefitting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital at Brooks Brothers Rodeo on June 3, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Donato Sardella/Getty Images for Brooks Brothers)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 02: Actress Yara Shahidi attends the 14th Annual Inspiration Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on June 2, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - MAY 21: Yara Shahidi attends the 2017 ABC/Disney Media Distribution International Upfronts at Walt Disney Studio Lot on May 21, 2017 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Tibrina Hobson/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 10: Actress Yara Shahidi attends Fossil Firsts Breakfast featuring Actress Yara Shahidi at The Wing on May 10, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Fossil)
PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 03: Actress Yara Shahidi attends the Chanel Cruise 2017/2018 Collection Show at Grand Palais on May 3, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 07: Actress Yara Shahidi poses in the press room at the 2017 MTV Movie and TV Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on May 7, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 28: Yara Shahidi arrives at the UCLA's Johnsson Center Hosts 22nd Annual 'Taste For A Cure' Event Honoring Yael And Scooter Braun at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on April 28, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 05: Yara Shahidi attends the Build Series at Build Studio on April 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
BLACK-ISH - 'Sister, Sister' - Bow's sister comes to town after filming a stint on a reality show, and they couldn't have less in common. Meanwhile, Zoey suggests that Dre spend more time with Junior since she's leaving for college, and Jack and Diane decide to rebrand themselves, on 'black-ish,' WEDNESDAY, APRIL 26 (9:00-9:30 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (Kelsey McNeal/ABC via Getty Images) YARA SHAHIDI, ANTHONY ANDERSON, MARCUS SCRIBNER
PASADENA, CA - FEBRUARY 11: Actress Yara Shahidi attends the 48th NAACP Image Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 11, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 09: Actress Yara Shahidi attends the 8th Annual Essence Black Women In Music Event at NeueHouse Hollywood on February 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by J. Countess/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 18: Actress Yara Shahidi poses in the press room during the 2017 People's Choice Awards at Microsoft Theater on January 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images for Fashion Media)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 18: Actress Yara Shahidi arrives at the 2017 People's Choice Awards at Microsoft Theater on January 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 11: First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama (L) and actress and activist Yara Shahidi participate in panel discussion at Glamour Hosts 'A Brighter Future: A Global Conversation on Girls' Education' with First Lady Michelle Obama at The Newseum on October 11, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Glamour)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 10: Actress Yara Shahidi attends the premiere of Amazon Studios' 'An American Girl Story - Melody 1963: Love Has to Win' at Pacific Theatres at The Grove on October 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Yara Shahidi arrives at the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Actress Yara Shahidi attends Entertainment Weekly's 2016 Pre-Emmy Party at Nightingale Plaza on September 16, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Actress Yara Shahidi attends the Audi Celebrates The 68th Emmys at Catch LA on September 15, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Audi)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 24: Yara Shahidi arrives at the 41st Annual Gracie Awards Gala held at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on May 24, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 12: Actress Yara Shahidi attends NYLON Magazine's annual Young Hollywood May issue event at HYDE Sunset: Kitchen + Cocktails on May 12, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 30: Actress Yara Shahidi arrives at the 2016 Radio Disney Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on April 30, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - APRIL 01: Yara Shahidi speaks onstage at Black Girls Rock! 2016 at New Jersey Performing Arts Center on April 1, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Paras Griffin/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 13: Actors Anthony Anderson (L) and Yara Shahidi (R) attend the 33rd Annual PaleyFest Los Angeles featuring 'Black-ish' at the Dolby Theatre on March 13, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)
THE VIEW - Guests include John Cena; Joey Lawrence; Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown and Marsai Martin (ABC's 'Black-ish') airing Wednesday, April 13, 2016 on ABC's 'The View.' 'THE VIEW' airs Monday-Friday (11:00 a.m - 12:00 p.m.) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lou Rocco/ABC via Getty Images) MARSAI MARTIN, YARA SHAHIDI, RAVEN-SYMONE�, MILES BROWN, MARCUS SCRIBNER
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 09: Actress Yara Shahidi attends Variety's Power Of Women Luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on October 9, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
VENICE, CA - OCTOBER 03: Actresses Amanda Leighton (L) and Yara Shahidi speak onstage during The Paley Center For Media & Google present 'Cracking the Code: Diversity, Hollywood & STEM' at Google Headquarters on October 3, 2015 in Venice, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Google)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 02: Actress Yara Shahidi arrives at Teen Vogue's 13th Annual Young Hollywood Issue Launch Party on October 2, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Actress Yara Shahidi attends the Television Academy's celebration for the 67th Emmy Award nominees for outstanding performances at Pacific Design Center on September 19, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Yara Shahidi and Marsai Martin attend the Television Academy's celebration for the 67th Emmy Award nominees for outstanding performances at Pacific Design Center on September 19, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Actress Yara Shahidi attends the 2015 BAFTA Los Angeles TV Tea at SLS Hotel on September 19, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/BAFTA LA/Getty Images for BAFTA LA)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: (L-R) Actors Yara Shahidi, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin and Anthony Anderson got their beauty rest with Beautyrest Mattresses at EXTRA's 'WEEKEND OF | LOUNGE' produced by On 3 Productions at The London West Hollywood on September 19, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Actress Yara Shahidi attends Kari Feinstein's Style Lounge at Sunset Marquis Hotel & Villas on September 17, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Lily Lawrence/WireImage)
CENTURY CITY, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: Yara Shahidi and Marcus Scribner visit 'Extra' at the Westfield Century City on September 8, 2015 in Century City, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 15: Marcus Scribner and Yara Shahidi at Backstage Creations Retreat At Teen Choice 2015 - Day 1 on August 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for Backstage Creations)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 08: Actress Yara Shahidi attends the 4th Annual YouTube No Bull Teen Video Awards at YouTube Space LA on August 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vincent Sandoval/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 08: Actress Yara Shahidi attends HollyRod Foundation's 17th Annual DesignCare Gala at The Lot Studios on August 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)
BLACK-ISH - ABC's 'black-ish' stars Yara Shahidi as Zoey Johnson. (Photo by Bob D'Amico/ABC via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 28: Actress Yara Shahidi arrived at the BET & Make A Wish Foundation Recipients BET Experience At LA. Live Red Carpet arrivals - Weekend Events on June 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 28: (L-R) Actors Yara Shahidi, Miles Brown, co-hosts Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross and recording artist Silento speak onstage during the 2015 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Davis/BET/Getty Images for BET)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 27: Co-host Yara Shahidi speaks onstage at 106 & Park presented by Coke during the 2015 BET Experience at Nokia Plaza on June 27, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/BET/Getty Images for BET)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 09: Yara Shahidi arrives at the 'Jurassic World' - World Premiere at Dolby Theatre on June 9, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07: Yara Shahidi attends 'Matilda The Musical' opening night at Ahmanson Theatre on June 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 06: Actress Yara Shahidi attends Brooks Brothers MINI CLASSIC Golf Tournament to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital at Brooks Brothers Beverly Hills on June 6, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Donato Sardella/Getty Images for Brooks Brothers)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 27: Actress Yara Shahidi attends the 8th Annual Television Academy Honors at The Montage Beverly Hills on May 27, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)
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“Grown-ish” offers the creative team a chance to reinvent Zoey Johnson a bit. On “Black-ish,” she’s been a confident, popular teen, one capable of dishing out amusing condescension and chilly judgment. It makes sense that college would rattle her — up to a point. The third episode goes a little too far in depicting her boy-oriented insecurities — it’s frankly a bit hard to buy that her self-esteem would be rattled in such an extreme way by potential rejection, given what we know of her steely sense of self-worth. Also, at times, “Grown-ish” has Zoey directly addressing the camera, as well as offering up narration, two presentation styles that occasionally work against each other.

But in the main, “Grown-ish” entertainingly examines socially conscious, striving young people with both wisdom and wit. As is the case with the mothership, the comedy is willing to poke fun at the pieties of the woke while allowing its characters to sincerely examine their moral choices and selfish mistakes. This version of Zoey comes to regret her devotion to social status in ways that often seem believable, and various other characters are also shown to be either shy, scared or self-conscious under their masks of cool self-possession.

Shahidi is the central focus, as is only right, and she’s deft and winning in the central role. But as it progresses through its energetic opening episodes, “Grown-ish” whets the viewer’s appetite for expanded roles for many of the supporting characters. Early standouts include Chloe Bailey and Halle Bailey as tart-tongued college athletes, Jordan Buhat as an ambitious, sweetly nerdy striver, Emily Arlook as a cynical but game-for-anything sidekick, and Chris Parnell as a goofy if somewhat caring administrator.

Comedy; 13 episodes (3 reviewed); 8 p.m. Weds., Jan. 3, Freeform. 30 min.

Cast, Yara Shahidi, Trevor Jackson, Jordan Buhat, Emily Arlook, Francia Raisa, Chris Parnell, Deon Cole, Chloe Bailey, Halle Bailey, Luka Sabbat.

Executive producers, Kenya Barris, Anthony Anderson, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Sugland, E. Brian Dobbins, Julie Bean. ​​​​​​​

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