Kenya Barris knew what he was doing when he created grown-ish. After introducing Zoey Johnson on black-ish, Barris called on Yara Shahidi to take her character on a journey of her own with a coming of age spin-off show on Freeform. For the past three seasons, the actress has experienced her first three years of college at Cal U, and while she leads the show, her fellow cast members help bring a vibrance and warmth to each episode.
The comedy’s Season 3 midseason premiere airs on January 21, 2021, and the stars of the show are more confident than ever that they are showing an accurate portrayal of a college student’s life with a bit more humor. The writers don’t shy away from covering topics like sex, drugs, pregnancy, religion, politics, activism, etc., and they do it in a way that’s digestible, entertaining, and easy to understand—and that is of the utmost importance to the cast. “That’s what we’re talking about now amongst our peers and with our friends. The show wouldn’t be relatable if we somehow ignored that or tried to act as if it didn’t exist,” Chloe Bailey tells Complex. “I feel like [now] more than ever our peer group, we’re getting so involved in politics and standing up for ourselves and using our voices, and I think it’s really important that what you see on TV is representing that and is being portrayed, so I’m happy that we’re on a show that does that.”
“These are things that every kid our age is going through,” Luka Sabbat, who plays Luca Hall on the series, added. “We live in a very political time. A lot of things are being hypersexualized, a lot of people are discovering their sexuality. A lot of kids with the internet, with this new ethos we live in. Kids don't have to be of the same religion as their parents anymore. All this information is out in the open. So I think it's cool to cover it all because these kids are out figuring it out for themselves as well.”
Aside from the stories they cover, the cast’s diversity is something that genuinely makes grown-ish stand out. The characters themselves are all so different and represent various communities, from their races, sexual orientation, and political parties—and it’s refreshing to see how they relate to one another within their friend group. “We’ve seen especially in politics this past year, it’s as divisive as it’s ever been, with this side believing in this and this side believing in that, and though you may have a belief, you still have to hear people speak and you have to hear people’s perspectives to actually know what’s going on in different communities,” Diggy Simmons, who plays Doug, said. “So the fact that we have a friend in the group that’s LGBTQ+ and we have Black people in the group, a Latina in the group, everybody’s voice has to be heard so that we can actually have an understanding and see the equality that we strive to have.”
Going to college, especially while living on campus, exposes you to such a variety of people—and that’s what makes grown-ish so relatable. “In college, so [many] different people just get thrown into one place,” Sabbat said. “And then nobody knows where anybody's from, but you might just hit it off with some like random person that has absolutely nothing to do with anything you've ever done in your life, which is why I think a lot of people do resonate with it. Because it's realistic.”
Another aspect the show has never missed the mark on is showing characters that care about their communities and are vocal about the world’s injustices through a college student’s lens. Since the first season, Aaron Jackson (Trevor Jackson) has been known as the “woke” friend in the group and is continuously speaking up about issues and causes that affect him and the Black community. The trailer for the midseason premiere shows campus security putting him in handcuffs for his activism. That scene accurately mirrors so many people’s reality and can be heavy for any actor to take on. “It definitely felt weird having handcuffs on my body, for sure. But I'm an actor, so I try not to, but sometimes I can't help that feeling. And that's a fear of, that's kind of ingrained when you're young and Black, and your parents just tell you what it's probably going to be like. And so it's definitely was something I had to get used to,” Jackson said about the episode. “But I think it was good to see because it is real, and it happens all the time, unnecessarily as we all know. I think it was amazing to shoot something like that, especially with all that's going on in the world. It's just on topic, on-brand. And I'm glad that I feel like we're just on it as a show.”
It also wouldn’t be a show about young adulthood without focusing on love and relationships and how that can easily take a student off track. That’s the case for Bailey’s character, Jazlyn "Jazz" Forster, who decided to take a step back from her relationship with boyfriend Doug this season to focus on running track and her education. “I am honestly really proud of Jazz because that was a lot for her. She still loved Doug and to just take a pause so that she could better herself with her track and her career that was really mature of her. I know it will inspire other girls because it inspired me, even,” Bailey said. “I’m not so much like Jazz, I have my head on my shoulders, and I know what I want, and I’m very disciplined, but I do love love, and there’s a lot of times where I have to be like ‘OK, sis. You have to balance yourself. Get it together, boo.’ And granted that only lasts for like five minutes and I have to snap out of it but still it inspired me, and it still inspires me.”
The “Do It” singer added: “I think it’s important for young women all around the world to know that being in a relationship isn’t the end all be all. It’s really about you being happy with yourself and how you are in your career, and then the love can enhance that like an accessory. It shouldn’t be the main priority.”
The grown-ish cast seems to have their priorities in order, in their art, what they believe in, and the kind of television show they want to create together. They bounce off each other so well and say that part of the magic is that they genuinely get along and have fun doing what they do, and that dynamic is apparent to the show’s fans. The actors create stories that allow other young adults to see themselves and their stories reflected back at them in a way that isn’t overwhelming—and maybe the actors’ hard work will make at least one college student feel less alone in an often confusing grown-up world.