The grown-ishcast has officially kicked off their senior year of college. Season 4 of the Freeform show premiered on Thursday, July 8 and for four seasons, Grown-ish fans have watched as each character has faced different struggles and made major life decisions. The show provides a lighthearted perspective of what college is like, while also tackling the realities and lessons of what it’s like to grow into your own while dealing with the ups and downs of young adulthood. Complex sat down with cast members Yara Shahidi, Trevor Jackson, Francia Raisa, Emily Arlook, Chloe Bailey, Jordan Buhat, and Diggy Simmons to chat about how their characters have progressed since the show’s 2018 premiere and what’s in store for this new season of grown-ish.
In college, it’s not the classes that make people grow or mature, it’s what happens outside of them. The friendships, relationships, and experiences young adults live through in the day-to-day lives that shape them into the people they eventually become. There’s a lot of maturing that takes place in those four years and these characters have done just that. Facing the consequences of their actions (like quickie weddings, arrests, dropping out), learning to cohabitate with people from different backgrounds and beliefs, and being solely responsible for themselves and their decisions. Each season so far has placed different characters in a situation that tests them and then they are left to deal with the aftermath of their choices. It almost feels like the show is a sort of guideline for viewers for how they could deal with the variety of problems that could arise in life as they are finding themselves.
Buhat’s character Vivek Shah started off as a sort of funny drug-selling sidekick that provided plenty of humor, but he has since become one of the hearts of the show. This season things will get a bit complicated for him as he has to deal with the repercussions of the activities he has been doing while in school. “I think the easiest thing that you can learn from his situation because it’s very specific, is that knowing that all your actions have consequences, whether it’s positive or negative,” Buhat told Complex. “So going into whatever it is you’re going into, being prepared for what’s going to come out the other end, even if you think that you’ve escaped or what have you, just know how to deal with it. And have a village if you can, to help you go through what you’re going through.” Raisa, who plays Ana, feels that showing the characters’ struggles on TV helps people process whatever turmoil they’re facing in real life. “If you don’t see it, then you don’t know what could possibly happen. I feel like it avoids a lot of hurt and I think that’s why television is so important,” the actress said. “I think it’s why it speaks to so many audience members. Sometimes you just feel like, ‘Oh, I’m not alone. This is normal.’ You’re always wondering if this is normal. What you’re feeling in life for certain situations is normal. So to see it portrayed on television and know that you’re not alone, I think, is super important. I think it’s very helpful to the audiences, to certain communities, to wherever someone is in their life, it speaks to someone.”
As a black-ish spinoff, it was expected that even though it’s a coming of age show the Grown-ish writers would cover heavy topics like racism, police brutality, and everything in between. So far, they have done just that, and without giving too much away, this season will cover the uprisings that took place in 2020 after multiple Black men and women were murdered by police. The cast is aware of the responsibility they carry to be able to cover these topics and deliver them in a way a younger audience would understand. “It was an honor for sure. I was saying before that I kind of felt overwhelmed, especially when all these things are going on. I mean, first of all, your whole life being Black, those things I was taught from my father. So these things are always in the back of my head and then seeing them repeatedly. What can I do? What can I do?” Jackson said. “So to be on a show that has this amazing reach and so many people are tuning in and to be able to talk about things that need to be talked about, it was just kind of like, OK, wow, this is, this is me kind of playing a part in trying to shift people’s perception, what the reality of the situation is. So I just felt really grateful and honored to do that.”
Shahidi has taken her role as an activist in real life seriously ever since she was a teenager so being the lead on a socially conscious show is extremely fitting for her. The show also portrays how differently people react to instances of injustice and police brutality, even within friend groups. One episode will focus on the sometimes-awkward conversations people have to have with friends and loved ones whose thoughts and ideals might not exactly align with the greater good of all people. Jazz, Ana and Zoey are faced with situations where the people they love, Javi (Henri Esteve) and Nomi (Emily Arlook), aren’t responding well to the protests going on even if they had previously been supportive allies.
“I think in terms of the timing, as much as protests from civil rights to Black Lives Matter have been something that’s marked generations, there’s something about right now and the importance of these storylines, because even in terms of community organizers, we’ve gone from asking for reform to abolition. This is where you see people uncomfortable with the idea of undoing systems that have been put in place to traumatize and put violence upon communities of color, brown and Black communities,” Shahidi said. “When you have a friend group, there’s this assumption that we share the same values. Then when something as big as witnessing the trauma of Black death and police and state violence happens, that’s when it starts to get really real, and friendship comes in forms of accountability. So I love the fact that we get to demonstrate that with the friend group of the ways in which we hold each other accountable as a form of love and as a form of wanting to grow, and I don’t know how many of my peers had to have similar conversations regularly. So to even arm people with the tools of how to do that and how to honor your own beliefs, I love Ana and Javi’s storyline for that reason, is that you kind of have these two juxtaposed storylines where the girls get with Nomi or Ana gets with Javi and the importance of the fact that you have to honor what you believe in.”
The Black-ish actress continued: “What this show, in this episode, has done is really helped excavate all of those opinions and why we have to really get granular with what we believe in and why, because you even see in the conversation with Nomi and the girls, the fact that theoretically, surface level, they believe in the same thing. They believe in equality. They believe in justice, but the importance of also being invested in believing in the dismantling of systems, even if that may not serve you. So I love the fact that we were able to have those elevated conversations that go past just calling awareness, but really getting into the nitty-gritty of figuring out what your belief system is.” Ana, portrayed by Raisa, realizes that she and her boyfriend Javi have a difference in opinion and it makes her question where they stand. “I think more shows need to show that as far as women standing up for themselves and their beliefs, especially with relationships, you let so many things slide because you want to keep the person that you almost lose yourself,” Raisa told Complex. “So I was really happy that the writers chose Ana to stand up for herself and show that it’s OK to show the audience what boundaries look like and how molding your own standards look like. And sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is walk away and it’s OK.”
Now that the squad is in their last year of school, one can only wonder what’s in store for the show and what the cast hopes are for the future. “More grown-ish. You know what I mean? We’re going to go through this big year and a lot is going to go down and it’s called grown-ish. So people are never, at whatever age, done learning and growing,” Buhat told Complex. “So just like the belief that this is senior year. Life doesn’t end after senior year. So it’d be really interesting to see where all of their different perspectives take them.”
“I think every season, the writers have done such a great job at continuing to dive deeper into everyone’s personal journey. Whereas in Season 1 it was about the group dynamics. I think in Season 4, we get a special taste of where everyone is and it’s so cool because you get to compare that to the characters you first met,” Shahidi added. “I know for me personally, as a character where everyone’s just waiting for her to grow up, I think it was fun to finally see the culmination of all of her misadventures in this season in actual growth.” Bailey agrees. “It feels great. I’m so grateful that I got to be with all of these really cool people for four seasons,” she said, “I really love the show and I think this is our best season yet.”
Watch new episodes of grown-ish on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on Freeform and the next day on Hulu.