By Veronica Thompson
Last week, I binge-watched the entirety of the Freeform show “Grown-ish,” a spin-off of ABC’s “Black-ish,” which follows young adult Zoey Johnson on her journey through college. This show was quite a letdown to me for a lot of reasons, particularly because of its failure to portray the true college experience.
There is so much potential in the premise of the show, but this potential is not actualized, and it’s incredibly frustrating. Instead of depicting a genuine university experience, “Grown-ish” simplifies itself into overwhelming coverage of the main character’s romantic ventures and career aspirations.
There is barely any realistic college-related content. The audience can see the characters go to parties and exist on campus, but we don’t get any in-depth coverage of the less-popularized but completely valid parts of being a college student. Although heavy situations are introduced, such as academic probation, financial struggles, drugs and unplanned pregnancy, they all seem to be fleeting and resolved way too easily. The characters stay flat throughout all three seasons, never truly learning from their mistakes or experiences, never truly changing their behavior or attitudes to grow as human beings.
This is frustrating because it’s not like real life. Unfortunately, the disappointment I had toward this show’s impracticalities was not an unfamiliar feeling. Too often, shows that aim to tell stories about students do not pay as much attention to the characters’ academic lives as their social lives. And when they do, it is not very thorough.
Why can’t I watch a show where some kids study, brainstorm a project, participate in group work, complain about a teacher or stay up late to finish assignments? I am tired of yelling at the television, “How do they have so much time in the morning before school starts?” or “Why don’t they ever show them doing homework?” or “How are they able to hang out for such a long time in the hallway in between classes?” It’s just not that easy in real life.
Of course, it makes sense to me why the writers of a school-based show would not choose to include more moments about the school itself. People generally want an escape from reality when they unwind and watch television. They don’t want boring scenes of students doing schoolwork because they already have enough of that in their daily lives.
But that is the very reason I believe there should be a more equal balance between realistic content and ideal situations — it is relatable. Not every student has relationship drama, but every student has to deal with school. Not every student participates in party culture, but every student has classes, readings and studying to do.
It would be a nice change of pace to see a higher and deeper focus on the academic side of characters’ existence in these shows. Since school is genuinely such a large portion of students’ lives, it would be motivating to view authentic portrayals — students attending class and studying — rather than seeing school become just an afterthought.