FreeForm has mastered the art of telling young adult stories. The network doesn’t operate under the premise that teens aren’t dealing with some of the same issues that grownups are. Color and vibrancy are important themes on FreeForm shows, but make no mistake about it, shit gets real. Heading into the second episode, it’s clear that this is also the case for grown-ish. For our protagonist, adjusting to college is not as harmless as being nice to our friends, and we’re about to find that out firsthand. Here’s what happened.
Zoey (Yara Shahidi) is struggling to balance the demands of her social life and her schoolwork. She still hasn’t figured out what her “thing” is. And by “thing,” she means the substance that is going to help her conquer it all on a campus where drugs and alcohol are available on demand. In the meantime, she’s not getting any help from her roommate Ana (Francia Raisa). The two of them still aren’t on speaking terms. Ana has nothing to offer Zoey except middle fingers and cold shoulders.
And Ana isn’t the only one who isn’t hurrying to hop on the Zoey train. After missing another class following a night of partying, Luca (Luka Sabbat) wanders into Zoey’s room — with a joint in hand. He’s not a fan of the new Zoey who spends too much time letting her hair down, but is still too tightly wound worrying about what everyone else thinks. And he tells her so, while suggesting that weed might mellow her out. Zoey declines, but Luca still urges her to make some movement on a project they’re working on together for fashion class. He is so dreamy. Unfortunately, Zoey has other plans for that evening. She wants to attend a James Baldwin-inspired art exhibit because her crush Aaron (Trevor Jackson) will be there, of course.
To say that there is chemistry between Zoey and Aaron would imply that her feelings for him were reciprocated. They aren’t. Despite Vevek (Jordan Buhat) and Nomi (Emily Arlook)’s attempts to get her to realize this, she drags them along to the art show. When Aaron invites her to a local pizza place later, she mistakes it for a personal invitation and a sign of his romantic interests. When she arrives only to realize that the whole crew was invited, and this isn’t the beginning of her romance with the sophomore, she’s shook.
But whether or not Aaron likes her is actually the least of Zoey’s worries. In addition to the project with Luca, Zoey has other assignments and a 25-page paper on Ruth Bader Ginsburg to complete. This entire storyline has me feeling personally attacked about how I spent my first two years of college. Anyway, Vevek offers her a solution: Adderall. Zoey is hesitant to engage in what she thinks is cheating even though everyone in her crew is on some substance or the other. The track star twins Jazz and Sky (Chloe and Halle Baldwin) take performance enhancement drugs, and Nomi pops an Adderall so that she can stay awake for a party in Hollywood Hills and sleep with Jason Derulo.
Later, it’s after 2 a.m. and Zoey still can’t get a start on her paper. She has a decision to make. Finally, she pops a little blue pill and makes a little bit of headway on the essay before she gets distracted by shoe ads and heads to bed. After spending $3,000 and still not finishing the Ginsburg piece, Zoey swears off Addy. But after seeing how well Luca did on their fashion project under the influence of weed, she gives it another try the following night. This time it has better effects, and she finishes all of her work.
Still concerned that Adderall isn’t her “thing” and worried that she’ll become dependent on it, Zoey feels better prepared to take on campus life. She is reinvigorated when her stalking has her in the same place as Aaron (again), and he invites her to a BSU (Black Student Union) party. She thinks this is it. He will finally make a move on her, and she can tell him how she feels. But this is not it. Aaron is putting out fires at the party and asks her to hand out cups to the drinking students. Jazz and Sky inform her that partygoers have dubbed her “cup bitch.” Suddenly, chasing after Aaron’s affection doesn’t seem like one of her better ideas. Over it, she gets ready to leave until Aaron stalls her. He sincerely thanks her for passing out cups, and insists that she not walk home alone. But there will be no romantic strolls as he delegates another friend to do it. If Zoey wasn’t so heartbroken, she would have understood that Aaron couldn’t leave his own party, but they say love is insanity.
This means that Zoey is stumbling back to her room alone once again. Ana, who is still raging at her after the party mishap, wakes up annoyed. And honestly, I don’t blame her. But Zoey seizes this less-than-ideal interaction as her moment to finally apologize. She admits that she’s not feeling like herself since embarking on this new world. But neither is Ana, who still hasn’t made any friends. The two of them spend hours talking and dancing, and then Zoey makes a vow. She’s going to stop focusing on extraneous things like Aaron, parties, and drugs. She wants to get back to being herself and a decent student.
It sounds like a great idea, and I’m rooting for her. But in the final scene Ana has gone to sleep, and she gets the text message from Aaron that prefaces booty calls all around the world. ‘U up? Wanna hang?’ Nothing good can come of it, but Zoey is too green to know better. She replies immediately (rookie mistake), ‘Yes.’ Then she pops another Adderall to make sure that she’s actually up for it.