Tonight’s grown-ish episode, “If You're Reading This, It's Too Late," came in at a trim, efficient 21 minutes and one single second, including the title and credits sequence. Yet, it took me double that amount of time to finish it. Not because it's bad — in fact, “Too Late,” is very, very good — but, because it is especially very, very good at being heart-stoppingly awkward. It is well documented I cannot do awkward. To battle back the looming cringes of Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi) and her latest misadventure, I turned to the calming balm of Chinese food.
Why did I need a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup to deal? Because Zoey commits a cardinal sin of “hooking up:” going overboard on the overthinking text messages, finding a getaway boat at the bottom of her emotional free-fall, and then jumping overboard once again for good measure, effectively drowning herself in iMessages about baby names and shared checking accounts. So, it’s time to figure out how the coolest Johnson kid in the bunch found herself in the least cool situation.
At the top of “Too Late,” we see some time has passed after that premiere-ending “U up?” text from the cutest boy in school, Aaron Jackson (Trevor Jackson). While I said last week the running joke of Zoey’s head-over-heels crushing-slash-stalking was just how uninterested Aaron seemed in our heroine, that era is long over.
This time grown-ish opens on Zoey and Aaron flirtatiously dancing at a dorm party to French Montana’s “Unforgettable.” Rather than telling some rando to walk Zoey home, as Aaron obliviously did last week, the activist is all over her. For both grown-ish’s leading lady and her squealing friends, it’s a welcome change. Amid all the dance floor-induced dopamine, girls’ night conversations, and horny texts shooting through the air around her, Zoey couldn’t be more enamored with college life.
After all, if colleges didn’t want their students to figure out this whole sexuality thing, they wouldn’t give hordes of hormone-fueled young people beds inside of rooms that come with lockable doors, right? Right.
As Zoey comes to this logical conclusion, she receives another “U up?” text from Aaron. By now everyone understands those three little letters are the most polite way of asking “Want to get naked?” without sending the more direct eggplant emoji. Soon we learn this isn’t Zoey’s first, or second, rodeo with a late-night hookup text from Aaron. Only, this time feels different.
So, Zoey confers a group of her girls, including Ana Torres (Francia Raisa), Forster sisters Jazz (Chloe Bailey) and Sky (Halle Bailey), Nomi Segal (Emily Arlook), and Nomi’s definitely-not-a-gymnast hookup Sheila (Nicole Olney), to talk about, well, “hooking up.” No one can agree upon what the term officially means, but they can agree it sure sounds like Ana is accidentally dating her uncle. Although Zoey leaves the conversation more confused than ever, it’s worth pointing out Jazz and Sky did give the best definition of the elusive phrase, explaining, “Hooking up is always sexual, but it doesn't mean sex.”
At least Zoey can rest assured she’s not the only one turned upside-down by the latest sexual lingo, since Aaron and Vivek Shah (Jordan Buhat) are busy debating what “nudey bank” means. Aaron says it’s the collection of nude photos one gets from conquests, while Vivek believes it’s the oeuvre of penis portraiture one sends out. Artsy bae Luca Hall (Luka Sabbat) confirms Aaron is right, even though the two guys apparently hate each other. That is how wrong Vivek is.
Since all of this university-wide debating lasted so long, Zoey never responds to Aaron’s text. She thinks the rejection is a power move until she spots her crush kissing another pretty Black young woman outside of Drone Class (O.J. Simpson Movies Class?). This revelation pushes Zoey to send her own “U up?” text that night… which devolves into that cringe-worthy scene we were talking about earlier.
When the freshman sees Aaron typing and abruptly stop, she lies, saying the booty call text was for someone else. Then she immediately comes clean, confirming the message was for him. This is awkward, but manageable. Unfortunately, Aaron’s continued silence pushes Zoey into the deep end. Soon enough she's talking about marriage, his family, her family, their future family together, and everyone’s genetic diseases. Finally, Aaron sends Zoey a message with as many words as “U up?” but an entirely different meaning: “Please stop.”
Zoey, emotionally wounded by a text meltdown so vast she questions faking her own death, turns her attention to pot-smoking heartthrob Luca, who asks if she’s up. “I am so up!” Zoey yells before heading on a Very Luca Date. She finds herself in an abandoned warehouse, with a door covered in various decorative hands at the far end. “You gotta know which one to turn,” he cautions, leading her into a surprise, neon-lit pop-up concert starring Kid Ink. What follows is a cute Zoey-Luca date filled with dancing and Bachelorette-level romantic kisses by that many-nobbed door.
Hello, yes, I am officially #TeamLuca when it comes to Zoey’s love life. She legitimately seems so much less self-conscious with the fellow freshman, and that’s something to root for.
Even though Zoey, a single lady, had a great time with Luca, she still comes a running when Aaron shoots off an unexpected “U up?” text. So, she tries successfully juggling both men, acting as the Gen Z patron saint of feminist playerdom. She dodges the right guy on the quad, dips out of Snapchat videos with speed, and memorizes everyone’s individual ringtones.
The problem is, Zoey slips up in her romantic juggling. In the middle of FaceTimeing Aaron, Luca tries to video chat her too. She decides to drop the former for the latter, and uses a terrible lie to explain the abrupt end to their conversation. But, Luca has a bad connection and decides to Skype her. In the five seconds it takes for Luca to hang up and call again, Zoey inexplicably FaceTimes Aaron for a second time. Aaron notices Luca’s name flash on the screen behind Zoey, and then his face when Ms. Johnson accidentally accepts his call.
The episode ends with Aaron and Luca taking shots at each other until ultimately hanging up on Zo. Now, she’s 100% single, with not an interestingly-haired prospective bae in sight… except for that cute boy she stumbles upon on the quad, of course.
You know what they say, don’t hate the player, hate the multiple forms of communication that out you.
This week's Drone Class lesson: Don't ask Professor Telphy your burning sexting questions.
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