Thank God Grown-ish Is Finally Exploring Zoey’s Sexuality

Photo: Courtesy of Freeform.
Out of the gate, black-ish spinoff grown-ish proved the Freeform comedy wasn’t going to be your parents’ sitcom. In the hour-long series premiere alone, we saw heroine Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi) struggle with prescription pill popping, watch her friend drunkenly vomit in a kiddie pool, and generally make an endearing fool of herself in front of crush Aaron Jackson (Trevor Jackson). These antics are a far cry from the straight-laced Zoey we’ve come to know on her ABC mothership.
Wednesday night’s grown-ish, “If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late,” took the oldest Johnson kid’s journey a step forward by finally delving into her sexuality, a sexuality that black-ish often glanced at but never actually dealt with. The result was a necessary conversation that many real young people actually have, but rarely see played out on screen.
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The heart of “Too Late” is Zoey’s “hooking up” powwow with her girls, Ana Torres (Francia Raisa), immediate breakout Nomi Segal (Emily Arlook), and Forster sisters Jazz (Chloe Bailey) and Sky (Halle Bailey). After a couple of “hookups” with Aaron, his latest “U up?” text feels different — more momentous this time around. It’s implied this might be The Sex Date, but no one ever says that out loud because they don’t have to.
Rather, everyone tries to parse out what exactly “hooking up” means. Zoey says, “Making out and stuff,” although “stuff” clearly doesn’t mean penetrative sex for her. Nomi disagrees, countering if “stuff” doesn’t mean straight-forward boot-knocking, it’s not hooking up. Ana unwittingly reveals she might be dating her uncle and claims “hookup” doesn't even need to have sexy undertones. Eventually, Ana concedes a third-time hookup is “top stuff only, shirt off, bra on.” Unsurprisingly, the intensely self-aware Jazz and Sky give the most reasonable answer: “Hooking up is always sexual, but it doesn't mean sex,” which rings true.
While watching this, it’s important to remember the intended audience watching at home. Yes, a 25-year-old woman like me is tuning in, but so are teens of all ages and sexual experiences. Those young high school and college-age women constantly hear an enigmatic, wide-ranging term like “hooking up,” but are likely too afraid to ask their peers to define it in a concrete way. At such a tender age, no one wants to seem like the one person in the room who doesn’t get the topsy-turvy new world of sex.
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By allowing Zoey to explore such a lightning rod of a term, fans get the same insights without any of the plausibly anxiety-inducing conversations that could happen in the real-world. After all, as “Too Late” proves, everyone has their own highly specific idea of what a “hook up” actually is. Thankfully, now viewers can see that too.
In a similarly meaningful move, grown-ish lets Zoey question if casual late-night hookups will label her a “hoe,” and whether that matters in the first place. Like the great Amber Rose, Nomi comes down firmly on the side of no, proving to both Zoey and those all important young viewers that following your own sexual desires is far more important than worrying about how your choices will look to society.
When Sky and Jazz, who are both deeply anti-”U up” texts, ask what answering one of those messages would “say” about Zoey, Nomi responds with an answer everyone needs to hear. “It says she’s a sexually liberated woman who doesn’t care about labels. Look, you’re in college now … A little D’s not going to kill you. Or a big one.” Even if Zoey isn’t actually interested in receiving any D, no matter the size, she needs to know it’s okay for her to want some.
If and when Zoey ends up moving past the “and stuff” portion of hooking up, it won’t end up reflecting poorly on her as a person — any other view is simply mired in old-timey, misogynistic sex-negativity.
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This is why it’s so fulfilling to see Zoey start experimenting with playerdom after a cringe-inducing text meltdown with Aaron. We have no idea if the college freshman is sleeping with either Aaron or rebound Luca Hall (Luka Sabbat), but we don’t need to. The real point here is that Zoey wants to explore her options, and that’s her right as a newly-minted adult woman. If she wants to juggle dating both guys by geotagging them and FaceTiming them to her heart’s content, so be it. And, for what it’s worth, Zoey’s underground club makeout session with Luca was the most romantic moment the character has ever had, despite the fact she’s been on television since 2014.
Although many questioned how black-ish straight woman Zoey could lead her own comedy, the fraught sexual politics of “Too Late” signals there was nothing to worry about. On black-ish, Zoey’s sexuality was usually treated as a source for other people’s stories, whether that meant her dad Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) panicking about his little girl growing up, or her mom Rainbow Johnson panicking about her daughter not opening up enough about boys. In fact, in the current season 4, an entire storyline is built around Bow and oldest Johnson son Junior (Marcus Scribner) monitoring Zoey’s flirtation with Aaron. “So, you think she’s active?” Junior asks his mom. Yes, that line of inappropriate questioning is supposed to prove how ridiculous resident oddball Junior is, but it’s also still unsettling.
Grown-ish, on the other hand, gives us Zoey’s view on sex and relationships from Zoey’s actual perspective, no matter how stressful it gets. So, whether Zoey is doing “stuff” with Aaron, or Luca, or Cash From The Quad (Da'Vinchi), or whomever else is to come, we’re here for it.
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