It’s official: grown-ish is coming into its own. Much like one's first few days — or weeks, or months — at college, the black-ish spinoff’s initial episodes suggested it was destined for greatness, but wasn’t exactly sure how to get there. This week’s “Starboy,” however, gives us a grown-ish with a clear path to comedic victory. And, that route is actually letting Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi) be funny.
We kick off grown-ish's latest adventure with Zoey railing against is the likes of Tavi Gevinson, Mark Zuckerberg, and even Malala Yousafzai. But, the oldest Johnson kid isn’t hating on these icons because she hates them. Rather, she recognizes all the stunning successes this trio managed to attain at wildly young ages and is worried she’ll never stack up. The humor in the fact The Great Yara Shahidi — television star, political force to be reckoned with, and Michelle Obama college recommendee — is the one bemoaning young people setting the bar too high should be lost on no one.
In fact, I haven’t heard a wink-and-a-nod cultural critique quite so good since a shirtless and ripped Brad Pitt railed against the Adonis bodies of movie stars as Tyler Durden in 1999’s Fight Club.
As in Fight Club, our protagonist's leading anxiety is what fuels the rest of the proceedings. In a callback to a previous black-ish episode, Zoey is hoping to score the “perfect” fellowship at Teen Vogue, a magazine she already interned at during high school. The beloved magazine’s sudden return to Zoey’s orbit makes all the more sense when the credits reveal black-ish guest star and former Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth, who only announced her exit from the publication last week, co-wrote this episode.
While Zoey, who was such a superstar Teen Vogue intern she was essentially given the duties of a senior fashion editor after a week last time, could presumably shoot her former supervisor an email asking to come back, we all know things can’t be that easy. Where are the sitcom-y hijinks in that kind of swift professional exchange? So, instead, Zoey is forced to tutor big man on campus Cash Mooney (Da'Vinchi), California University’s hotshot basketball player and the cute, library-seeking guy our heroine met at the close of last week’s episode, in exchange for a sparkling fellowship recommendation letter from Dean Parker (Chris Parnell).
Cash and Zoey’s tutoring relationship gets off to a poor start when Cash is more than an hour late to their first study session. While this is bad for Zoey, it is very good for the art of physical comedy. The college freshman ends up storming away from Cash when he has a terrible excuse for his tardiness. Instead of letting Zoey disappear, the athlete chases her, giving us the visual treat of Shahidi awkwardly running through the quad in platform sneakers.
In a similarly endearing and uncoordinated moment later in “Starboy,” Zoey considers she can’t even play Bop-It when people look at her — imagine all the stress an NCAA basketball star feels playing in front of millions. What follows is a photo series of Zoey desperately trying to bop it, twist it, and pull it while failing miserably.
As I’ve previously pointed out, so much of grown-ish's strength comes from its decision to let former straight woman Zoey be perfectly imperfect in her spinoff. In “Starboy,” she finally admits how much she’s changed since stepping foot on Cal U’s campus, telling Cash, “I ran my high school and I thought I was going to run this place. But it’s just so different.” Yes it is, so now Zoey is the well-known “cup bitch” rather than immediate queen bee. Her new status isn’t fun, or politically correct, but it’s realistic.
Cash understands this struggle well, since he was dunking at the age of 9, but came to Cal U and completely lost his mojo. Now, he’s throwing “bricks” on the court despite being the top basketball recruit in the entire country. Grown-ish sets up the duo’s twin levels of alienation as the foundation for yet another possible romance for Zoey. As of now, it’s as believable as her flirtation with Art Bae, I mean, Luca Hall (Luka Sabbat), and far more sensible than her bumbling relationship with the really, really, ridiculously good looking Aaron Jackson (Trevor Jackson). World, meet Sports Bae.
Although Zoey spends most of the episode denying she’s interested in Sports Bae, all of that comes into question when Cash finally turns his game around. As someone who went to a big basketball college (#GoOrange!) I was literally brought to tears seeing Zoey and her freshman floormates meltdown over their team’s massive win. No show has better captured that kind of sublimely perfect, simple moment only 18-year-olds can experience, and it made me nostalgic for college in a way I haven’t been in years.
Yet, since Zoey is actually still in college, she was mostly just excited to see her new not-crush-crush throw her a shoutout on live national television following his history-making game. But, things get complicated when Cash, now back to winning and breaking records, skips the midterm he and Zoey so aggressively prepared for; in his stead is a random student forging Cash’s name.
When Cash kisses Zoey on the cheek and promises everything is “good” after his low-key cheating, it’s hard to tell if her annoyance stems from her conflicted romantic feelings for the athlete or his academic dishonesty. We’ll find out the answer soon, since next week’s episode is very leadingly called “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.”
Oh, yeah, and Zoey did get the fellowship recommendation. The countdown to her inevitable, heralded return to the halls of Teen Vogue starts now.
We all need to give Nomi Segal (Emily Arlook), and Foster sisters Jazz (Chloe Bailey) and Sky (Halle Bailey) props, since the trio show off some major character development this week. Nomi was forced to confront her own biases with bisexual men, while the Fosters unveiled a new facet of their lives as struggling student athletes: an obsession with stockpiling various fried foods.
So, are you going to finish those jalapeño poppers or nah?
This week's Drone Class lesson: There is none. Someone check on Professor Telphy STAT (and poor, abandoned Eustace while you’re at it).
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