Wednesday, January 24, 2018

REVIEW: 'Grown-ish' - Brand Identity Defines Zoey and Cash's Relationship in 'C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)'

Freeform's Grown-ish - Episode 1.05 "C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)"

When Zoey's Instagram becomes flooded with haters, she wonders if it's time to alter her brand.

At the end of "Starboy," did it seem obvious that Zoey was about to enter into a romantic relationship with Cash? Not really. That episode ended with her being disappointed and surprised that he hired someone to take his midterm for him after she spent so much time tutoring him. Then, he basically brushed off her concerns in order to hang out with his teammates who are glad he's performing well on the court again. It was a somewhat awkward ending that doesn't naturally extend to what "C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)" is trying to do. In this episode, it's just suppose to be understood that Zoey and Cash are dating now. He's the star player on the basketball team whom everyone loves. That puts Zoey in the public spotlight as well. The entire school cheers on Cash during the games. Meanwhile, they are envious of Zoey for the relationship she has with him. It produces a meaningful conversation about how fame can influence a relationship. Cash is on the rise and doesn't completely know how to best handle himself. He falls into the predictable trap of engaging with Internet trolls. He hurts Zoey in the process by making private details about her public. That's not cool or okay at all. The show recognizes that. It does put a strain on their relationship. And yet, it's also aware that there is so much more going on in this dynamic as well that will define whether or not it is a healthy relationship for both of them.

Much of this story does ultimately rely on Zoey's selfishness. She spends the first portion of the episode complaining about how Cash broadcasted to the world that she is a virgin. She's not wrong to be mad about that either. To her, that's the most self-destructive thing he could possibly do. It's the thing that could completely destroy their relationship. Jax and Sky are telling her to drop him immediately. There isn't a doubt in their minds. Zoey has the same resolution until she learns more of what's been going on in Cash's personal life. That doesn't excuse his behavior at all. But the show does set out to provide more complexity for it as well. Zoey goes on that journey with Cash at the expense of her other friends though. She still values those friendships. But she's also very much enjoying this exploration of love with Cash. Right now, it is marked by a fight. They are hurting each other with their words. But they are spending time with each other. They aren't focusing on anything else. When the rest of the world does eventually creep back into this story, it's without the understanding that Zoey and Cash have just reached. Sky and Jax are still saying the same thing. Zoey blows up at them the second time around. That's inappropriate too. It shows that Zoey still has so much more to learn and grow. But this story thrives by how complicated it becomes for everyone involved.

Zoey just wants to be mad at Cash. Then, she learns that his father has been selling his high school memorabilia in order to fuel his drinking problem. Cash exists on a public stage. Every action that he does has to be very well-crafted. He no longer has privacy. But he's still just a college student making mistakes in the world. That's what his responding to the trolls was. It was a stupid mistake. It's a mistake that Zoey still rightfully judges him for because this entire generation knows not to interact with trolls on the internet. But it hits so much deeper and more personal than that too. This is a big deal for Zoey but Cash has so much more going on in his life. This episode helps him become a more nuanced character. He exists in a world that includes Zoey heavily but she isn't his complete focus. He is struggling with a parent who isn't as supportive as the two who Zoey has always had. It's amusing to see Anthony Anderson pop up as Dre here for a solid comedic beat. But that moment also highlights just how healthy that upbringing actually was for Zoey. Yes, it's a joke about her being able to go a long time without speaking. She breaks Dre in that moment. And yet, it's still seen as a positive and healthy relationship. Cash doesn't have that with his father. He's searching for something healthy in his world as he ascends to more fame through basketball. However, that also forces him to admit that blasting Zoey's personal life online may not have been an accident after all.

Cash admits that his personal brand is helped by him dating a girl who is a virgin. It helps prop up the image that he is a sweet, wholesome kid who isn't being followed around by scandal after scandal. He does have a newsworthy story in his upbringing and continuing family drama. That's still a major concern for him that could tarnish his image. That's why he drives to his father to pay him off. It's a journey that Zoey knows he needs her support with even though they don't really talk about that on the drive up there. Instead, they focus on the drama between them. And yes, it is hurtful to say that Zoey is a good girlfriend on paper. It helps with his image. But it's not the only reason he is interested in her. Yes, it's a little lame for him to say that she knew him and liked him before he was famous. He came to this school because he was already a talented basketball star who was being scouted by multiple teams. Zoey was introduced to Cash as the basketball player who needed tutoring to remain academically eligible for the team. This statement could reasonably be made though because she stood by him when the rest of the school was willing to turn their backs on his prospects for the team. When he was in a slump, Zoey still encouraged and supported him. That was the sign that she saw him as more than the basketball star. These two have so much going on in their lives right now too. Because Zoey spends so much time with Cash, she is alienating the rest of her friends. It's important for them to have this fight though. It's uncomfortable and they both say some harsh things. But they do come out of it with a new respect and understanding for each other.

And then, Zoey blows off some steam by yelling at her other friends about their faults. That's a weird moment. It's weird because Zoey only really has a point in some of her criticisms of her friends. She doesn't even know what's going on with Nomi. So, she can't really comment on that. Her criticism of Ana isn't really based on anything as the show still really doesn't know what to do with that character. She attacks Sky and Jax for choosing a sport where very few people ever become famous as a way to combat their assertiveness of wanting her to dump Cash. The most meaningful of these probably comes when she asks Aaron what he is even doing hanging out with a bunch of freshmen all of the time. It's an important conversation starter that will eventually tie back in to his own identity crisis and not really knowing what path to pursue in the future. All of this ends with the punchline of Zoey wishing Vivek a happy birthday with a shirt that is actually the right size for him. That's amusing. However, it also feels like the structuring device of this moment is a little off. The voiceover and direct to camera addresses have been a little bothersome this season. But here, Zoey's criticism of her friends is seen less because she's too busy summing everything up to the audience because she apparently blacks out. That allows these comments to be less destructive than they otherwise would have been. It allows them to happen in quick succession. But it doesn't make them funny. Nor does it really tie back in to what's really going on either. It just proves that Zoey and her friends are capable of fighting and disagreeing as well. She criticizes them in an inappropriate way. There is a more loving way to do this. She just doesn't have the time to tolerate any drama because of how complicated her relationship with Cash has gotten. That's fair but still a little forced too.

Some more thoughts:
  • "C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)" was written by Craig Doyle and directed by Pete Chatmon.
  • Nomi's story really is so fascinating and poignant. A lot of it does happen offscreen. She breaks up with her boyfriend between episodes. And yet, it's important to see those difficult conversations as well. She has to confront why she feels so weird about him being bisexual when she is bisexual too. She has to express those feelings and rightfully realize she's being insecure and not open to an honest conversation. That's interesting and deserves even more focus in the future.
  • Will Aaron and Vivek actually listen to the advice that Zoey has for them? Will Aaron stop hanging around this group of freshmen so much? Will he be able to find a career that he is actually passionate about? He should at least put more effort into that since he's already been in college for a year. Meanwhile, will Vivek change his wardrobe? Or will it just stay exactly the same?
  • Luca has an amusing role in Zoey's story as well. He basically just serves as a plot function to update her on what's going on in Cash's life outside of her. And yet, it's very amusing how he delivers that news. He's a guy who doesn't care for the drama of the world at all. He just sees Zoey as acting ridiculous. That's refreshing even though it would be great to see him get excited about something as well.
  • In Charlie's class this week, he has a lecture about words. It is played completely as a joke with Zoey questioning the legitimacy of some of the classes at this college. And yet, it could be an interesting lecture as well. Being able to utilize the best worlds in the right situation can really help define one's brand and awareness on any particular issue. Words do have power after all.
  • In case you missed it, Freeform ordered a second season of Grown-ish this week. The new season will feature 20 episodes. That's a huge sign of commitment and appreciation for this show so early on. It's not surprising either considering it launched as the highest rated comedy debut on Freeform since 2012. Plus, it fits exactly into the brand and type of storytelling the network is pursuing at the moment.