Wednesday, February 14, 2018

REVIEW: 'Grown-ish' - Zoey's Usage of Social Media Lands Her in Trouble in 'Erase Your Social'

Freeform's Grown-ish - Episode 1.08 "Erase Your Social"

Zoey lands the fellowship of her dreams at Teen Vogue, but her reputation and job are put on the line when she reveals too much on social media.

"Erase Your Social" returns Grown-ish to its ensemble roots. Yes, the show has always been billed as the Zoey Johnson story. She is the lead character. And yet, the opening episodes of the season suggested a more ensemble driven series with the supporting characters being able to carry their own subplots - for just an episode or across the entire season. And then, the show got distracted by Zoey's relationship with Cash. Now, that wasn't an inherently bad thing. It was perfectly understandable why the creative team didn't want Aaron to be Zoey's first love story at college. He's being set up as her grand love interest across the entire series. As such, it's reasonable for another romance to come in and distract from that story a little bit even though it's inevitable that Zoey and Aaron will ultimately get together. Cash never really existed as a character outside of his romance with Zoey. But that relationship was the main driving force for a couple of episodes. It was weirdly structured though. At times, it really felt like the show wanted to rush Zoey through a bunch of firsts when it comes to romance and sex just so she could experience that and not be so blindly naive about relationships. There were story prospects that seemed exciting with that relationship and then those big developments happened offscreen - like Zoey having sex for the first time. And at other times, it felt like Zoey and Cash was overwhelming to the rest of the narrative. The amount of time spent on it distracted from the rest of the ensemble. Instead of a couple of stories in each episode, the supporting characters had to settle for just a couple of amusing jokes with only a few being asked to do more than that. But now, it seems like the Cash era is done. That leaves room for the show to explore its ensemble once more which is a very encouraging thing.

It also puts Zoey's dreams and desires at the front of the story. She was losing herself in Cash a little bit. She fell hard and fast for him. It was a real and intense relationship that moved very quickly because of the pressure from his stardom in basketball. She was willing to set her ambitions and goals aside in order to follow him around the country no matter where he ended up playing. And now, she has gotten out of that relationship. It was still a difficult breakup. She had her time to mourn it and find a way to pick herself back up again. That is immediately followed by her finding a way to be excited and happy once more. She applied for this Teen Vogue internship earlier in the season. It actually occurred at the start of her story with Cash as she leveraged a recommendation letter from Dean Parker in order to tutor Cash. Back then, she was so completely focused on her future. She had a plan for her life. She had mapped it out perfectly. And now, she is back on track. She got this internship and has started working her dream job. It's an exciting time for her. It's a lot of fun to see how passionate she is. But it's also just thrilling to see her immediately get respect and appreciation in the work place. Yes, she's an intern working for very little money. But this workplace respects everyone and values the contributions they bring to the company. That's rewarding and very encouraging.

Of course, the main story becomes complicated pretty quickly because the episode wishes to explore the effects of social media. Zoey notes at the top of the episode that living with social media is the reality that has come to define her generation. She explains through an amusing cutaway to what her father's life was like at this point in time. It shows just how much has changed while the struggle has only grown more complicated for young adults like Zoey. They have grown up in a world that values immediate gratification. There's the ability to be seen and connect with the entire world in an instant. All it takes is a cell phone to feel connected with a global environment. Zoey and her friends see their followers as their actual friends who care and are invested in what's going on in their lives. As such, they feel the need to put forth a well calibrated brand that props up their own identity. Of course, it also forces them to have a brand and identity long before they've matured to the point where they come to understand what life is really like. They are all in college right now to make mistakes and grow as people. It's a safe space that is suppose to give them freedom to explore what they want out of life in a still structured environment. But the world has changed and the consequences can be quite severe with any potential slip up. The freedom to make mistakes is gone which only adds to the pressure to succeed for this generation. That's something this show just puts out there in the hopes that it can be understood and empathized with across multiple generations.

Honestly, these aren't new themes that are being explored for the first time on this show. It's a story that's been told elsewhere in ways both good and bad. It can be easy to criticize this particular generation for being too self-involved and addicted to technology. But that's just a lame blanket statement that ultimately holds no value in trying to analyze and understand the subject matter. Nor can it just be a simple solution of signing off social media forever because it's a vicious and destructive beast. That's what Zoey attempts here. She gets more responsibility at work because she proves herself as an intern. She gets noticed by the boss and given a fair opportunity to succeed even more. She turns off her accounts to avoid bringing any embarrassment or scandal to the company. She just celebrated becoming verified with the blue check mark. That was such a thrilling achievement for her that became a moment of disappointment after seeing Luca has two blue check marks without really caring or appreciating them. It would be easy to say that Zoey makes such a huge mistake in the end because she's tempted back to social media because she craves instant appreciation for her good work. She wants to celebrate with Luca but he has plans. She needs that rush that only social media can provide. It's lame that it is her first post back that gets all of this attention. But that also just proves how careful people have to be with this tool. It can provide so many benefits. But it can also turn the world against you in just one post. That's what happens here with Zoey. She embarrasses Teen Vogue. She makes her boss' job more difficult. And yet, she miraculously keeps the job. That's important too because it creates an environment that recognizes mistakes and values second chances even in a world where everything needs to be so perfectly crafted at all times.

It's also fascinating to see the many ways that social media can go wrong for the characters here. It's easy to believe that they are all obsessed with it and use it in different ways. Again, Luca seems to be the only one who knows how to use it responsibly. That's amusing because he tries so little. Of course, he still needs a bit more dimension to be a reliably funny character. He's a nice foil for Zoey who could be great with a little more focus. Meanwhile, the rest of the ensemble thrive in their own stories of mishandling social media. Aaron believes he is being smart in only linking to articles for social justice issues that he champions. And yet, he quickly becomes a new leader of the alt-right because he didn't bother to read any of the articles. That further proves that he may be all talk with very little actual substance. And then, Nomi and Ana appreciate the lack of consequences that come from trolling celebrities. They believe they can say anything on the internet because they have the freedom to do so. But it's mostly just an outlet for them to avoid dealing with their own feelings of insecurity. Seeing that story escalate very quickly is a lot of fun while showing the complexity behind some of the harsh comments one can find online. Finally, there's the story of being aware that things will just be on the internet forever. Vivek believes he can bury the embarrassing content of him. But it can still be dug up if someone is passionate about humiliating him. That's up to Jazz and Sky after their secret profiles are at risk of being exposed to Dean Parker. All of this shows just how complicated all of this can be. Social media can often get in the way of real communication in person. But it can also be so rewarding as well like it is in that very final moment in such a low-key but effective way.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Erase Your Social" was written by Vanessa McGee and directed by Amy York Rubin.
  • It really is quite amusing that Anthony Anderson will just pop up in a flashback as Dre in order to illustrate some point that Zoey is making about the subject matter on display. It's just a quick moment and he's never seen again in the episode. That mostly proves just how fluid this show is with the parent series. It's still connected to Black-ish and reminds the audience of that without hitting us over the head with it.
  • Of course, it's also just a lot of fun seeing Anderson try to play a college-aged Dre through a ridiculous wig. It's a scene where Dre marvels at the idea of three people being on a call at the same time. It's an amusing moment that would have been punctuated even more if the show also cut to Dre in the present day being confused by some new technology that Zoey understands in an instant.
  • And then, there are the universal things in this world that confuse people of every generation. Like taxes. In Charlie's class this week, his lecture is about filing taxes and asking his students to do that for him. He plays it off as a pop quiz. But it's pretty funny to watch. It's yet another instance of a solid comedic performer coming in for such a brief moment just to get a solid laugh. It doesn't need to be any more than that.
  • That's basically how Chris Parnell operates as Dean Parker as well. He appears here by trying to give Jazz and Sky advice on how to better perform in their track events. He's helping them with hurdles even though they don't run hurdles. And of course, his presence mostly adds to the threat from Vivek in exposing the twins' real social media accounts to the school.
  • In the end, social media has real life consequences for many of the characters. And yet, will any of those consequences linger for any of them? It seems unlikely for Nomi and Ana because they largely learn their lesson. But it should be interesting to see Zoey have to prove herself at work once more. Or it could just be a great running gag that Aaron is followed by hundreds in the alt-right no matter what he does.