Wednesday, February 28, 2018

REVIEW: 'Grown-ish' - Violence on Campus Forces Change in Zoey and Vivek's Friendship in 'Who Gon Stop Me'

Freeform's Grown-ish - Episode 1.09 "Who Gon Stop Me"

Cal U. goes into lockdown after a drug dealer is shot on campus, causing Vivek to get sucked into the intense underground drug world.

Grown-ish takes quite a bit of pride in its depiction of college life as it actually is and not the ideal that many want it to be. That includes directly talking about underage drinking, partying, drug use and sex. It makes the show itself seem edgier with its content than its parent show on ABC. As such, it's still a little startling to see how openly and frequently Zoey talks about sex and drugs. Her opening voiceover in "Who Gon Stop Me" is all about sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. It's still used as an empowering sequence as well. When it comes to the depiction of sex, it features Nomi in a bathroom stall with another women. It's still pretty tame as far as sex goes. Both women are still fully clothed. But it's an important visual nevertheless for diversity and inclusion. That's another aspect the show prides itself on. It's then a moment that casually talks about the amount of drugs on this campus as well as how frequently the parties are happening. It's all effectively building up to this moment where Zoey and her friends learn that a drug dealer has been shot on campus. That's a stark statement that hits early on in this episode and proves the show honestly wants to have a conversation about how these aspects of college life also foster in dangerous consequences. The show still has room for jokes. Everyone is under the false assumption that it was Vivek who was shot in a drug deal gone wrong. And then, Vivek just casually walks up to the ambulance having absolutely no idea what's going on. It's an effective punch line. But this is also the first episode that takes Vivek seriously and the real dangers that come from his business pursuits. He feels invincible and special on this campus. But now, it's abundantly clear that he's putting on that face in order to cover up his own insecurities while still being pretty reckless in the end as well. It's a fascinating story that does a great job at introducing new conflict late in the season.

Vivek has mostly been a supporting character so far. He has never been a part of a main story in an episode. He's always had to share the focus in a minor subplot or he just popped up to deliver a couple of jokes. He's been effectively used as such as well. He's an amusing character who very much cares about outward appearances and popularity. And yet, it's important for him to get the spotlight every once in awhile too. He's a character who hasn't been seen a whole lot on television either. That inclusion matters as well. The show needs him at the forefront of story and manages to make him a unique addition to the plot of this episode. Vivek has always been known as the drug dealer on campus. He's Zoey's hookup for adderall. She's just casually taking that drug all of the time now. At first, she just used it in order to help study or finish a big project. But now, she's addicted to the drug and needs it every hour of the day. It no longer has significant side effects for her. The direction isn't pointing out how it has changed her behavior for better or worse. It was just a new aspect of her character that has been mentioned a couple of times. The fact that the direction pointed out it was a continuing story for her meant it would have consequences later on this season. And now, it seems to hit its breaking point. But it's not because of something horrible or destructive Zoey does while on adderall. Instead, it's about her relationship with Vivek and how buying the drug from him encourages his own destructive behavior. That's insightful in a really compelling way.

Vivek enjoys the new boom in business after this rival drug dealer is killed. He sees no reason to worry about the state of his business because the other guy didn't die because of the drugs. Instead, he was shot in the face because his girlfriend caught him cheating. That's just as bad with a horrible reaction. It shows that crime has infected this campus and the administration needs to take action. Dean Parker uses the opportunity to say there will be a crackdown on drugs on campus. That leads to a student protest where the students believe the new policy will target the students of color and not the legacy ones who actually have the freedom to do whatever they want. It's a good point that criticizes a part of the system that is rarely talked about. And yet, the show mostly shuffles this concern to the side. That's weird. It establishes that Dean Parker will be conducting random checks for any kind of illegal items. Aaron speaks up to ensure it doesn't lead to discrimination and profiling on campus. But then, he is sent off to a subplot with Sky and Jazz where they all get sick and must care for each other because they are hopeless by themselves in a pharmacy. That's an amusing subplot as well. It just feels like the show suddenly realized that it needed more comedy in this episode. As such, it gave it to these three characters with an assist from Dean Parker. It all ensures that this main issue really isn't discussed. So, it's a little unclear if the administration will actually change its policies and if the consequences will be felt by the students.

As of right now, it's not affecting Vivek's bottom line at all. In fact, he is more popular than ever before. His rival dealers are all scared of being caught and expelled by the administration. He's not because he finally has what he has always wanted. He wanted to get rid of his identity as the son of a cab driver. He was ashamed of what his father does and the lack of ambition he has in this world. His friends pointed out that he has nothing to be ashamed about in the very first episode of the show. But he still has internalized a lot of this pressure to be well-liked and successful. And now, he is the kid whom everyone on campus knows. He sells to the entire student body. He isn't short on his supply. He has access to the most exclusive events now too. He can open new doors for Zoey and their other friends. He has become friends with the student whose great grandfather founded the school. He's in with the elite. He feels a part of their world. And yet, he's only there because he supplies the drugs. That's the role he fulfills in this arrangement. These new friends don't like him for who he is. They like him because he brings them cocaine. And yes, Vivek has moved up to selling the hard drugs. This behavior wasn't okay before. But now, it has hit a new level. It's behavior that Zoey can no longer support. She respects him as a friend to tell him the truth about how these other students are just using him. But he doesn't care. He finally has everything he has always wanted.

As such, Vivek deals with immediate consequences. The violence on campus at the start of the episode wasn't about drugs. That gave Vivek new confidence. But the violence that ultimately happens to him is about drugs. He's involved in a drug deal gone wrong where he is left badly beaten in the hospital. Zoey is the only one of his friends who visits him in the middle of the night. Of course, that seems weird. There's no real reason given as to why the rest of the characters don't show up. It can just easily be blamed on the illness going around for half of them. And yet, Zoey is the only character who actually matters in that moment. She shows up and protects him. She shares a story to his parents about Vivek protecting her. She keeps his secret about being a drug dealer. He does appreciate that. He knows that Zoey is one of the best and most loyal friends he has. However, he learns the wrong lesson from this whole incident. Instead of seeing the error of his selfish and destructive ways, he realizes that he shouldn't be the man on the street handling the product. He wants to be the man in charge running a group of dealers to serve even more people. Of course, that comes with immensely more danger. He runs the risk of one of his dealers turning on him should they ever get caught. He's recruiting from his engineering friends for the jobs. It's a precarious position he's in right now. Zoey voices her concerns and disapproval. But all she can really do is throw away her own drugs to ensure she isn't encouraging this habit any longer. Seeing the consequences of that should be really fascinating.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Who Gon Stop Me" was written by Melanie Kirschbaum & Alexandra Decas and directed by Eric Dean Seaton.
  • Was it all that necessary to see how Aaron, Sky and Jazz got sick? Sure, there is a rational explanation for it that shows just how quickly disease travels from person to person. But it's also just another joke made at the dean's expense. That seems to be what he exists to do. He's always being laughed at while he's enjoying his time feeding the birds. He isn't even aware that he got his students sick. But the audience is definitely aware of that now.
  • Of course, it also seems likely that Ana has a crush on the dean. She supports him in his endeavor to rid drugs from this campus. She's his biggest supporter. Zoey and Nomi see just how flirtatious she's being. But both Ana and Dean Parker are completely oblivious to that. It's a consistent character trait even though it's still an odd one.
  • Nomi goes to the big party at The Box with Vivek and Zoey as well. And yet, the show doesn't have the time to really explore what she gets up to at the party. It's more important to see how it changes the friendship between Zoey and Vivek. Everything going on with Nomi happens secondhand through Zoey's voiceover to the audience.
  • Zoey and her friends only assume that Vivek is the drug dealer who was killed because Luca told them so. He just doesn't care about Vivek at all. It's not out of malice either. He just doesn't want to be bothered by whatever is going on with Vivek. When he learns he's actually in the hospital, he would rather just go back to sleep than care if he's alright.
  • Just how seriously will the withdrawal from adderall affect Zoey? She's been using it daily now. It's become a part of her life. She needed it to get through every day. And now, she's breaking the habit for personal reasons. She's doing it to help Vivek. But the side effects could hit her hard if the show chooses to explore that story.