Wednesday, March 7, 2018

REVIEW: 'Grown-ish' - Sky and Jazz Wonder Why They are Struggling with Relationships in 'It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp'

Freeform's Grown-ish - Episode 1.10 "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp"

Jazz and Sky struggle to hit a dating stride in a college landscape. Zoey and Luca attempt to buckle down to complete a project.

"It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" feels like an experiment to see if the show can feature an A-story that doesn't include Zoey at all. It's a little awkwardly handled here because the show still feels the need to use Zoey's voiceover narration in order to set up the main conflict for Sky and Jazz. She's the one who introduces the subject of the younger generation being more open with sexual dynamics and interests than any previous generation but there still being biases and stereotypes in dating as well. And yet, Zoey is never at that club with her friends having a good time and having that conversation. She is off working on a project for a class with Luca. Of course, Luca is briefly interacting with the rest of the ensemble. He's there to offer his two cents at the top of the episode. And yet, that's fitting as well. He's the one who is completely open to having a good time and living a life in order to find inspiration. Zoey is all about putting in the work in order to get a good grade in a class. Luca goes off to show her a good time. It's a fun subplot for the week. But it's not the major focus of the episode. For this being the Zoey Johnson show, that's surprising. It's not completely awkward or bad either. It's just different. And frankly, this show could use a change-up in perspective every once in awhile. The parent show, Black-ish, has had the same problem. It's completely confident in not every story needing to be told from Dre's perspective in a given week. But it has also passed the baton over to other characters so that they can provide the voiceover narration of the stories that are important to them. It would be fascinating to see if Grown-ish did that as well. It could have been fun to hear dueling voiceovers from Sky and Jazz as they each want to tell their individual stories while always being lumped together as sisters. But that doesn't occur here. Zoey sets things up for the audience. And then, it's up to Sky and Jazz to carry the rest of the story.

It's also abundantly clear that there are no ongoing consequences or repercussions to the actions taken in last week's episode. This season has had more of a through-line than the parent show typically has. Zoey has dated and her friendships have changed over time. Those have been important for the season. And yet, Vivek building a business out of his drug trade isn't mentioned at all. Everyone is perfectly fine with him once more. He's back to just being a comic relief character as he has a very specific type when it comes to dating and he's proud of it. Elsewhere, it's fascinating how Zoey's story is largely defined by her getting over Cash. It's been a few weeks since Cash has even been referenced. That could suggest any number of things. Zoey and the show keeping him on their minds could be teasing a return of some sorts later on in the season. Or it could just prove that the episodes are being aired out of order. Right now, it's just important for Zoey to get this project done with Luca. They succeed in that endeavor even though it seems like all Luca wants to do is procrastinate and do mindless activities elsewhere. It also seems like the show is setting the two of them up for another go at romance as well. That's fascinating but not really the point of this episode either. It's just important that Zoey completes this task and is proud of the work she has done with Luca - even though she's dealing with no longer taking adderall every day.

The main story also features a lot of talking about the dating scene on this particular college campus. Sky and Jazz are both frustrated because black men aren't showing a real interest in them. It's enough for them to educate their friends on how black women are often treated as the least desirable people when it comes to sexual attraction. Nomi and Ana are understandably confused because they've been doing well and are confident in this area at college. And yet, it's a strong conversation about stereotypes and colorism within a community. Aaron points out that he would only date a black queen. Then, his friends have to prove to him that he has a very specific type that is predominately light-skinned. It's enough to send him spiraling and overcompensate when he approaches another girl. That's such an awkward moment where he feels like he's only attracted to this woman to prove a point to his friends instead of genuinely being intrigued by her. That's not great but it's also the point. It's the show calling out how annoying people with specific sexual interests can be. But it doesn't view Sky and Jazz as saints either. They feel like they are battling a system of stereotypes. They believe that no one wants to be with a dark-skin black woman because of the assumption that they are all bitches who create drama. That is then articulated though the different reactions to Sky and Nomi sending a drink back because it wasn't what they paid for. It is an effective point that is well argued. It also highlights the limited group that Sky and Jazz are even open to as well.

The friends are curious as to why Sky and Jazz only want to date or have sex with black men. They think being at college is a time to experiment and figure out what one really wants. Right now, Sky and Jazz both seem to be getting ahead of themselves by putting pressure on finding relationships that could actually go the distance. They feel out-of-depth in this new environment because it is so different than where they came from. In their home community, they had so many options. They aspired to more because they dreamed of getting out of this life. They put in the work and it paid off. They got into this college on athletic scholarships because of their skills. But now, they feel alienated by a world that doesn't genuinely want to understand them. They only see their limited options. Whenever they spot a black men they are interested in, they quickly get disappointed once he is seemingly dating a white girl. To them, it just feels like further prove that as soon as black people get success they abandon their roots and heritage. They can point to so many examples of celebrities who marry white or light-skinned girls. They don't always see themselves fairly represented and appreciated in the world. As such, this causes a huge rift between them. Jazz is willing to explore. She puts herself out there to anyone who is even remotely interested in her. Sky sees this as her sister sacrificing her ideals without thinking through the potential consequences. But for Jazz, it's her trying to listen to her friends' advice and not limit herself.

It's compelling to see a disagreement between Sky and Jazz as well. Most of the time, they are completely in sync with one another. They live together. They are track stars. The school appreciates them as a team. They get sick together. They scheme together for how to make money. But now, they have a difference of opinion that comes out of their growing frustration with the dating scene. Sky feels emboldened by all of that and just asks one of the black students she's seen around why he doesn't seem to date girls like her. He gives a lackluster response. And yet, he's the guy who may be the big solution to these feelings the two of them are having. Sky does that because she feels abandoned by her sister right now. But they still return to the same dorm room at night. They still have to be a part of each other's lives. As such, they don't get to fight for very long. It's nice to see that moment where they work things out. They've been placing too much pressure on themselves. It's okay for them to have different opinions on this subject now. That means they are a unified front once more when the guy from the previous night stops them the next morning. He provides a better explanation for his behavior while remaining open to anyone based on who they are. That's the same sense that Jazz has about dating now as well. As such, they are immediately paired off together. That's fascinating. This is the guy that Sky hopes that she or her sister would date. She's the one who asked the tough question. And yet, Jazz is the one who picks up a possible boyfriend. That's noticeable but still rewarding too.

Some more thoughts:
  • "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" was written by Hale Rothstein & Jenifer Rice-Genzuk Henry and directed by Marta Cunningham.
  • So, should the show actively explore a relationship between Jazz and Doug? It would be important for someone in the ensemble to have a serious relationship that way Zoey isn't the only one who is always getting the attention in that regard. Plus, her dating Doug would be a strong way to give her some separation from Sky. It should be interesting to see what the show decides to do.
  • Vivek has such an appreciation for the energy that Sky and Jazz are sending out that it almost seemed like the show was teasing him as a possible romantic interest for them. Of course, that was unlikely because he's not what they're looking for. Plus, he actually enjoys the stereotype of crazy black women. Later on though, he catches a glimpse on Aaron's mom and is attracted to her.
  • It continues to be casually accepted that all of these characters are going out to clubs and drinking. It's an important part of the main story. Sky and Nomi both send drinks back because they didn't taste right. And yet, it should again be pointed out that these characters are college freshman who most likely aren't old enough to consume alcohol. But that's just not a big deal here at all.
  • The activities that Zoey and Luca get into include seeing a screening of Black Panther, buying eggs at a grocery store, egging the grocery store with the eggs and going to the zoo. It's just a wild and crazy night that mostly happens offscreen. Zoey is in the plot that mostly exists to bring levity to the main story. That's a different function for her here. As such, it's okay but not all that memorable either.
  • The show continues to say that Zoey and Luca work well together as fashion students. They push each other to create better outfits. They put in the work to get here individually. But now, they are really appreciating what the other brings out of them. As such, it wouldn't be surprising if that bond is explored further - whether it's professionally or romantically.