Wednesday, March 21, 2018

REVIEW: 'Grown-ish' - Zoey Wants to Know Aaron and Luca's True Feelings for Her in 'Crew Love'

Freeform's Grown-ish - Episode 1.12 "Crew Love"

The crew gets ready for Freshman Formal. Zoey, Aaron and Luca confront their issues with modern-day relationships. Jazz revels in a new relationship. Ana realizes she's the tamest of the group in a game of "Never Have I Ever."

A lot of Grown-ish's first season ultimately became about Zoey's dating life. That's not inherently wrong either. The show has built a fairly interesting and engaging love dynamic for her. The execution hasn't always been the best. The show rushed through some developments even though it also seemed to be ignoring most of its supporting ensemble. But now, it's clear that the season is building to a big romantic conclusion. Early on, Zoey dated Aaron and Luca at the same time. That blew up in her face quickly thereafter with her affirming to focus on her girls moving forward. That's been the mentality she's had for a lot of this season. She values her friendships. And yet, a lot of the time she is obsessing over guys and needs to be the center of attention. She can't be genuinely happy for Jazz in her new relationship with Doug because she's envious of that connection. She sworn off guys after the way things ended with Cash. And yet, the last few episodes have been teasing big romantic reunions for Zoey with both Aaron and Luca. Both of them were really stepping up and being good and supportive friends to her who challenged her in different but compelling ways. There are benefits to her being with both of them. There are drawbacks as well. The show understands that college love is often complicated by the fact that the people are still just trying to figure themselves out. Zoey has confidence in knowing what she wants her future to be. She wants to succeed in the fashion world. Luca has helped push her in that regard. But she also wants to have a voice that matters. Aaron has been very beneficial with that. And now, the penultimate episode of the season focuses on Zoey trying to figure out what these dynamics actually mean. It's the show putting things out in the open in a major way while making sure to add a number of twists as well.

Zoey talks about it being difficult for this generation to talk about their feelings. That may be true because of the many different forms of communications nowadays. But it's also just difficult in general to bear one's true emotions to someone not knowing how they'll feel. It's scary and emotional. Zoey desperately wants to explore a romantic connection with both Luca and Aaron. She feels things heating up in that regard. But she is also confused by the signals they are sending her. With Luca, they can hang out for almost an entire day and then he just disappears from her life for a little while. With Aaron, he can send her the most meaningful and sweet texts but when they hang out he treats her like just one of the guys. As such, Zoey comes to the conclusion that she needs to subtly hint her true feelings and see how they react. With Luca, it seems very genuine and passionate. He wants to dress her for the Freshman Formal. He wants to design a dress that would be so stunning on her. He appreciates the work she is doing for her friends even though he doesn't seem all that interested in what's going on in their lives. He continues to operate on a different plane with not much gaining his attention or passion. But he's still very aware and compassionate towards Zoey. Meanwhile, Aaron just introduces Zoey as one of the guys. He simply views her as just another friend hanging out with him as he is playing video games. He may refer to her as "his girl." But his follow-up actions don't do anything to back up that claim. It makes Zoey believe that she has this all figured out.

But things are never that easy. Dating and gauging people's emotions is very nuanced and delicate work. Zoey believes she has a firm handling on things. She believes she should explore things with Luca because he is already making plans for them burning down the dance floor. And yet, he only wants to design a dress for her. He thinks this dance is lame. He doesn't see the point of going and playing into the conventions of the college experience. He would much rather forge his own path. That's what he has always done. But it's a confusing time for Zoey. She is broken down because she believes Luca was about to kiss her. It's instead only more teasing. She is getting a little more furious and confronts him about that. That does eventually inspire him to take action. But it comes after Zoey already forges a new path at this dance. This episode doesn't spend a whole lot of time actually at the Freshman Formal. It opens with the tease that Zoey is going to be dancing with both Aaron and Luca. She'll kiss both as the other one watches wondering how they could be the person to win her heart. All of these feelings and emotions are real and genuine. But that's not the direction the show is heading in right now. Instead, Zoey goes to this dance with her girls. She is quickly pulled into more boy drama. She once again abandons Ana in her time of need. That's not all that bad here because Ana still has Nomi looking out for her. It continues to show that Nomi really is the best friend of this group because she is always there to support her friends in their time of need - like right now with Ana fearing that she hasn't actually done anything exciting in her life so far.

Meanwhile, Zoey is summoned to the parking lot by Aaron. He has brought her out there because he wants to confess his true feelings for her. He has been beating himself up for how he treated her the other day. He wants her to be more than just a good friend. He is really starting to like her and wants to explore those feelings. They tried that once but he's willing to give it another shot after spending more time with her. She doesn't give an immediate answer. She was left confused by his signals and needs time to figure out if this is something she wants. It's her being a little coy while fully believing that Luca has freed her to give her the opportunity to date Aaron again. But when she turns around to re-enter the dance, Luca is there all dressed up ready to sweep her off her feet. He's there to profess his feelings as well. He's there to say that he wants to be with her because he likes her the more he gets to know her. It's the same exact speech. Zoey is just as open to both offers. And yet, she also has to explain herself to Luca because he sees her conversation with Aaron. He needs to know if Aaron was her backup plan to have a good time at this dance. She needs to assure him that she feels the same way and would like to explore a relationship. And yet, it's now presented as a choice. It's a classic love triangle situation. Two men are fighting over Zoey. She has a choice to make. She wants to be with both. She fears that turning one down right now will forever change their relationship. She just wants someone to make this decision for her.

That's honestly a selfish mindset for Zoey as well. She doesn't want to be the one making this decision and having to deal with the consequences. As Nomi points out to her though, that's unrealistic and a no-win situation. Zoey wants this choice taken away from her. And yet, it would also crush her to know that one of these guys doesn't have the same feelings that she is having. As such, she has some soul-searching to do. She has a choice to make. The show has built these characters up this season. It's easy to see the show exploring a romance with either of them in the future. Either one of them could ultimately be good for her. The show will have fascinating and strong material to work with no matter what. But then, it pulls out one final twist to really make this dilemma complicated for Zoey. Cash comes knocking on her door once more. He has been a fascinating character because he was so important for three episodes and then just basically disappeared. He was Zoey's first boyfriend so that she could skip over all of those awkward first hurdles in college relationships. But the amount of time spent on him suggested him being important and possibly returning in the future. And now, he has done just that. The episode cuts off before he says anything to Zoey. And yet, it seems pretty clear that he has returned to win her back. That may be the winning argument for Zoey because there is already such an intense history between them. It may not work the second time around. But Cash can't be discounted in this race either.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Crew Love" was written by Jenifer Rice-Genzuk Henry & Hale Rothstein and directed by Pete Chatmon.
  • It continues to be so odd hearing this show say swear words that the characters on Black-ish can't say. Both Zoey and Jazz use "bullshit" in their conversation about relationships. It's frank and not a big deal whatsoever. It's how college students talk. Black-ish has used curse words as well. They just always have to be bleeped out - which thus enhances the joke. Here, it's just a part of the dialogue of the show while still being a little limited.
  • Is Ana's attraction to Dean Parker something the audience should really take seriously? It shows that she has a thing for older men. And yet, she doesn't immediately recognize Parker once she's drunk either. In fact, she believes him to be an older lesbian hitting on her. It's all played for laughs. But it's still a weird story that hasn't really evolved over the season.
  • It's so great that Nomi calls Ana out for her poor behavior as well. She is getting drunk at this dance because she feels inferior to her friends in regards to life experiences. She wants to be just as open as they are. And yet, kissing a girl to her is just an experiment to cross off a list. She ultimately does get one from Nomi. But it comes after Nomi has her empowering moment saying she's more than just other women's fascination.
  • Of course, Zoey has never kissed a girl either. She's not bothered by that. But Ana doesn't really notice that when the girls are playing their drinking game. She just instead focuses on how Sky and Jazz have done something she hasn't - though theirs came from lifeguarding during the summer at their local pool. 
  • It's amusing to see Charlie as the DJ for this dance. It's a good use of the character that gets him out of the classroom. He has been used so sparingly this season. He really doesn't need to be a part of this spinoff at all. It hasn't affected his screentime on Black-ish in the slightest. But his presence is still good for a couple of jokes - like his tease that the roof really is on fire.