Wednesday, March 28, 2018

REVIEW: 'Grown-ish' - Zoey Makes Her Choice Between Aaron, Luca and Cash in 'Back & Forth'

Freeform's Grown-ish - Episode 1.13 "Back & Forth"

Zoey has a big decision to make about her love life, and everyone has an opinion about it.

Zoey's romantic life really was the big through-line for this first season of Grown-ish. It was the story that always had the most focus and drive. It was the story the show was most engaged with. Other stories often started and stopped in awkward positions. Remember the adderall story? That seemed to be an ominous tease throughout the season. But then, Zoey was able to quit with no large repercussions whatsoever. Meanwhile, the supporting ensemble mostly stuck in their individual lanes of humor and comedic situations. It wasn't a perfect debut season. But it had plenty of promise while reflecting characters that have rarely been seen on television to this extent. It was a good first season. The romantic story got a lot of focus. That was inevitable. It also turned out pretty well too. A lot of time was spent on Cash to make him seem more like a genuine love interest instead of a distraction for Zoey before she got together with one of the main male leads. The show did a solid job in presenting three romantic options for Zoey where she could realistically choose any of them. That doesn't inherently make them all interesting characters. Cash, Aaron and Luca were mostly defined through their relationships with Zoey. And yet, that was perfectly fine as well. It's what allowed this romantic rectangle to have passion and excitement heading into "Back & Forth." All three made their appeal to Zoey. They all admitted their true feelings to her. She now has to make a grown up decision about if she should romantically pursue one of them. She has love for all three. It's a confusing time for her and that is incredibly relatable. But it's also strong knowing that she has to make this decision as soon as possible based on what she is feeling at this particular moment in time.

The show makes it a literal debate amongst the group of girl friends instead of just an internal monologue for Zoey. That's a smart move - even though it makes this finale a lot of talking and not exactly showing. Zoey's friends all have opinions on who she should date. It doesn't come from some kind of well meaning interactions before this point. The finale starts with Sky and Jazz running into Cash at the gym, Aaron meeting Ana in the cafeteria and Nomi walking towards the smell of weed in Luca's room. Those interactions are the ones that fuel their passion for each candidate in this race for Zoey's heart. Before this moment, they didn't really care all that much about who Zoey should be with. Yes, they care about her as a friend and don't want her to get hurt by a guy. They were there for her in the aftermath of her breakup with Cash. But Zoey also had no problem ditching her friends when she was dating Cash. She sorta became overwhelmed with him and didn't have time for her friends when they needed it the most. That was a learning curve for her. The friendships withstood that though. And now, they are all supportive of her desire to make a decision over who she should date right now. They make their arguments through a game of "fuck, marry, kill." Again, it's surprising just how freeing the language flows on this show on Freeform than the parent show on ABC. And yet, it helps this moment feel natural while being so casual for the characters as they try to help Zoey with her decision.

And so, Sky and Jazz are passionate about Cash. They can make the argument that there is already a history between Zoey and him. It's a connection that sparked once and the love is still there between them. They broke up because of an uncertain future. And now, Cash is willing to stay in college for another year just to further explore this relationship with Zoey. Of course, he doesn't tell her that when he makes his surprising appearance at her door at the top of the finale. Instead, he just wants to get back together and talk about things. He doesn't make his case - although Zoey does shut the door before he can really explain everything. Meanwhile, Ana is supportive of Aaron being the guy for Zoey. She hates the guy because of his politics and the way he has treated her in the past. But now, she can argue that he challenges Zoey to care about things she never would have thought about before. He is forcing her to broaden her mind and think about the world from a new perspective. That's freeing while it also seeming like bribery to win her love through Hamilton tickets. Of course, that offer does seem pretty enticing to Zoey. And finally, Nomi is pushing for Luca - though she only wants them to have sex not get married because that's not all that romantic to her. She sees a painting he is making and believes it to be the sweetest thing because he can literally only think about her. Plus, she makes a really compelling point in saying that Zoey always has more bad things to say about Aaron and Cash than Luca.

While this entire conversation is going on, the girls are missing the midnight class where they all met. That class was built as this place for these characters to hang out and discuss what's going on in their lives. It mostly became a reliable source of comedy with Charlie just doing a bunch of silly and random things. Here, it's where all three of the guys are. Aaron and Luca have been in this class since the beginning. They were a part of that initial bonding session with Zoey, Nomi, Vivek, Sky and Jazz. And now, Cash has suddenly joined the class. That's the basis for this subplot. He's thinking of staying at this school for another year. So, Dean Parker is just submitting him in classes where he will get an easy A. He's demanding of that from Charlie. He demands it not fully knowing what this class is either. This week Charlie just wants to finish binge watching Narcos. He wants to know how Pablo Escobar's story ends - seemingly obvious to the true life component of the story. Instead, he is forced to improvise to prove to Dean Parker that this is a legitimate class. He does that mostly through Vivek being able to make a compelling connection between Pablo's story and marketing in the present-day. It's interesting and gives those three characters something to do. But this story mostly makes it apparent that Cash, Aaron and Luca are all aware that they are competing for Zoey's heart and don't like each other very much. Cash even thinks Aaron is gay and Luca is homeless.

At the end of the day though, this is Zoey's decision to make. As such, she walks away from her friends and instead mulls over her choice in a voiceover monologue to the audience. It seems like she has made up her mind and is walking with passion to one guy in particular. She walks up to his door as the action waits for him to open. But the show also points out that Zoey did the smart and mature thing of talking to the two rejects first to let them down easy. She could have avoided those conversations altogether and just let them find out later that she didn't choose them. But that would risk ruining those friendships for good. And Zoey still wants to be friends with Aaron and Cash even though she isn't choosing to explore a romantic dynamic with them right now. She also notes that that might chance in the future. First loves always hold a special place in one's heart. So, Zoey will also have feelings for Cash and be glad that she lost her virginity to him. But she doesn't want him sacrificing his career and happiness for her. Meanwhile, she had an instant connection with Aaron. In the backdoor pilot, he was billed as the romantic lead for her to have a complicated dynamic with. But this season has also proved that he wants to aspire her to be someone she isn't comfortable being right now. She loves his passion and the push that he gives her to care about the world. But she doesn't view that as healthy for a relationship right now. As such, it makes a lot of sense for her to choose Luca. He is the guy who is letting her chase her dreams and be supportive of them. They have worked so well together as fashion students. They are a powerful couple when it comes to design. That's where Zoey's passion lies. That's the future she wants for herself. Luca has always been the guy pushing for her to succeed in that world. Sure, it's been competitive between them as well. This dynamic may not work out. But Zoey sees it as the best possible relationship out of the choices she has right now. Her mind is clear and she has made her decision. Now, there will just be a hiatus before seeing if it was ultimately good and healthy for her.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Back & Forth" was written by Danny Segal & Isaac Schamis and directed by Steven Caple Jr.
  • I still don't entirely understand why Deon Cole and Chris Parnell are series regulars here. Charlie and Dean Parker are never the focus. They just pop up whenever an episode needs more levity to it. This show is good but isn't as reliably laugh out loud funny as Black-ish is. Their story here confirms they'll remain a part of the ensemble. But it also seems likely they'll appear as frequently as they do here because both have other jobs elsewhere.
  • Will the show choose to keep Aaron and Cash around as engaging characters next season? With Aaron, it seems inevitable because he's a series regular who has done things outside of his relationship to Zoey. With Cash, it's much more unclear because dating Zoey was his whole reason for existing on this show. And yet, he has been an amusing character as well who could stick around if he wanted to.
  • Surprisingly, Nomi calls dibs on sleeping with Luca if Zoey chooses not to date him. She has never had those feelings before this moment. But now, she's really passionate about his sex appeal. That also creates the question: should additional characters from the ensemble start dating each other? If so, then who? Would could be paired with Vivek? Or Ana? Or Sky? Lots of possibilities that could be exciting.
  • The show was renewed for a 20-episode second season very early in its run. It was a breakout success for Freeform that has maintained a healthy ratings level and audience engagement. The episode order increasing probably means more of a focus on the ensemble as well which will be a good thing. Of course, I also wonder what the time frame is for its return. Will it split the season into two 10-episode halves? One airing in Fall 2018 and the other in Spring 2019? Or will it run straight through at some point so it can have more crossover with Black-ish?