Yara Shahidi and Grown-ish stars explain how the show is moving past the college campus
While the Freeform comedy Grown-ish, which returned for the second half of its third season on Thursday, shot its newest episodes before the pandemic, and therefore before college students nationwide began attending most of their classes on Zoom, the show has already begun focusing on what life is like for its young cast beyond the Cal U campus grounds.
In fact, it's lead Zoey Johnson, played by Yara Shahidi, doesn't even go to college anymore. "I do have to reflect on just when we were naming the show, a funkier title that was floated around with College-ish," Shahidi tells EW. "And I think the reason why we went with Grown-ish — other than the fact that it sounded better — was really because we hoped to reflect the experience of growing up and being a young adult, and college just happened to be the location that brought everyone together."
"But I think our ultimate goal, and something that we do definitely dive into headfirst this coming season, is the fact that this is moreso about the journey of finding yourself and growing up than it is about anchoring yourself in one orthodox college experience," she adds.
Francia Raisa, who plays Zoey's conservative roommate Ana, agrees, noting that she feels "the show does a really great job of showcasing growing pains and what a lot of people go through, not just college students…I'm older, and I learned so many lessons from the show."
With her character diving into a new relationship that brings a renewed sense of faith with it, Raisa saw a story that not only resonated with a broader group of young people, but "resonated a little bit with what happened last year. As far as faith, I know a lot of people searched for faith, looked to church, and were trying to find answers. I think, pre- or post-pandemic, that's definitely a journey that a lot of people are always questioning and wondering, especially when it comes to hardships."
Trevor Jackson's character Aaron, the Cal U senior that Zoey currently pines for, is another one who begins thinking about what his identity as an activist looks like outside the bubble college provides — certainly a journey relevant to the events of last summer. "I think just how strongly he feels about his mission, his duty as a person who sees something wrong with the world and wants to fix it, that's what we want everyone to take away from the show in whatever area that is," Jackson tells EW. "With all that's been going on in the world, it definitely is necessary and good to open that, that conversation and dialogue for sure. Because we definitely need to do that as a whole race, as a human race, as a country, globally."
While Luka and Nomi, played by Luka Sabbat and Emily Arlook respectively, spend most of this season separate from the show's core group, their surprise friendship will be explored more. "[Last season] ends with her water breaking, and now there's presumably going to be a child and she's got to figure out what's the best thing to do as a mother and as the person who brought this baby into the world," Arlook explains. If that involves Luka, it's because, as Sabbat recalls to EW, "I remember going to the writer's room, like 'I need more scenes with Nomi because she's great.'"
As for the future of the show, it's still to be determined when they can shoot more episodes, but Jordan Buhat, who plays the group's jaunty friend Vivek, doesn't have any worries about Grown-ish still being able to capture what life is like for young people on or off college campuses in 2021. "The writers are geniuses, you know what I mean? So they have found ways to be able to connect with current day audiences," he states. "So I don't have any doubts that, with everything that all these college students are going through now, they're still going to be able to implement that."
Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.