It’s A Different World for a new generation of TV viewers. Like The Cosby Show’s Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) before her, Black-ish character Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi) is going off to college in a spinoff.
As Entertainment Weekly describes the plotline, the show will follow Zoey, “the privileged yet socially conscious daughter of Dre and Rainbow Johnson (Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross) as she begins her freshman year at the fictional Southern California University.” And for Shahidi, the new show gives her a taste of college life before she goes to Harvard University next year. The actress deferred her Ivy League acceptance to star on the series, which will air on Freeform (formerly ABC Family).
“It’s strange and fantastic,” the 17-year-old told EW. “Within five days of shooting, I had gone to three college parties, had ditched my friend, all sorts of stuff!”
Originally titled College-ish, the series began as a backdoor pilot during black-ish‘s third season and was intended for ABC. The move to Freeform precipitated both a name change and a shift to more serialized storytelling in order to fit with the network’s looser style.
“Changing networks was probably one of the best things that could’ve happened to this show because the audience on Freeform is really [who] this is for,” creator Kenya Barris told EW.
The Girls Trip screenwriter and Black-ish creator cited The Cosby Show spin-off A Different World and the short-lived Sex and the City prequel The Carrie Diaries as his inspiration for grown-ish. “The notion of continuing your investment in a character before and after you meet them is fascinating to me. I love those sorts of origin stories that increase mythology.”
The America’s Next Top Model co-creator also drew from other pop culture references. According to EW, the series premiere pays homage to The Breakfast Club and chronicles how Zoey forms a disparate yet tight-knit friend group with her classmates in Professor Charlie Telphy’s (black-ish‘s Deon Cole) peculiar late-night marketing class, which includes Zoey’s crush Aaron (Trevor Jackson), the oblivious Vivek (Jordan Buhat), Zoey’s closest friend Nomi (Emily Arlook), and Cuban Republican Ana (Francia Raisa).
“We have such an interesting group of characters that don’t seem to feel like they would ever know each other if it wasn’t for this class,” said Shahidi. “It kind of goes back to the coming-of-age tale of how much of our experience is shared.”
While the Johnsons will move their daughter to school in a January episode of Black-ish, she will reprise her role as Zoey on the hit ABC series.
“I have gone to Black-ish a couple times, and they’ve come here,” explains Shahidi.
Mark your calendars and check your local cable TV listings for the one-hour premiere of Grown-ish — Jan. 3 at 8 p.m. on Freeform.