If “Grown-ish” wasn’t real enough for you yet — and so far the show has covered study drugs, exploitation of student-athletes, first sexual experiences, sexual orientation, and so much more — the ninth episode of this season confronts a drug-related shooting on campus and the aftermath. Especially in the wake of the Majorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in recent weeks, an episode that addresses on-campus violence without coming off as a PSA has the potential to be as real as it gets.
The episode opens with a call to Zoey that increases exponentially as the news spreads throughout her friend group that a drug dealer has been shot and killed on campus. Luka (Luca Hall) puts it bluntly “Yo, deadass. Vivek’s dead.”
Vivek (Jordan Buhat) was introduced briefly in the first episode of “Grown-ish” and has had some minor roles in b-storylines throughout the season, but all we really know about him is that he is a first-generation student from an immigrant family that is working hard to put him through college, he is a little clueless when it comes to modern romance — in episode three, he thought a digital spank bank was supposed to include self-portraits — and that he deals drugs.
In a truly terrifying fake out, after the friend group shows up at the crime scene and Luka makes what appears to be a sacrifice to the fashion gods, Vivek shows up, very much not dead. It turns out while the victim was a big-time dealer, it was a jealous girlfriend that shot him. Nomi (Emily Arlook) and Zoey’s (Yara Shahidi) unfortunate reaction is an ill-timed joke that plays poorly, especially in light of current events. In the aftermath of this shooting, fictional students at Cal U start protesting against regular drug screening and room search en masse. Meanwhile in the real world, students across the United States are protesting for gun control. The fictional University is doing about as much as the actual United States about gun violence on campus: both are focusing on something tertiary to the problem and doing nothing about the real danger from gun violence that students face.
So rather than focusing on the shooting, this episode questions about the role of the institution in the safety of its students when it comes to drug use. While it is indisputable that for many if not most college freshmen, the early — sometimes all — college years are about learning to live away from home for the first time. Whatever boundaries enforced by guardians or school systems are lifted. As we have already witnessed this season, it can lead to a lot of bad decisions, very quickly. For example, Zoey’s to-be-continued Adderall habit from the first couple episodes. This episode finally checks in on her usage, which has gone up from using “just to study,” to “just to party,” to casually popping pills at 11 a.m. on a Sunday. Maybe that’s how she’s been able to tutor and romance a star athlete, date two very cute dudes at the same time, and also land a coveted Teen Vogue fellowship all while attending classes too. But in any case, the question remains: What responsibility, if any, does the university have to the extracurricular safety of its students?
At the fictional Cal U, the university outwardly takes a more aggressive stance on substance abuse on campus by doing random room raids in student housing. But the administration is nowhere to be found when Vivek gets Zoey into the coolest party on campus, where the “cool kids” are doing coke. Zoey tries to call out Vivek for dealing harder drugs, but Vivek turns it around on her, reminding her that Adderall and cocaine are essentially the same thing. “Some drugs just have better PR.” Vivek is dealing because he enjoys feeling like he’s part of an elite group. For the first time in his life, he’s not just a “cab driver’s son.”
Interestingly, this episode’s secondary storyline involves a scenario in which drugs can be the answer — when you get sick. Jazz and Sky (Chloe and Halle Bailey) spend the episode recovering from a nasty flu. Aaron (Trevor Jackson) suffers some savage blows from them but helps them out with soup and over-the-counter decongestants.
This episode is bookended by a second conference call free-for-all. Vivek ultimate does face some violent consequences for his illegal actions, and Zoey covers for him in front of his parents. Getting mugged and winding up in the ICU might be enough to deter some dealers, but not Vivek. He’s back at it soon after, expanding his business too. Fortunately, Zoey comes out of the episode having learned something — she tosses what’s left of her little blue pills in the trash right before the credits roll.
While it is rewarding to see in Vivek a character who ultimately defies many of the stereotypes that so frequently plague Asian characters, does actor Jordan Buhat identify himself as Indian or South Asian? As a Canadian actor, born and raised in Edmonton Alberta, he identifies himself as a Canadian with no South Asian heritage. Hollywood has a long history of casting roles written specifically for minorities inauthentically — usually a white actor will replace a role written for a non-white character. From Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to Ghost in the Shell where a role originally written for a Japanese character was portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, Asian actors especially struggle for visibility in an industry where they played only 3.8% of all theatrical and television roles in 2008. , non-white actors are fighting for visibility within mainstream media and every role that is written for a specific group is best served by them.
Grown-ish, a Black-ish spinoff continues its 13 episode season Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC Freeform.
In case you missed it, read the previous episode review here.
Photo and video credit: Freeform
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