I have recently found myself stopping on the subway platform to snap a picture of a dolled-up Yara Shahidi, the young black Iranian actress who looks a little bit like me. Seeing Shahidi front and center in posters for Grown-ish all over New York City feels noteworthy enough to document, even in the middle of a rushed commute. Shahidi’s poster is not the only one that stands out on the platform walls. Grown-ish, a lively coming-of-age sitcom, is part of a group of shows that center around young women—more specifically young women of color, queer young women, and queer young women of color—navigating the beginnings of adulthood. Multiple times a week, I get to watch women who look like me going through the same things as me. This is remarkable. It wasn’t always true.
Grown-ish airs on Freeform (formerly ABC Family), alongside upbeat yet thoughtful comedy-drama The Bold Type, about three young women making their next career move, and Good Trouble, a new drama following two sisters fresh out of college living in sunny Los Angeles.
The Bold Type’s leading ladies are best friends Jane, Sutton, and Kat, (Katie Stevens, Meghann Fahy, and Aisha Dee). They work at Scarlet, a fictional women’s magazine based in New York City. Showrunner Sarah Watson based the show loosely on the life of former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief, Joanna Coles. I’m especially drawn to Kat because her background is strikingly similar to my own—having one white parent and one black parent means asking yourself a lot of tough questions about where you fit in. Stevens, Fahy, and Dee’s effortless chemistry is buoyed by their supporting cast and the dynamic storylines.
Grown-ish follows Yara Shahidi’s Zoey from the ABC show Black-ish as she heads to college. When Zoey leaves the suburbs, showrunner Kenya Barris (Black-ish, America’s Next Top Model) surrounds her with friends representing many of the demographics a California school would have to offer: there are two black men (one is an artist, one an activist), a Cuban American woman, a bisexual Jewish woman, a first-generation Indian American man, and black twin sisters (track athletes). Grown-ish is a far cry from the genre of early-2000s college films. The show embeds technology use with text and social media pop ups and makes use of pop culture references like current radio hits in the soundtrack and discourse about Drake’s genius status. The writers hit just the right balance of serious and carefree.
In Good Trouble, Mariana (Cierra Ramirez), who is Latina, and Callie (Maia Mitchell), who is white, move to LA for their first jobs out of college and live in a building that’s about as diverse as diverse gets. These adoptive sisters of an interracial lesbian couple originated on ABC’s The Fosters. Showrunners Bradley Bredeweg and Peter Paige pulled Joanna Johnson (The Bold and the Beautiful) from The Fosters’ writers’ room to take the lead on this new venture. Good Trouble is quite different from its parent show, a heartwarming family drama, but the transition feels appropriate. The new show’s nonlinear storytelling, ensemble cast, and sultry undertones help mirror the city life of a busy twenty-something.
If I had to describe Grown-ish, The Bold Type, and Good Trouble in one word, I would probably say unfiltered. Even though Grown-ish is a spin-off of a family friendly sitcom, the rookie show doesn’t pretend that the average college students are squeaky clean. There’s alcohol consumption, and yes, some drug use, and there’s also a group of girls who have each others’ backs at parties. Beyond weekend fun and classes that are harder than Zoey expected them to be, the friends discuss issues ranging from the dangers of social media to colorism, from consent to student activism. However, none of this is forced. The show works because these conversations are organic.
The same thing happens in The Bold Type and Good Trouble. The Bold Type tackles racial identity, reproductive health, immigration, and gun control. Good Trouble offers an intimate look at a police brutality case. All three shows discuss sex and sexuality—namely owning what you want and who you are. Most importantly, the writers aren’t inserting these conversations just to be edgy or make headlines with “issue” episodes. No episode of The Bold Type is an “issue” episode, but every episode seamlessly addresses relevant issues.
In “Rose Colored Glasses,” (season two, episode two of The Bold Type) Kat is promoted to social media director to lead the magazine’s expanded digital presence, making her the youngest department head at Scarlet. The promotion also makes her the first black female department head. Kat doesn’t want to put “first black female department head” in her bio because her race isn’t important part of her achievement. Alex (Matt Ward), a black coworker and writer at Scarlet, questions her decision. Ward conveys the urgency Alex feels as he urges Kat to embrace this part of her identity. Kat reconsiders, but it’s not a decision easily made. Kat’s dad is black and her mom is white, a fact which makes it hard for her to claim her blackness.
Kat isn’t leaving out her race because it isn’t important. She’s doing so because she hasn’t yet figured out how to claim her identity as a black woman. After a discussion with Alex, an emotional conversation with her parents, and a lot of introspection, Kat proudly labels herself Scarlet’s first black female department head. No one tells Kat what she should do—instead, people open the door for her to make a decision.
Despite delving into a biracial black girl’s identity, this episode doesn’t feel like an “issue” episode. The rest of the plot hasn’t abruptly stopped so Kat can have her moment: Sutton feels imposter syndrome in her fashion department job and Jane tries to find success writing outside of Scarlet. No single plot line distracts from another. Sufficient time is dedicated to Kat’s quandary, and the various actors working with Aisha Dee—black, brown, and white—all sit back and let Dee take up the most space in Kat’s story. Since the discussion of race is solidly tied to Kat’s daily life, the episode doesn’t feel like the writers sat down and said Let’s Talk About Race. Race is examined through Kat’s dilemma—the political is anchored in the personal.
Shows about young adult women are nothing new. Before these Freeform breakthroughs, we had shows like New Girl (Fox), Broad City (Comedy Central), and Girls (HBO). But these attempts at capturing the experience of a woman’s new or renewed independence have one thing in common: they’re too narrow. Too narrow as in too white or too privileged. Too narrow as in they focus on representing the experience of a certain kind of millennial. Grown-ish’s main cast only includes one white person. Good Trouble doesn’t pretend that a young Latina’s first job will be easy just because she went to MIT. The Bold Type’s three leading ladies are constantly challenging the status quo. Freeform is following through on their stated goals with the ABC Family rebranding: creating content that connects with their eighteen- to thirty-four-year-old audience.
At the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour earlier this month, announcements were made about all three shows: The Bold Type’s season three premiere date was revealed, Grown-ish was renewed for a third season, and Good Trouble was renewed for a second season, after only the first four episodes had aired. Freeform is enthusiastically putting its money behind these shows and marketing the hell out of them, which says loud and clear that they’ve been commercially successful. The ratings and reviews speak for themselves. Viewers—probably young people like those depicted here—are making a statement about what they want to see on screen.
I hope that Grown-ish, Good Trouble, and The Bold Type keep making waves. I hope that they continue to be unfiltered and unafraid to talk about the hard stuff. I hope they get even better. Let Kat have more than one episode to unpack her racial identity because that’s something that she probably thinks about every day. Have Zoey consider how her socioeconomic status provides her with privilege that not all of her friends have. Make sure that trans people and nonbinary people and people with disabilities are represented too.
Maybe I’m asking for too much. But these three shows, the women that star in them, and the women and people of color that created them have raised my expectations for network television. I’m no longer wasting my time on media that doesn’t represent me. In 2019, television can and should be beautifully bold and diverse. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the next subway poster that will make me stop in my tracks.
Grown-ish airs Wednesdays, Good Trouble airs Tuesdays, and The Bold Type Season 3 premieres April 9, all on Freeform at 8 p.m. EST.