Gearing up for the final episodes of ABC’s “Black-ish,” 22-year-old Marcus Scribner was happy with his performance in the long-running hit sitcom.
“I was ready to move on from the character,” says Scribner, who was 14 when “Black-ish” debuted, with Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross in the leading roles as Andre and Rainbow Johnson. “But they were like, ‘Hold on one minute. Slow your roll.’”
Late in Season 8, Scribner was approached with a new opportunity. Yara Shahidi had just finished four seasons on “Grown-ish,” Freeform’s college-set “Black-ish” spinoff, and while there was more left for her character, eldest daughter Zoey, to do on the show, she was ready to step back as the main star and focus more on her role as an executive producer. Her first order of business: to pass the torch to her on-screen sibling.
“I cannot take full credit … but I have been pitching the idea of Marcus joining us on ‘Grown-ish’ since Season 1,” says Shahidi, also 22. “We basically grew up together on ‘Black-ish,’ and it made so much sense, because his college journey was abandoned so quickly.”
During the later seasons of “Black-ish,” his character, Junior, dropped out of Howard University and moved in and out of his parents’ house while working odd jobs before finally deciding to give higher education another shot. Much of that storyline focused on the parents, who ultimately learned to let Junior make his own mistakes. But on “Grown-ish,” those mistakes will come under a compassionate microscope.
“We’re able to focus much more on his inner workings and see exactly what makes the character tick,” Scribner says. “He’s always been very loving and gullible, and that has much to do with being the exact opposite of his father. Now, he’s outside of that scope. Who do you become when the training wheels are taken off?”
Scribner is now answering that question for himself. He was acting opposite industry vets Laurence Fishburne and Jenifer Lewis on “Black-ish” before he even finished puberty; “Grown-ish” marks his first time being No. 1 on the call sheet, and he’s certainly enjoying it.
“I’ll be honest: I love to complain. I’m a big complainer if I see something that I don’t think should be happening,” he says. “Especially after talking to Yara and looking at what Anthony has done for so many years. Oftentimes on ‘Black-ish,’ if I would say something, things might not really change. But now, things happen. It’s interesting to learn that side of the business and flex a bit.”
In “Grown-ish” Season 5 premiere “This Is What You Came For,” airing July 20, Junior acclimates to California University, and Zoey returns to visit him and her now-long-distance boyfriend, Aaron (Trevor Jackson). She tries to make her new life in New York City seem easy-breezy, but it’s clear that she’s struggling with the transition.
“Zoey has bravado, but she’s still developing confidence. The two can be easily conflated,” Shahidi says. “We’re going to watch her hit another level, where she’s in a relationship not because she needs to be in one, but because she wants to. It’s very different being on the same campus versus killing the game in their respective fields. They don’t need each other so much,” she says of Aaron.
Like her character, Shahidi also recently graduated from college, in her case from Harvard in May.
“It’s interesting to see what an autonomous Zoey looks like,” she says. “We’re figuring out what it means that you can spend that much time by yourself.”