'Grown-ish' season 4B premieres on Thursday, Jan. 27 at 10 p.m. ET on Freeform.
"I'm excited because this is where the rubber hits the road, and all of the theoretical learning moments and journeys that these kids have been on have become really important and grounded in the fact that they have to figure out what they're about to do with the rest of their lives," she shares.
"I feel like the pending, looming, cloud of graduation gives this part of the season such interesting stakes because there is no messing around, you know? Zoey's had her time where she dropped out but she's always known that she could go back to school and that's always been a very stable place. And so, the fact that that's about to be pulled out from under her leads to really interesting storylines of having to distill what matters."
The second half of this season premieres on Thursday, and it picks up right where the first half left off. When fans left the group of eight (still missing is Halle Bailey's Skye as the actress was filming Disney's live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid overseas) in the September midseason finale, "You Beat Me to the Punch," Zoey (Shahidi) and Aaron's (Trevor Jackson) relationship was hanging by a thread after the latter learned his girlfriend accepted an internship from her ex-boyfriend, Luca (Luka Shabbat). The three have been locked in a love triangle since the show's first season, and much of the audience's frustration with Shahidi's character stems from her constant back and forth between these two suitors.
But even frustrating love triangles are part of growing up and Shahidi believes that everything Zoey has been through lends to the character's inner strength and growth.
"I think as much as people love to hate on Zoey -- and I get it, she's an easy person to hate on -- when you put together all the things that she's done in her undergrad years, I feel like, weirdly, it sets her up well for the real world," Shahidi says as she tries to envision what Zoey's future could look like. "Even her having to maneuver the messiness of life and figure out how to restart umpteen times, fifty-eleven times, has been necessary for her. After having so much experience, I'm hoping that post-graduation, we can envision a world for her where she knows where she wants to be in the fashion industry.
We can only hope Shahidi's vision comes true, as fans' first look at the second half of season 4 highlights the precarious struggle Zoey undertakes as she attempts to juggle her love life with Aaron and a rewarding collaboration with Luca on his fashion line, Anti-Muse, which was first created and inspired by their breakup.
Things get complicated when Aaron receives a prestigious grant that will take him to the University of Johannesburg and asks her to join him. Of course, the offer comes after Luca gets an offer to officially launch the Anti-Muse clothing line after an investor shows interest.
"Luca wants me to go with him to New York to launch a brand which I helped build," Zoey tells Aaron in the midseason premiere trailer.
"I don't want to be the petty boyfriend who comes between you and your career," he says to her before another clip shows him asking her to come with him to South Africa.
"Launching could be the opportunity of a lifetime but so is traveling to Africa with Aaron," Zoey's voiceover laments.
It's safe to say that Zoey's senior year will end in the typical, messy bang she always manages to find herself in. But as the eldest Johnson says goodbye to her final year at Cal U, fans will bid farewell to the series that introduced the trendsetter and the rest of the lovingly dysfunctional Johnson family, Black-ish.
Black-ish's eighth and final season kicked off on Jan. 4, and it's already been a roller coaster of emotions for the cast, crew and fans alike.
When asked what kind of legacy she believes the ABC series will leave behind after its final episode airs, Shahidi recalls a moment she shared with her co-star and TV grandfather, Pops, played by Laurence Fishburne.
"One thing that we were saying while we were filming the last season was that, as much as you can say, that the content of this show has had this crazy impact in terms of bringing topics to prime time television that hadn't been discussed in such a long time and bringing Black families centered back to television in a really cool way. One of the impacts that we were most proud of is like the butterfly effect of how many creatives came from Black-ish and were able to start their own shows," the actress says. "How many actors got other opportunities? How many directors got their start on Black-ish and then went off to create special projects?"
"It was more than just being really proud of the doors that have been opened and the fact that this show wasn't settled with being the only Black family on television, but really taking pride in the fact that our goal was to be able to send people off on their way to tell stories that we couldn't," she adds.
The same legacy can be applied to the Freeform drama that's given talents like Chloe Bailey, Diggy Simmons and more, a place to flaunt their talents. "We were taking advantage of the fact that we were on cable and have less structure to be like, 'You've never directed television before? Come here, let's give it a try. You haven't written for television? Come here!'" she reveals.
"So, I feel like we have the craziest and coolest, talented group of committed people that have come from all sorts of different paths -- some traditionally in the writing path, some from being in front of camera -- and watching what they've been able to do, both while being on Grown-ish and post-Grown-ish, has been inspiring. Because it's like, you can only hope that the legacy comes not only with what the show has been able to talk about, but with what everybody that's touched it has been able to do after."
Part two of Grown-ish's fourth season premieres on Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on Freeform, and the next day on Hulu.