Grand Crew Raises a Glass on City TV

A new comedy follows a group of young pals in L.A. who spend their evenings drowning personal and professional sorrows in vino

A new comedy follows a group of young pals in L.A. who spend their evenings drowning personal and professional sorrows in vino

There is no question that life is better with your ride-or-dies, but when your co-stars on a scripted television show about friendship are your real-life besties as well, it gets even better.

In the new comedy from Brooklyn Nine-Nine creator Dan Goor and his longtime fellow B99 writer Phil Augusta Jackson, pals Nicky (Nicole Byer), Wyatt (Justin Cunningham), Anthony (Aaron Jennings), Fay (Grasie Mercedes), Noah (Echo Kellum) and Sherm (Carl Tart) are all trying to navigate life in the City of Angels, while still finding time to break down their love lives, career woes and generally hilarious obstacles to satisfaction over a glass or three of wine.

That the entire cast is Black adds another layer to the narrative, but perhaps not in the way audiences expect. “A lot of times there are certain tropes that get played out in the media with Black people, and we are put into a specific box,” says Jackson. “There’s an opportunity here just to be shown as slice-of-life, everyday folks that are trying to figure stuff out. It’s really just about humanizing the Black experience.”

In the process, the narrative hits close to home for its stars, like with Byer. A recurring Brooklyn Nine-Nine guest star best known for hosting Netflix baking show Nailed It!, her character Nicky does not deviate far from her real-life self. “I know Phil so well. Phil and I did improv together in New York for a very long time,” she says. “She’s based on me, a little bit, so it is my voice. And our writers’ room and Phil are just so talented that everything that was written was just easy to perform.”

Jackson’s other real-life friend Kellum, who played Curtis Holt on CW series Arrow for five seasons, also found it effortless to jump into his character. “He wrote an amazing script and a lot of just really deep, fleshed-out characters. I was very excited to get the opportunity to come and play any part on it,” he says. “I would have been a grip on this show if I had an opportunity to do it, but the character really connected to me in a lot of specific ways. I think we all have a lot of commonalities and experiences that we go through, being young Black professionals just trying to survive in L.A.”

Even if you weren’t living out your character trajectory with Jackson at the wine bar for the past decade, the show seems to ring true to its cast. “I had the opportunity to audition for a few of the characters, and what I loved about it was that each character forced me and enabled me to tap into a different side of myself,” says Jennings. “As you look at the whole group, you see that these are people that I know in life. And I was so happy to see that, especially on a network such as NBC; not only is it fully realized, but there’s also a lot of humour, and a lot of fun that we get to have going to work every day.”

Moreover, the themes of the first season touch upon the trials of almost any young urban professional. “What we tried to do is make sure that every episode did have a theme that is not only relatable at a broader, human level, but is relatable at a Black level,” says Jackson. “We talk about self-care. We talk about the insecurity of status of who makes the money in a relationship. We talk about therapy. We talk about Black men and their fathers. But as far as recurring themes, one is friendship and having your friends there by your side for whatever you are going through, and finding the funny in those situations.”

The showrunner, who also worked as a writer on Issa Rae’s Insecure, wants his new show to differentiate itself from other shows about the Black experience based on its roots in real life. “What made [Insecure] so relatable was the authenticity with which Issa was bringing it to the table. In the same way, I’m trying to share my perspective. That’s going to be what sets this show apart,” Jackson explains.

In doing so, he has also created a unique opportunity for himself and his friends, both old and new. “I feel like sometimes, being a Black person, it’s rare that we get to create with people that are closest to us. I feel like I’m just one Black person in something,” says Kellum. “So, to come do this show with the people that I’m actually close to in life, and really just kill it together is something that I just love.”

Grand Crew airs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. on City & NBC