Freeform has finally launched one of their three unscripted series of the year, The Come Up.

Produced by Cousins with Megan Sanchez-Warner (The Real Housewives of Orange Country) as showrunner, the show follows six young creatives as they follow their dreams – while grappling with love and friendship – in a post-pandemic New York. 

Airing Tuesdays on the streamer, the diverse cast includes Claude Shwartz, Fernando Casablancas, Taofeek Abijako, Ben Hard, Ebon Trower and Sophia Wilson, who are all thriving in their respective fields. 

Claude is a rising actress who studied the practical aesthetics technique at David Mamet’s Atlantic Theater Company, the Meisner technique, before graduating from Tufts in 2020. More recently, Claude appeared in an off-off-Broadway production at the Tank, directed by Alton Aburo, and walked in the Batsheva show at New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2022. 

Applauding The Come Up for its racial and sexual diversity, Claude says the series introduces “so many different points of view in how we approach our identities,” and is a “reflection of how much diversity is within the LGBTQ+ community.” 

“The show does a really good job at representing what it actually means to be queer in this day and age,” adds Fernando, who is on the cusp of becoming the next international star in the modelling industry. 

In the past year, Fernando has appeared in campaigns for iconic brands such as Balmain, Charlotte Tilbury, Wales Bonner and Chrome Hearts, and taken to the catwalk for Balmain and Bottega Veneta. 

“Having queer people running the show also made the story authentic and honest,” they continue. “For us to be able to tell our stories and live our truth and be celebrated for it is the most perfect example of how to treat queerness in this world.

“We live in a world where there’s so many horrible things happening, so to be able to shed some light into the beauty and magic that queer people bring to the world actually makes a huge difference in the long run. To be able to see someone like me…

“If I were a kid seeing someone like me on TV, maybe it would’ve taken me way less time to figure out who the hell I was.”

The youngest designer to have ever shown his work at New York Fashion Week, Taofeek tells GAY TIMES that it was “inspiring” to see his queer cast-mates continuously be “so strong” and “own their identity”. 

“I had moments when I was younger and moving to a different country and still struggling with who I am as a person and what my role is in society,” he explains. “I felt way more comfortable being around Fernando, Ebon and Claude and the rest of the cast.”

Taofeek, whose designs have appeared in the pages of Vogue, dressed Marvel star Danai Gurira and Gossip Girl’s Evan Mock at the Met Gala earlier this year, and is now hoping to branch out into costume design for feature films. 

San Antonio native Ben moved to New York to hone his skills as an actor, comedian and dancer. In the Spring, he starred in Eastine Theater’s adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac before debuting his first stand-up comedy performance at The Broadway Comedy Club. 

While Ben wants viewers to be entertained by the series, he also wants them to “resonate” with how the six creatives attempt to balance “the diagram of professional and personal happiness.” 

“You watch something and then you realise, ‘Oh wow, something about that has really stuck with me, I’ve been thinking about that for a little while,'” he says. “I hope it scratches whatever itches people have going on creatively or whatever career aspirations they have, or identity questions or personal questions.”

As a Black trans woman who didn’t see herself in the mainstream growing up, Ebon signed onto the series to be “that representation” for queer youth who are coming to terms with their sexuality and/or gender identity. 

“I wanna see girls like me so I was like, ‘I’ll just do it and I’ll be that girl that everyone sees,'” says the Brooklyn nightlife staple and member of the Nosferatu collective, who are most notable for their jaw-dropping Baroque Ball in Summer 2021. 

“We need to keep in mind that each of us are queer and trans and stuff like that, but we all have very different experiences,” she continues.

“The experience that Fernando has, I don’t have. The experience that I have, Fernando doesn’t have. I think that’s displayed so well in this show, as well as Claude being a trans woman. Her experiences are different from mine as a Black trans woman.” 

Since she first held a camera at age 13, Sophia has shot campaigns for Google, Nike, Peloton, Converse, Fenty, Instagram and Pepsi, as well as iconic publications such as Vogue, Elle, New York Magazine, i-D, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. 

With her work exploring “Black womanhood” and coming-of-age themes, Sophia felt like she “had a lot to say” on The Come Up. 

“When the show approached me and they wanted to highlight my work and my career, I thought, ‘How incredible that I could be one of the first Black female photographer role models for a lot of other kids that may watch a show like this,'” she admits.

“If my work gets to speak to a larger audience, I’m so down.” 

The first four episodes of The Come Up are now available on Freeform. Two episodes will air each week, with all episodes available to stream on Hulu the day after they air.