|Daniel Ezra and Taye Diggs (The CW)|
Inspired by the life of NFL player Spencer Paysinger, All American is The CW’s newest family-ish soap opera drama that is part Friday Night Lights and part Beverly Hills 90210. The story centers on Spencer James (Daniel Ezra) a hot-headed high school football star at South Crenshaw High School. Spencer uses his anger for his father that left his family years ago to feul his energy on the field where one football game victory is quickly interrupted by a drive by shooting. For some it’s a shocking event, for others, it’s just another weekend.
Watching this particular game is Billy Baker (Taye Diggs) who is actually Beverly High School’s football couch on a mission to recruit Spencer to switch schools and play for him. Spencer knows that Billy can’t be recruiting players but Billy says that everything for a school transfer would be completely legal. He says that he can provide a way from Spencer to move up in the world and pave the way for him to make it to the NFL some day.
Spencer isn’t convinced that this would be the best plan for him, but the urging of his mother Grace (Karimah Westbrook) and best friend, Coop (Bre-Z), he decides to give the high class with sushi Fridays a look-see. On his first day there, he is surprised to see all of the other students pull out their laptops to do their schoolwork while he doesn’t have one. One student, Olivia (Samantha Logan) lets him look over hers and she introduces him to her group of friends including Jordan (Michael Evans Behling) who happens to be Olivia’s brother and both just happen to be son and daughter of Coach Baker.
As to be expected, Spencer doesn’t mix in well with his teammates and some plot to find a way to get rid of him like invite him to a “little” party at one of the kids’ homes and get him smashed so that he can’t function well the day after. (This might be the weakest part of the pilot episode. I can’t tell if it seems unrealistic because of the supposed extravagance, the fact that some kids are drinking and snorting and no one is alarmed by this or that the fact that the there appears to be no adult on the premises. Yes, I am well aware that drinking and drugs at teen parties are nothing new, but like Riverdale, the show wants us to believe that these teens can handle their booze like a responsible adult. Even if they could, this seems like irresponsible plot choice for a show that has the potential to attract a lot of teens.)
Soon, Spencer’s transfer to the new school becomes a problem and in order for things to be “up and up,” he’ll need to move in with Coach Baker, an idea that doesn’t sit well with Baker’s son. Before the episode is over, we find that this idealistic family may not be so idealistic after all. The coach’s kids have their own anger issues as well, but for different reasons and as if the show had ran out of time to explain everything, it teases that Spencer’s friend Coop might have joined a gang and Coach Baker pays a visit to Spencer’s mother and says, “We have to tell Spencer…” and just like that, the show goes from Afternoon Special to adult soap opera.
At this point, it’s hard to say if All American “works” or not. The show feels a bit unbalanced where some scenes feel unrealistic and then are followed by some tenderness between Spencer and his mom. Also, it’s hard to feel compassion for those struggling in Beverly Hills, but hey, it’s been done before. What makes this show worthy a watch is the casting. Even if their characters haven't all been fleshed out just yet, the actors are still enjoyable to watch. It’s still too soon to see the ultimate direction this show is going to go or which show it wants to be. Soap opera or family drama. I'd hope for a side of wholsomeness, but that is probably asking too much.
All American airs on Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m. on The CW.