For the past decade, The CW has dominated the TV teen drama space. And with Friday Night Lights off the air, the network can satiate appetites for both sports and high school fare with its new football drama All American.
From Berlanti Productions and showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll, All American is a glossy, nearly perfect hour of television, despite the stereotypes and cliches that plague the writing. Based on the life of NFL player Spencer Paysinger, the series follows Spencer James (British newcomer Daniel Ezra), who is recruited by high school football coach Billy Baker (Taye Diggs), and relocates from Compton to Beverly Hills for a better shot at making it to the pros. Playing for Beverly Hills High School also provides Spencer an escape from the violence and bad influences surrounding him in his neighborhood. While he’s hesitant to leave, his single mother (Karmiah Westbrook) and brother (Jalyn Hall) encourage him to go, so he can make a better life for them all.
As the season kicks off, you’ll be thrown into soapy elements, like Spencer having to move in with Coach Baker, his wife Laura (Monet Mazur), his son and Spencer’s soon-to-be teammate Jordan (Michael Evans Behling) and his daughter Olivia (Samantha Logan). He’s then thrust into the typical high school nightlife — what looks like a burgeoning love triangle with Olivia and popular, rich girl Leila (Greta Onieogou). He also comes into conflict with another football player (Cody Christian), who thinks he’s stealing his shine.
For the most part, it's not done in a patronizing way — it’s sex, drinking, sports, and teen melodrama. Think Friday Night Lights and The O.C. with a dash of Straight Outta Compton. The storylines and “teens by the beach” backdrop make the show very reminiscent of these mid-2000s teen soaps, following a formula that's proven television gold. However, this also leaves room for the missteps along the way.
Photo: Art Streiber/The CW
Culture-clash plot lines have been hit or miss this fall, and the show does have its own share of missteps, one huge one being how it generalizes and stereotypes South Central Los Angeles. Spencer’s old neighborhood is portrayed as a violent trap that no one can escape. Though the storyline is told in a way to humanize the people from the area, it still feels off.
There’s also an issue that will likely cause dialogue online. Taye Diggs — who is no stranger to related controversy off-screen — plays a character who is married to a white woman, and aside from Bre-Z, who stars as Spencer’s best friend Tiana "Coop" Cooper, there is a lack of young, dark skinned women in the cast. This is especially apparent when it comes to Spencer's love interests. But the show preemptively addresses potential controversies with storylines on privilege, colorism, class and society’s impact on racial identity in later episodes, as well as ripped-from-the-headlines plotlines, like an unexpected encounter with the LAPD.
The show is set to unwrap complex themes like sexuality and sexual identity within the context of a socially conservative, religious Black family, interracial relationships and Black fatherhood. It's a huge task for the show with much room for error. But with the burgeoning brotherhood between Spencer and Jordan across economic lines being one of the show's brightest spots, All American is poised to handle the gravity of the themes it wants to tackle.
Despite the few blemishes in the storytelling, the show has all the makings of being a hit show. And if it becomes more socially and culturally responsible throughout the course of its time on the air — even better.