‘All American’ 1×03 Review: There’s No “I” in Team

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There may not be an “i” in team, but there is an “i” in family.

It’s no secret that the Beverly Hills football team has been at odds since Spencer’s arrival. And that’s been as much on the existing players as it is on Spencer. No one was in the right here. Both sides seemed to want the same exact thing: Acceptance.

And while it took some time, an after-hours football scrimmage against Crenshaw, a reality check on Spencer’s front, and a team meeting, for the first time it really feels like this squad took a step forward in becoming a team. Now, I don’t think they’re there just yet. It’s one thing to say you’re a team, and it’s another thing to prove it. But this was a big obstacle that this team put behind them in order to build that strong family dynamic that Spencer had with Crenshaw before.

All American continues to be the kind of show that I want more of. It has something for everybody. Sports? Check. Teenage drama and angst? Check. Weekly lessons? Check. Shining a light on social injustices? Check. Entertainment? Check.

In its third episode, All American not only tackled the issue of what it means to be a team and the harsh reality of coming out to your family, but it also addressed the issue of police brutality. While it happened near the end of the episode, it didn’t negate its impact. In fact, the way that the show dealt with it made it feel more authentic as a result. It didn’t dedicate an entire episode to it. It dealt with it as it happened, and then it dealt with the fallout as a result.

Then there’s this whole mystery surrounding the “truth” regarding Coach Baker’s connection to Spencer. This show is doing everything to convince us that Coach Baker is Spencer’s father, which at this point I’m leaning towards believing. But it still seems too easy.

Now that Jordan learned that his dad used to date Spencer’s mom, there’s a red flag waving in the wind. And you know damn well Jordan is going to further explore this. If not now, sooner rather than later. Perhaps Jordan uncovers the truth that his dad really is Spencer’s father. Or perhaps he learns something else shocking about this connection.

Let’s break down the third episode of All American, where Spencer learned what it means to be a part of a team, Coop came out to her family, and where the show tackled the issue of police brutality.


What It Means to Be a Team

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Everyone knows the cliche saying, “There’s no ‘i’ in team.” But that cliche has a lot of truth in it. It’s so easy to get sucked into what “I” want; what’s good for “me;” how this is going to affect “me.” And we’ve seen that with Spencer from the pilot episode. And, yes, Spencer is our central character and we’re supposed to root for him, but that doesn’t mean that he’s flawless. If anything, it’s his flaws that make him relatable.

We can understand why he feels the way he does. Spencer was taken out of the only situation he’s ever known and thrown into a new place that presents so many amazing opportunities. The reason he’s at Beverly Hills is to achieve for himself. But that doesn’t mean that Spencer has to do it — or can do it — all by himself.

There’s been a divide within this Eagles team since Spencer first arrived. A lot of that had to do with first impressions gone wrong, miscommunication, misplaced anger, and a lack of acceptance from all parties involved.

Spencer is so focused on how the team isn’t accepting him. But Coop so smartly points out that “acceptance goes both ways.” Spencer needs to take a step back and examine how he’s been treating his team, as well. To get respect, you have to give respect.

I’ve always loved this whole idea where a team divided comes together through somewhat convenient but necessary circumstances. Where through these circumstances they learn how to be a team. I always think back to that Friday Night Lights scene where the team is running through the pouring rain and encouraging each other to keep pushing through. Or One Tree Hill where Lucas and Nathan are forced to team up against a common enemy and learn along the way that they’re more similar than they once thought. Because before, it was an unfair judgement — believing you know someone before you even try to get to know them.

So as Spencer had something to prove to his former team, Jordan challenged the Crenshaw team to a scrimmage. He called up their Beverly Hills teammates to come down to Crenshaw.

And then something amazing happened: They showed up. Even Asher. And then something else amazing happened: They played together as a team. They helped each other up after a play, they cheered for each other, and they played for each other.

But wait, then something even better happened: Spencer brought the team together back in Beverly for the game-changing moment that changed this team forever. In the best possible way. Once Spencer realized that he’d been judging them as much as they’d been judging him, his eyes were opened to just how much a team this is and how much he wants to be a part of it.

So Spencer calls them together, he thanks them for showing up today and the previous night, and he takes accountability for his actions. And once he does, they all do. When Spencer tries to blame the loss on himself, everyone else pipes up with a mistake they made to show that this isn’t a game won or lost on one play or by one player. This is a team effort. This is a team sport. And if they want to be great, they have to play like a team.


Every Team Needs a Leader

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A team is not one person. A team is a group of people that collectively come together with one common goal. A team is a group of people that work together to achieve said goal. But with that said, every team needs a leader or few.

And while that leader might eventually be Spencer, that leader right now is Jordan. Quarterback is a position important for a slew of reasons. The quarterback gets a bulk of the glory and the brunt of the blame. It comes with the territory. But while the quarterback is the most important player on the field — because he touches the ball offensively on every down — the quarterback is also the person that is the leader of a team. And in this episode, we saw Jordan step up and do whatever it took to rally his teammates together. Including going to Spencer’s hometown.

When it comes to acceptance, you have to understand where the other side comes from. In this instance, Jordan wanted to see and understand where Spencer was coming from — both in a literal sense and a figurative sense. Crenshaw is vastly different from Beverly Hills, and Jordan got an up close look at that. But Jordan also got a glimpse into the mindset of Spencer. How Spencer was a part of this team that was close like a family — something he has with his own team — and you could see the understanding there. That’s what Spencer’s been missing. That bond. That family. That team.

Then there was the bonding. Spencer and Jordan bonded through their love of music, opinions, and more. It was nice to see these two just bonding as individuals, which makes that bonding on the football field effortless. A leader takes the time to lead. Everyone. They make the effort. Jordan wasn’t just claiming to be the leader of this team, he showed it.

But Spencer also showed that he has the potential to be another leader on this team. And I have no doubt that’s where his journey is headed. He took an important step forward in calling the team together and taking accountability for where he messed up in their previous game. And that inspired his teammates to do the same. That’s what a leader does. They inspire. They lead by example. They make an impact.


What’s This Awkward Love Square?

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Olivia likes Spencer who likes Layla who used to be best friends with Olivia who had a drunken hook-up with Layla’s boyfriend Asher who happens to also like Olivia.

Sounds like the perfect recipe for a teen drama!

One of my favorite things on All American are the many different relationships and how they are entwined with other relationships. And since there’s no teen drama without romance — I wouldn’t have it any other way! — I’m finding this sudden love square intriguing to say the least.

There are so many different dynamics at work with Spencer, Olivia, Layla, and Asher. Olivia likes Spencer and he seems to like her, too, but they might be half-siblings. Spencer likes Layla, but she seems intent on keeping things friendly since she’s dating Asher. Olivia and Layla used to be best friends before Olivia slept with Asher when she was doped out on drugs months back. Asher is dating Layla and seems to care about her, but then there’s this weird vibe I’m getting between him and Olivia that has me incredibly intrigued.

The cool thing is that there are so many catalysts you could throw into the mix that could set the whole thing off. If Spencer really is Coach Baker’s son, that’s something that will affect everything. Then there’s the obvious of Olivia and Asher’s hook-up that would blow the lid off this place.

And the thing is, you know it’s coming. You’re just waiting for the show. And I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty excited to see it all go down.


More Female Friendships Please!

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I’m not going to lie, I was pretty upset when this whole notion that Olivia and Layla had been best friends and were now not friends. Because what this entertainment world needs more of is female friendships and less of females going at each other’s throats.

While I don’t necessarily agree with how Olivia chose to handle her ill-advised decision to sleep with Layla’s boyfriend in a drugged stupor, I can understand why Olivia pushed Layla away. The guilt. The shame. The desire to not hurt her best friend anymore than she’d been hurt.

But I admire the hell out of Layla for being the one to take the first step in reconciling this friendship. By approaching their teacher to pair them up with this English assignment, Layla gave them an opportunity to hang out and remember how things were just a few months ago.

But in the process, Olivia was reminded of what she had done to her best friend in sleeping with Asher. She was hiding from the truth — running from it, in fact. Hell, she was sprinting from the truth. But Olivia could only run for so long before those feelings returned. The feelings of love for her best friend and the reminder that friendship is so rare and important.

So while it’s nice that Olivia and Layla have begun the process of rebuilding their friendship, there’s this big secret looming over them. The fact that Olivia slept with Asher. And while Olivia and Asher decided to pretend it never happened, that doesn’t change the fact that it did. It also doesn’t change the fact that the truth always comes out in the end. And it will. You can count on it.


Coop’s New Beginning

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There are no words to discuss my love for Coop and her storyline on All American. It’s done so perfectly in its realism and its flaws that it makes for really good television. We’ve known from the pilot that Coop is gay. And she hasn’t denied it. Nor has she tried to hide it. She knows it’s a part of her. But she also hasn’t said it aloud. That all changed in this episode.

Coop’s relationship with Patience, a girl in Coop’s mom’s church choir, made her debut and certainly shook things up for the better but not necessarily the smooth. We saw how effortlessly Coop and Patience connected, and you could really feel that Coop felt like herself when she was with Patience. It was new. It was scary. It was exciting. It was empowering.

This season is sure to follow Coop’s journey as she reveals herself to be a gay woman in this world. And the first step came when she came out to her mother. Coop has never tried to hide it — and you could see that her mom had suspected as much. But it wasn’t until Coop said it out loud that it became real.

To Coop’s mom, Coop was just “confused.” But Coop did the courageous and strong thing, which is to stand up for who she really is and shout it with no regrets. But in the process, Coop’s mom kicked her out of the house. Her mom kicked her out because she wasn’t who her God-fearing mom wanted her to be.

But you know what, Coop instantly recognized that when her mom gave her the ultimatum to follow her rules under her roof. Coop was not going to sacrifice who she is to please someone who couldn’t accept who she is. Nor should she have to.

So when we leave Coop, she goes to Spencer’s house, where she’s welcomed with open arms. A nice contrast to the world she was leaving behind.


The Wrongs of Police Brutality

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All American is a show that promoted itself as a medium that would tackle social injustices head on. And it’s the perfect show to do as much. So after the first two episodes really introduced us to these characters and this world they live in, All American tackled the all too-important issue of police brutality. And it has no plans to shy away from it any time soon.

After a successful team bonding session in Crenshaw, Jordan and Spencer were driving back to Beverly when they’re pulled over by two white police officers. Almost instantly, they’re harassed by these white cops. During the exchange, there’s a clear indication that Spencer understands what’s happening but Jordan does not. Jordan gets into a dispute with one of these cops, which ends with him out of his car and thrown onto the pavement. Spencer soon follows.

This raised the all too-important issue of police brutality in a way that felt cathartic. Here you had Spencer, a black teenager that has known for years that these cops see his blackness as a weapon, and then you had Jordan, a biracial — but still black — teen that had never experienced this or knew what it felt like to be discriminated against and mistreated by the law. You got two different vantage points that both ended in one universal truth: Police brutality is a very real thing.

Spencer got “the talk” when he was young. The talk about how his blackness is viewed as a weapon by the police. Where if he’s ever stopped by the cops to put his hands on the dash so they can always see them. Where you should never question or argue with police.

Jordan never got the talk. And Spencer asks Coach Baker why. Coach Baker thought that since he had gotten out of Crenshaw and into Beverly that Jordan had time before he had to experience the harsh reality of life as a black man in America. But it doesn’t matter the circumstances — whether you live in Crenshaw or Beverly Hills — being black is being black. And there’s a weight that comes with that. There’s an understanding that you’re looked at differently.

This is an issue that needs more exposure, and I’m incredibly glad All American is giving it that. I also loved how All American addressed the issue. It didn’t have to dedicate an entire episode to police brutality to get its point across. It managed to do that in a subtle way that was still impactful. It showed this issue in a real light. I hope we’ll get to see more moving forward.


All American airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW.

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