‘All American’ Pilot Review: The Inspiring, Smart Sports Drama I’ve Been Waiting For

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t waiting for another high-school sports drama since the end of Friday Night Lights. Not that All American is a recreation of the classic series that remains in my top three favorite shows til this day.

Football. Teenagers. Adults. Boosters. Hot people. Drama.

That’s what All American and Friday Night Lights have in common. But there’s so much more to All American than the comparisons to FNL and The O.C.

All American is based on the life of former pro football player Spencer Paysinger, tells the story of up-and-coming football star Spencer James, who’s recruited by a coach in Beverly Hills, and is soon introduced to a world unlike his home of Crenshaw.

Some have called All American a blend of Friday Night Lights and The O.C., which is a nice compliment. But it’s important to remember what All American is building is vastly different. Unlike The O.C., where Ryan Atwood left his hometown behind and didn’t look back, Spencer will balance living in Beverly Hills during the week and living in Crenshaw during the weekends.

Even though it’s just the pilot, there was so much to glimpse about what this show can be. This is a show that, yes, has a foundation of football. But it’s a show with so many unique and intriguing characters that are sure to make for interesting dynamics. Then there’s the whole reason we’re here: Spencer’s journey. Because while Spencer might be eager to reach the final destination, we’re all here for the ride.

There’s so much I loved about the pilot, from the football of it all to representation to the family dynamics. Let’s break it down:


Football! Football! Football!

Now, this isn’t even remotely the most important thing about All American, but as the football fanatic that I am, I can’t help but feel an explicable draw to this show that’s based in football. Honestly, it was the hook that got me to start watching Friday Night Lights. But it was the personal connections and the characters that got me to stay for the long haul.

But with that said, I’ve been searching for a football drama to fill the void of Friday Night Lights for what feels like an eternity. Now, nothing can ever replace Friday Night Lights in my life (hands down one of my favorite shows ever), but these are the kinds of shows I want more of.

I’ve been waiting for a show like All American in the past few years. Especially from a network like The CW. I don’t need any more superhero shows. I want the kind of show that doesn’t need the gravitas of the supernatural or super-heroic. I just wanted someone to create complex, imperfect characters and throw them together and let us watch what happens.

Football is a huge draw for me. But I take pride in knowing that perhaps someone that hasn’t discovered the love of football just yet might come into this show for a different reason and want to know more about football. All American is a show that can teach its audience everything from representation to growth mindset to football. And that’s something that I already love.


Representation!

While The CW usually gets a lot of flack for being the home to teenage angst and subpar acting (which isn’t always the case), you can’t deny that no major network is doing representation better than The CW. Because it understands its Millennial audience. And it understands the world we live in. And, you know what, it’s not afraid to get right in your face and show you just how damn proud it is to be a network rich in diversity and representation.

All American has already established itself as a show that’s important for representation of all kinds. Not only do we have an African American lead male, who gets to write his own narrative, but there’s additional adversity in race and sexuality. The Baker family is a biracial family, with a black father, white mother, and biracial children. Then there’s Coop, who has already become one of my favorite characters, who is beginning her coming-out story as she’s seeking love and acceptance in this world.

This show is going to continue to not only address social issues (as it should), but also embrace who these characters are and how that affects how they live their lives. This show is going to serve as a poster for what representation should look like on television and why representation is important now more than ever.


 

It’s Not Just About Football for Spencer.

There’s so much for Spencer to learn in this journey we call All American. When we meet Spencer, he’s what you could call over confident or a tad cocky when it comes to his skill as a receiver. He knows his football worth. He knows that he’s good enough to make it to the NFL. It’s why he initially takes a chance on Coach Baker’s offer to come play at Beverly High. But as we soon learn early on in the pilot, Spencer has a lot to learn if he wants to reach his dream of the NFL.

If you watch the NFL, you know that N.F.L. stands for “Not For Long.” But what’s even harder than maintaining a stable career in the NFL is ever getting there. There are thousands of college football players, but only 1.6% of college football players actually make it to the NFL. And that astounding statistic is not lost on Coach Baker, as he is quick to inform Spencer that this entire experience is about more than just his NFL dream. It’s his way out. It’s his back-up plan. Because even though Spencer — and others that aspired to play in the NFL — don’t want to have a back-up plan, it’s ridiculous not to have one.

With Spencer going to Beverly High, he’s not only getting a shot at his NFL dream, but he’s also getting an opportunity to better his education. Spencer is a smart kid, which I don’t feel was pointed out enough in the pilot. He’s a straight A student with natural intuition and instinct both on the field and in the classroom. And eventually Spencer realizes that this is a multi-faceted opportunity where, either way, he has the chance to make a better life for his mom and younger brother.

Then there’s that whole cliche, “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” But it’s true. And while we all know the cliche, sometimes we still lose sight of what it means to be a part of a team. Spencer is so focused on furthering himself and getting himself  to the NFL that he’s too busy showing off to really get to know his new teammates and play for the team, not the individual.

And while going to Beverly is guided by Spencer’s dreams of going pro and bettering his education, it’s also about bettering himself as a person. Sports teach you discipline. And early in the episode, it’s clear that Spencer lost sight of that. Instead of trusting Coach Baker when he moved him to safety, Spencer refused to play because he wasn’t playing the position he wanted to play. It was like watching a kid throwing a temper tantrum because he didn’t get what he wanted.

That’s what I love about Spencer as a character — and all these characters, honestly — is that he’s not perfect. He’s flawed, and the show doesn’t try to hide it. Spencer himself doesn’t try to hide it. He owns up to it. Because he wants to become better. And he recognizes that’s the beginning of it. Spencer is going to learn from his mistakes, from the adversity he has to face. He’ll also learn from the successes and how not to get complacent in the face of success.


That Twist!

Okay, so I’m not the only one whose mind jumped to, “Ohmygod Coach Baker is Spencer’s father” with that twist at the end. But according to the showrunner, the so-called “truth” that Baker and Spencer’s mother are hiding isn’t what we all think. And given that myself, as well as the majority of Twitter, believe that the “truth” involves Baker being Spencer’s father, I can’t help but speculate as to what this “truth” could possibly be otherwise. (No, honestly I have no idea. Blame it on my exhaustion or the fact that I’ve only seen one episode.)

Now the only question — well, besides what is truth — is when are we going to figure out what these two are hiding? Because I don’t think the “truth” is going to be the thing this entire season is building to. More like it’s going to be a catalyst in Spencer’s journey.


All American introduced us to quite the cast of characters, some of which we got to know fairly well (like Spencer and Coach Baker) and others we’re just beginning to crack the surface on. Let’s take a look:

Spencer

Our lead character who is flawed and wonderful. This is a journey for Spencer. It’s about so much more than just Spencer being a great football player. It’s about him learning about what it means to be a part of a team. About taking advantage of every opportunity. It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey. What you learn along the way, what you learn about yourself. You learn from your mistakes, you learn from the struggles and challenges. You also learn from your successes and how to never be satisfied.


Coach Baker

Coach Baker is a man of mystery of secrets. Some of those secrets we know, including how he broke the rules to recruit Spencer to Beverly to help save his job. He’s so dead-set on how Spencer is the one to help save his job at Beverly. But is that the only reason why he’s so keen on Spencer coming to Beverly? There’s a huge secret that he, and Spencer’s mom, are keeping from Spence and us, the adoring audience.


Olivia

The girl that I already ship with Spencer, and I blame The CW if this ends up going horribly wrong. Olivia is Coach Baker’s daughter, whose relationship with her brother Jordan is estranged. In fact, her standing at Beverly is askew after her stint in rehab. She hit some rough times and turned to pills as a release. She’s been out of rehab for three months, but Spencer was the only one to actually ask her if she was okay. I don’t think she is.


Layla

The girl who’s introduced to us as Spencer’s crush, Layla isn’t a snobby rich girl — although her taste in men is questionable given her being in a relationship with a guy like Asher. She’s taken a liking to Spencer, whether because he’s hot or he’s shiny and new or perhaps something else. We got a tease that Layla might be a lot lonelier than she lets on.


Coop

An absolute badass of a friend to Spencer. Coop is out here trying to live her life to its fullest and craves acceptance. There’s some great stuff coming our way, including Coop’s coming-out story and what looks like gang trouble. Spencer’s absence surely plays a role. Who will protect Coop in Spencer’s absence? I feel like it’s a good example of how I’m sure Spencer will feel a pull toward Crenshaw while also desiring to reach his dream.


Jordan

Coach Baker’s son, who happens to also be the quarterback on Beverly. It’s obvious that Jordan’s relationship with his father is strained. And there’s this need to want to please his father, which is evidenced by his extreme jealously once his dad starts favoring Spencer.


Asher

The token ignorant white boy. Let’s hope there’s more to him than just that.


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



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