‘All American’ 1×02 Review: A Tale of Two Worlds & Two Phases

How can it feel like after just two episodes of All American that I feel like I’ve been watching this show forever? In the sense that I understand these characters. I understand the important things and get pleasure out of watching these characters rise and fall and grow before my very eyes.

We are so very blessed to have a show like All American. It’s a little bit of Friday Nights Light mixed with The O.C. and potentially with a splash of One Tree Hill. All favorites of mine that have become beloved classics.

Football. Family. Romance. Challenges. Complex characters. Real-world issues. How could you not love this show?

In All American’s second episode, Spencer learned that it’s easier said than done when it comes to playing two sides — be it offense and defense or Crenshaw and Beverly Hills. A reminder that while this show might have shades of Friday Night Lights and The O.C., that when it’s all said and done, it’s just All American.

Let’s break down All American’s second episode, where Spencer learns you can’t have it both ways, that family is my more important than anything, and speculate about the truth that this show keeps trying to sell us.

Can You Play It Both Ways?

If you’ve played football, hell if you’ve watched football, you know the physical demands of the job. Offense. Defense. Both are two physically-demanding phases of football. You pick one and you live and die by it. Playing both offense and defense? Not best practice.

That’s not to say it can’t be done. That you can’t play both ways. You see it all the time. But when you have the potential and talent of someone like Spencer, do you risk compromising yourself at one position trying to strain yourself for two?

For Spencer, he found out the hard way that you can’t have it both ways. At least in the sense that you have control. While Spencer was fighting to play on both defense and offense, he was also fighting between his new life in Beverly Hills and his old life in Crenshaw.

While Spencer still goes home to Crenshaw on the weekends, the fact of the matter is that it’s no longer the same home he once knew. Because while Spencer spends weekends in Crenshaw — and the occasion couple hours on weekdays because he just can’t stay away — he’s not the same person he once was nor does he understand Crenshaw like he once did. And, in a way, that makes it even harder. Because it makes it harder for him to protect those he cares about. Mom. Dylan. Coop.

“You can’t save the world, Spencer. You have to save yourself.”

Spencer is someone that will put others’ — the people he cares about — needs before his own. He tries to take care of everyone, to protect everyone, and to shoulder all of the weight. Almost like he’s trying to prove something to himself. That he’s not the man his father was. To prove that he’s not someone that will walk away and stop thinking about those he left behind. To prove that he’s not someone that will walk away and never return.

That’s why it’s important for Spencer to be in Crenshaw when he can. It’s why he sneaks away during weeknights. Because weekends aren’t enough. He doesn’t want the people he cares about and who care about him to think that he’s abandoned them. Like his father did. Spencer isn’t someone that leaves those he loves behind.

It’s also why it’s important for this show to highlight both sides of Spencer: His old life in Crenshaw and his new life in Beverly Hills. Ever since Spencer decided to go to Beverly, he hasn’t been that same person. He’s changed. Even if he doesn’t think he has. Once his eyes were opened to this world and the possibilities of what it can do for him, everything changed.

Can you have it both ways? Yes and no. Yes, in a sense that you can juggle these two worlds, these two sides to yourself. No, in a sense that you can’t risk not straining yourself in the process.

Coop’s Trouble

There’s no bigger supporter of Spencer’s success than Coop. (Other than his mom, but that goes without saying.) It’s what makes it so heartbreaking that Coop is the one that is suffering as a result of Spencer moving to Beverly Hills.

But make no mistake, Coop doesn’t look at it that way. She looks at it like Spencer is out there living his best life and getting the opportunities he deserves. Coop understands that after having relied on Spencer to live, she now has to find a way to survive without him.

So Coop gets dragged into some gang activity. With Spencer gone, it’s easier to get to Coop. And Coop, in a way, still needs protection. Shawn and this gang promote themselves to be a family. To always have each others’ backs. Which is swell and all, but this is a gang. There’s no warm and fuzzies here.

Shawn is trying to appeal to Coop’s weakness, which is the fact that she doesn’t have Spencer anymore. Not like she used to. That aloneness, that vulnerability made her fresh for the taking. And while Coop is someone that can walk away — as she did earlier in the episode — there’s something that keeps pulling her back.

And again, it bears repeating, Coop in no way faults Spencer. In fact, Coop almost sees it as now it’s her turn to protect Spencer. She’s able to give him the opportunity to go and live the life he wants; to live out his dream; to get out of this place. If she can’t, at least her best friend can.

Family > Football

The hallmark of any good story are the characters. And the hallmark of great characters are the relationships they have. All American, in just two episodes, has done a good job of establishing multiple dynamics and emphasizing the importance of family — blood or not — above all. Even football. (Shocking words from me, I know.)

All American made it clear in the pilot that this show was going to have a heavy dose of family focus. And in its second episode, it provided some really compelling stuff.

Let’s recap:

  • Coach Baker used to play in the NFL, but a knee injury ended his career prematurely.
  • Coach Baker lost the light in his eye as a result.
  • Coach Baker got the coaching job at Beverly High and found a purpose again.
  • Olivia, his daughter, is fresh off a rehab stint, and it doesn’t seem like her family cares.
  • Jordan, his son, is desperately seeking approval from his father and not getting it.
  • And the mom, well, we don’t really know anything about her yet.

Enter Spencer, who is the catalyst to this whole thing. Coach Baker is so focused on Spencer’s arrival — and how he is the key to winning and keeping his job — that his family becomes background noise.

Coach Baker’s intense focus on Spencer drives Jordan to act possessive and take his anger towards his father out on Spencer. Olivia, thankfully, hasn’t spiraled. But it’s an issue that definitely arises in this episode.

I don’t know when it happened. If it was seeing Spencer get hurt. If it was hearing Jordan talk about how much he wants to please his father. If it was hearing Olivia confirm it all. But Coach Baker had a come-to-Jesus moment where he realized that he’d been chasing this gratification from football that he lost sight of the thing that’s most important: Family.

So while we can now expect Coach Baker to make more of an effort to put his family first, we also know that football has a hold on him. It’s going to be a struggle. He might choose football over family. But if he can look within himself, he’ll know what’s really important. Let’s just hope he doesn’t lose everything.

Spencer & Olivia

I tried not to like them. Okay, that’s a lie. My heart made the choice for me in the pilot, and I feel like my heart was validated in this second episode. Guys, I ship Spencer and Olivia. (And yes, I’m aware that All American could be setting me up for utter despair because of this looming “truth” that may or may not be that Coach Baker is Spencer’s father, which would mean Spencer and Olivia are related.)

But since there’s no confirmation of such a thing, I’m going to choose to remain by my ship and watch it as it whips through the wind and (hopefully) manages to come out intact on the other side.

As a television viewer, I’ve grown accustomed to not trusting this instantaneous love interest thing. Where a show is so obvious about two people that like each other that it almost turns you off to the idea. It just depends on the type of viewer you are. Do you like immediate? Or do you, like me, like a build-up?

While this show almost instantly lit the flame with this whole Spencer and Layla thing, I’m not entirely convinced. It felt too obvious and too fast. But with Spencer and Olivia, there were the little things that make you sit up a little straighter and start paying attention because something could happen at any moment.

Last week was a good example. Where Olivia came clean about being 90 days out of rehab, and where Spencer was the only one to ask her if she’s okay now. It was something small, but impactful. Laying the groundwork of a trusting foundation.

Then this week, this show was just plain mean. It held nothing back. From when Olivia walked in the bathroom on a naked Spencer and the adorable hilarity that ensued. To the aftermath where Spencer was so damn smitten that I felt my lips almost get stuck in a smile. To the serious moment where Olivia is helping Spencer get ready for his big boosters debut and opening up about her father. There was a chemistry there that you can’t force. It didn’t need to be 1,000 degrees just yet. But it was a flame that you felt. It was a flame that you took notice of. It was a flame that makes you believe a bigger fire is coming.

The Truth Is Far From Certain

Look, I refuse to believe that we can right now determine that the “truth” involving Spencer, his mom, and Coach Baker is that Baker is his father. It just seems way too easy. It seems way too convenient. And logically, it doesn’t make too much sense.

I have a tendency to focus on the logical nature of a situation, which doesn’t always work for fictional television. I also rely on my gut. And my gut is telling me that Coach Baker isn’t his father. That’s not to say that Spencer isn’t someone that’s important to Baker, but I just don’t think he’s his father. Maybe he’s an old friend of his dad’s. But the thing we now know is that Coach Baker has been somewhat involved in Spencer’s life since he was 6 years old and playing pee wee football, as evidenced by the flashback.

While I’m going to stand by my opinion for now, let’s take a look at the reasons why it doesn’t make sense and why it does make sense.

Reasons It Doesn’t Make Sense:

  • It’s too obvious.
  • The narrative doesn’t add up (How is Spencer the same age as Olivia and Jordan? The whole playing football and coaching football don’t add up. What about Dylan’s father? I could go on.)
  • They’re selling the Spencer/Olivia chemistry angle too much for them not to go there at some point.
  • The showrunner said the “truth” isn’t what we expect (and isn’t what we all expect at this point is for Coach Baker to be Spencer’s father?)

Reasons It Makes Sense:

  • It’s obvious.
  • The show is dropping hints everywhere (“Looks like you two are the perfect match.)
  • Coach Baker’s intense focus on Spencer and his success.
  • Coach Baker’s realization that family is more important than football (brought on by Spencer’s injury.)

At present, I stand firm in the “reasons it doesn’t make sense” camp. But that doesn’t mean that can’t change. The one thing I keep going back to is how the showrunner said the “truth” isn’t what we expect. Unless that, too, was a misdirect. Lord, I just need some answers. ASAP please.

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


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