It’s an amazing feeling when you know a freshman show has finally found its footing and is breaking off amazing episode after amazing episode. Just look at All American, which continues to impress with its dynamic storytelling and character development making it one of The CW’s best shows.
All American so beautifully manages to weave intricate character stories within a realistic medium. For example, something as simple as a District Combine was presented as opportunity for these characters to explore themselves and their choices. Spencer felt the pressure of college and giving his mom a chance to live her dreams, Olivia was able to help Asher, who was going through his own struggles. Jordan faced the overbearing pressure that comes with being the coaches son and wondering just how far your talent gets you. Chris continued to struggle with little opportunity and being the forever underdog in his pursuit to play college ball. Even Layla had to ponder opening her home to her ex-boyfriend.
This episode also shed light on illegal recruiting that happens in college football, where boosters try to pay players to come play for a certain college. Spencer nearly fell victim to that. Others did. But it was also a reminder for Spencer to keep his options open.
Let’s take a look at what our characters had to deal with in “All Eyez on Me”:
Spencer Mulls His Future
We know Spencer pretty well at this point. So it didn’t come as a shock that Spencer was so focused on protecting his mom and giving her an opportunity to pursue what she wanted more than he was concerned with living out his own dream. Oh, Spencer. You selfless, beautiful, moron. Spencer is freakishly talented, we all that. So much so that he’s got no business going to play college ball at some small, academically-challenged Angela Southern. Not that any college opportunity isn’t great. But Spencer has the athletic talent and the brain to go to a legit university. That’s why he was leaving his options open. Until he discovered that his mom had to give up taking night classes for her boys.
What was a “leaving all options open” became a “need this scholarship for stability now” kind of thing. Spencer was no longer concerned with going to the best university than he was concerned with just getting a scholarship to any college. And it was that pressure he put on himself — that he needed this scholarship — that affected his performance in the Combine. He got so caught up in competing with Crenshaw Heights’ new receiver that he forgot to just be himself out there. But when his mom confronts him about holding himself back he shifts his focus. Because it’s not just “his” decision, it’s “our” decision. His mom didn’t send him to Beverly and sacrifice everything just for him to go to ASU. He’s settling because he’s so concerned with taking care of his mom when all she wants is what’s best for him. That’s how he can take care of himself. Don’t get me wrong, Spencer is noble and protective as hell. But that can sometimes hinder him from opportunities.
Olivia Gives Back
I’ve appreciated how All American hasn’t forgotten about Olivia’s addiction and her battle back from the darkest moment in her life. It’s not blatant and in your face, but it’s something that always seems to find a way into a story. Because it’s something that an addict lives with every day. You can’t control it. You learn to deal with it. While we haven’t gotten a glimpse at just how dark things were for Olivia and her addiction, we have seen how hard she’s fighting to remain on the straight and narrow. Because she knows that dark place. And she never wants to return.
We also saw that Olivia is passionate about preventing others from falling down that same dark hole that she did. When it’s easy to assume that Olivia’s interest in Asher stems from some deep, underlying feelings, it’s important to look beyond the trivial and see it for what it really is: Olivia helping a friend who needs her help. Olivia sees Asher as someone that could quite possibly fall down that dark whole. The drinking. Losing Layla. Losing his house. His family situation. Getting kicked off the football team. Sleeping in his car. Olivia isn’t someone that’s just going to stand by and watch him fall. She’s going to do everything she can to lift him up. Because if someone had been there to help her, perhaps she’d never have fallen in the first place.
So Olivia devotes all of her attention to Asher. But it’s not because she’s romantically into him. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if it headed in that direction. There’s a chemistry between them that seems to shout that. But that is not why Olivia blew off her boyfriend, Chris. Asher needed her, and she helped. She got him to the Combine, where he wowed those scouts and where he was able to rejoin the football team after a self-reflective look into what it means to be honest. He’s back on track. Because Olivia took the time to lend a hand.
Asher Seeks Redemption
While there’s no denying the importance of Olivia reaching out to help Asher, it’s also worth noting that in order for Asher to get help and to change is for him to want that redemption. The Asher in this 11th episode is a far cry from the Asher we met in the pilot. Gone is the privileged, rich boy who cared only for himself. Here is the beaten, not-well-off boy who is teetering on the edge of a breakdown. Asher, whose family lost their money, who lost his girlfriend, who was kicked off the football team, who was kicked out of his house, and who now lives in his car with an uncertain future. Yeah, he’s been having a rough go of it.
That is until Olivia reaches out and helps him get back on his feet. She tells him that he was invited to the District Combine, where scouts from colleges are looking to recruit. So perhaps his future isn’t all lost? So Asher goes out there with nothing or everything to lose and puts on a show for the scouts. But perhaps more impressive than his performance on the football field was his performance off of it. At the Combine party he was approached about Beverly’s upcoming playoff game. And instead of pretending to still be on the team, he was open and honest about being kicked off. Sure, his offer for the showcase was rescinded. But he was allowed back on the team because Coach Baker was impressed with his honesty and accountability. And so are we.
Jordan Seeks Affirmation
The coach’s son. Jordan’s heard it before, he heard it this episode, and he’ll hear it again. It’s one of the pressures that comes with being the son of the coach. Where you’re judged under a microscope and lauded for your personal connection to the coach. Never mind any real, raw talent. No, that doesn’t matter. You’re only there because you’re Billy Baker’s son. And when you start hearing that from your own grandfather, it starts to get in your head.
That was Jordan’s struggle in this episode, where he found himself doubting his own abilities and believing that he only ever got to where he is because of his dad. That doubt crept into his head and certainly didn’t help the off-day he had. Not when Chris was outperforming him all day. So when Jordan was the one that received the invite to the showcase it all but validated that he had been given this opportunity — to attend the District Combine and to participate in the showcase — all because he was Billy Baker’s son.
Jordan has always struggled with pressure. Struggled with the fact that he puts too much pressure on himself. Struggled when the pressure is in his face. And a lot of that has to do with the pressure of being Billy Baker’s son. For a lot of people that seem to think Jordan has it easy, they have no idea the pressure that comes with battling the perception of what is really you and who people think you are. And Jordan understands that. It’s why he goes to his dad and asks him to stop constantly building him up and trying pushing him to be better.
Chris Faces An Uphill Battle
Chris is someone that rarely gets rattled. It’s because of the hardships he’s endured. It’s because he’s been made stronger because of those trials. It’s because disappointment and falling short is nothing new. And yet the opportunity to participate in this District Combine was an opportunity that he couldn’t help get invested in. Especially when Crenshaw Heights doesn’t get the recognition. So when Chris goes out there and outperforms Jordan, you expect him to be the easy favorite to participate in the showcase. Only he doesn’t. Jordan gets it despite his rough day. Because Jordan is the coach’s son. Because Chris is used to this. But because he’s used to this, he takes it in stride. Onto the next one.
Layla Opens Her Home
While Layla wasn’t a prominent force in this episode, there was certainly an interesting wrinkle introduced at the end of the episode. Olivia came to Layla with a solution on how to help Asher’s homelessness: Have him stay with Layla in her large house. Of course this has bad idea written all over it, what with the break-up and all. But Layla obliges because she sees the need to help Asher outweighs any awkwardness, which I’m sure is about to unravel in full force. For everything that’s gone down between them, Layla still cares deeply for Asher, that much is obvious. Not to mention Layla isn’t someone to turn away someone in need, especially a friend.
All American airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW