Saturday evening I checked out The CW’s latest fall addition – the football teen drama All American. Based on a true story, it follows the life of Spencer James, a Crenshaw High star athlete who transfers school and home to Beverly Hills. While it is an opportunity of a lifetime, it will be the biggest test of his life.
The show stars newcomer Daniel Ezra as Spencer, a stellar athlete whose greatest potential is limited due to his environment’s lack of resources. To rise above the ills of the inner city, a coach from Beverly Hills High – played by Taye Diggs – offers him the best chance to make his football dreams come true.
At first glance American is the typical fish-out-of-water scenario, hinting at issues of class and race between these two worlds. Spencer must jump three buses to arrive at BH High, where many of the students are chauffeured in style. Each pupil has their own laptop for science class; passing period includes breaks in the courtyard; and, Friday night activities include a late-night house party filled with booze and cocaine.
What makes this invidual teen drama different is the fact our lead is a black male. In fact, most of the cookie-cutter archetypes are played by black actors. It is a rarity to see the beauty queen, the sidekick, the jock and the nerd be anything other than white.
Not only does this assist in the current need for more representation on screen – it also prevents the two worlds Spencer traverses of being black vs. white; the Torros versus the Clovers.
The episode does a decent job introducing each character, hinting at their potential futures as Spencer transitions. There is his best friend played by Empire’s Bre Z – a LGBTQ teen who struggles with a gang-affiliated bully. Diggs’ coach’s children – a girl and boy – who find themselves at the opposite ends of the social totem pole. And Spencer’s potential love interest – who is already involved with the big man on campus.
This is a refreshingly new step for the CW, whose programming has a history of all-white characters. And with the pilot’s final scene, viewers can expect the same juicy plot developments that make their shows so addictive.
All American airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW; and, stream for free the next day on The CW app.