I really wanted to hate the CW’s new show, “All-American”. First of all, it’s on the CW, which isn’t all bad of course, but it’s a show about teens, so you know they’re going to jack the teen drama/angst. Second, I’ve seen the show, haven’t I? It’s about high school football and it was called Friday Night Lights. I’m sure it already ran its run.
But I watched the first episode and it’s not bad. Loosely based on a true story of a kid from a rough neighbourhood getting recruited to play football for a high school in Beverly Hills. Sure, recruiting high school athletes is against the rules, but well, there are always ways around rules, right?
The first episode has all the expected clichés. Rough neighbourhood for his home life, complete with gang shootings. The star isn’t interested in leaving to play football in another high school because he’s living with his family, etc. But he gets in one little fight and his mother gets scared, and sends him to live with his uncle and auntie in Bel Air. Oh, wait, different show.
And when he gets to the new school, you can expect he’ll have trouble fitting in. Except he doesn’t. Everyone’s super nice at the start, all the hottest and most popular kids befriend him, WTF? Then a couple of the jocks get jealous of his confident ways and want him gone, there’s a mini-crisis, and he has to decide — does he want a better life or not? Cuz “THIS IS YOUR TICKET OUT!” (surprisingly not shouted in actual dialogue but equally thick and heavy as presented).
I know, it sounds horrible.
Spencer is the main character, and is played by Daniel Ezra. He’s decent, has an intensity about him, and while I haven’t seen him in anything before, he has a good guy vibe to him. His mother, Grace, is played by Karimah Westbrook, and I’ve never seen her work before either. Her role isn’t huge, but she has a decent set of scenes with Spencer, and they mostly work. Not too emotional, not underplayed, just normal stuff. There’s a small plot problem from early scenes to the ending scene, but that’s not a big issue with her acting, just the plot. Jalyn Hall plays his little brother, and while he’s decent, he is WAY too serious in most of the scenes. I don’t know how old the character is supposed to be, but he comes off more like a streetwise 80-year-old. Spencer’s home world is fleshed out by his home girl, Bre-Z who is actively encouraging Spencer to take his shot. Never wavering, full support. Hard to get a handle on her character though.
The Beverly Hills world is a different story. Like with Friday Night Lights, the coach is all important, and he’s played by Taye Diggs. I watched the WHOLE EPISODE and never realized it was Diggs. He seems way smaller than I remember him, almost thin and petite in some of the scenes. Not like an ex-NFL player. I think I first saw him on Ally McBeal back in the day. Then next on West Wing with a small role as a Secret Service agent. I vaguely remember him making a small splash on Will and Grace, but don’t think I was watching it at the time. And then he was hosting Day Break, the TV series framed like Groundhog Day where each day he woke up to relive the day he was framed for the murder of a State Attorney. I loved the premise, and the show died. I saw that he was on Private Practice but had no interest in the show, and seeing him with his shirt off wasn’t a draw for me. 🙂 I was delighted to see him when he popped up on Rosewood a couple of years ago, but had trouble placing him. Now, here he is again, and I had no idea it was him. And a small kicker — I didn’t like him that much. I found him all over the place for the character, shifting from warm and wise to fast-talking and smooth to pretending to be harsh as coach. He isn’t horrible, but he’s not good either.
The family around him is almost bizarre. Michael Evans Behling is the QB, Jordan, and also the coach’s son. His acting is a bit wooden, but it’s more the writing of his character, hard to get a handle on him — good guy, bad guy, anyone’s guess. His wife, Laura, is played by Monet Mazur, and while I didn’t love her as Castle’s wife Gina a few years ago, she does alright here. Except she’s a hotshot attorney, perhaps a do-gooder, perhaps nice, perhaps a bimbo trophy wife, not entirely clear. Samantha Logan plays sister Olivia who actually has some presence and depth, and potentially is a love interest for Spencer (who, ** spoiler alert **, may or may not be her half-brother).
Yet Olivia is completely eclipsed by Greta Onieogou as popular rich girl Leila. Maybe nice, maybe scheming bitch, hard to say. She does set him up for a nasty trick, but claims afterwards she had no idea. I liked her back when she was on Heroes Reborn (as Aly) but her role then pales in comparison to her star-studded display here. She steals every scene she’s in, and it is easy to see why Spencer would notice her and not pay much attention to Olivia. Cody Christian plays jealous rival Asher, but if the first episode is anything to go on, he’s written as a complete lightweight. Rounding out the school crowd is Jordan Belfi as the principal. He has a pretty limited role in the first episode, more administrator angst to gently say “win or else” to the coach and “oh no, what have you done”, which is about the same role he played on Castle and The Mentalist.
It works okay. Not “And the Emmy goes to…” quality but it doesn’t suck, like I expected it to do. I didn’t even mind the teen drama in the background. And the surprise is that I’m willing to try another episode. I might not stick around, but I’ll give it a go. And I’ll even upgrade it’s potential for the year from CANCELLED to RENEWED. It’s a bit of a flyer, more of a bubble show I would think, but willing to give it a shot.