Wednesday, October 10, 2018

REVIEW: 'All American' - Spencer James Is Recruited to Play Football in Beverly Hills in 'Pilot'

The CW's All American - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Spencer James is a rising high school football player and an A student at South Crenshaw High who is recruited by Beverly High School's coach Billy Baker. Spencer is conflicted on whether or not to move but his mother and his best friend convince him it's an opportunity he has to seize. When Spencer is forced to move in with Billy and his family, these two families and their vastly different worlds are drawn together. They will discover that the differences that divide us on the surface hide a deeper connection.

In 2018, it has become very difficult to keep up with every television show out there. It's even more difficult to provide adequate coverage on this site about the episodes that air every week. Not every show can get full coverage because of my busy and hectic viewing schedule. As such, some reviews will now be condensed to give only some summary thoughts. But it also affords a space for me to jot down my thoughts on the various episodes. And so, here are my thoughts on this week's episode of The CW's All American.

"Pilot" was written by April Blair and directed by Rob Hardy

The CW's All American was absolutely the best drama pilot from the broadcast networks for the new fall season. Of course, that's grading heavily on a curve as well because this fall has been such a disappointment with new shows. None of them have arrived fully formed. Even All American seems like a show lacking a distinct identity which could signal issues in the future. This pilot is charming and compelling. But the balance of tone is critical moving forward to ensure that it is more than just a crossover between Friday Night Lights and The OC. That is such an easy comparison to make. And yet, it is truly apt for the situation as well. It's a show exploring the idea of football being a way to build a life and escape out of a crummy situation. Spencer James has some incredible talent but is from a bad neighborhood. One where he and his fans aren't able to enjoy his final touchdown leading his team to victory because there is a drive-by shooting. That's a stark and powerful image. And then, the show makes the transition into the high-class world of Beverly Hills. It's a world where the educational system is better with more opportunities for its students. But it also presents as a world that should push and challenge Spencer. Right now, he is incredibly cocky and fueled by so much anger. He is angry at the world for his place in life. But he's also angry at his dad for abandoning the family. His anger is so defining that he's almost willing to give up this opportunity just so that he doesn't abandon his mother, younger brother and best friend. Those three are likely to remain important characters to the show and in Spencer's life. He wants to help them out of their situations as well. But he also has dreams of one day playing in the NFL. Coach Billy Baker presents himself as someone who can make that dream a reality. Sure, he's mostly recruiting Spencer in order to secure his own future as coach of this team. He needs to turn around the team or will be replaced by someone who can. Him latching onto Spencer comes at the detriment of his own family though. Of course, Jordan and Asher's position of being against Spencer appears to be born out of nothing but plot necessity. It needs to be difficult for Spencer to thrive and stay in this environment because he has a short temper and his teammates don't want him there. It makes him feel isolated and alone. That feeling will only continue because he is forced to move in with the Baker family. That ensures that the team doesn't get into trouble for recruiting Spencer from a different school. He has the grades to excel at this school in Beverly Hills as well. That's not a problem. He has a smart head on his shoulders. But he's also solely determined to succeed through playing football. This premiere builds him up as someone who is able to see the world unlike anyone else. That could be empowering and inspirational. Right now, it's a talent that plays out mostly on the field with him then being unable to read his teammates during the unsupervised party of drugs and alcohol. As such, the show needs to better define his skills. Plus, it has to figure out just how melodramatic that final tease from Billy and Spencer's mom is going to be. Is it something with even more personal connotations and disruptions to Spencer's life? Or will it ultimately not amount to much?