Monday, February 21, 2022

REVIEW: 'All American: Homecoming' - Simone and Damon Begin Their Their Athletic Lives at College in 'Start Over'

The CW's All American: Homecoming - Episode 1.01 "Start Over"

Simone is excited to move into her dorm and start navigating life on her own terms, but her past choices present unexpected setbacks. Eager to turn the baseball team around, Damon and Coach Marcus are thrown an even bigger curveball than they were anticipating. Amara faces the consequences of her actions, and what that means for her future.

"Start Over" was written by Nkechi Okoro Carroll and directed by Michael Schultz

The opening minutes of this All American spinoff tell the viewer everything they need to know. Simone has a history on the original series. She is a teenage mother who gave her child up for adoption. She is in a serious relationship with Jordan. But now, she has moved from Beverly Hills to Atlanta for the HBCU experience. It's a compelling place to set a story within. Historically Black colleges and universities boost a unique identity. One that allows people of color to be accepted and championed by their community. The best is still expected of them. They are given the tools to form their identities and stand firmly in their Blackness. This story is all wrapped up in sports as well. That has long been the story engine for the original series. In that show, it's football. Here, the focus is split between tennis and baseball. It's a nice evolution of the formula to show these various avenues that can be explored by those with the athleticism and determination to succeed. The sports never take away from the personal drama either. Simone is mostly homesick. That's her predominate emotion. It's hard to particularly shape a story around that. It's not until the end that her world is rocked once more on this campus. She learns that her parents have refused to cover her housing. It's not a decision they told her about. Instead, they are completely estranged. Sure, that makes it odd that Simone still expects them to cover the financials of this move they don't support. Her father came up with the compromise in the hopes of offering everyone a little of what they want. It's not communicated effectively to Simone until her world is already spinning. The pressure is placed on her to stand out on the tennis team. She is vying for one of the last spots. She doesn't impress the coach or the team captain. She's sloppy after a night of partying too hard. That's meant to be an aspect of campus life. Here, it proves to be more trouble than it's worth. She may lose a lot but she also finds a new sense of family. She has immediate friends on campus in Keisha and Nathaniel. Meanwhile, Damon and Jessie are people she wants to get to know better. And Cam is along for the ride despite a tumultuous history. It all creates that picture perfect final image of a family dinner at Amara's house. It's a little manufactured. However, it does set the scene for this community championing their own in the face of obstacles that threaten to ruin their respective careers.

Of course, the drama also makes a big deal out of Damon's parentage. He notes that he's adopted. His birth parents are alums of Bringston University. That's all that he knows about them. That's all he wants to know. The narrative wouldn't introduce that topic just to never focus on it again. It's going to produce juicy drama as the season develops. That's inevitable. Jessie already takes it upon himself to investigate. That seems out of place with the ambitions of the storytelling elsewhere. The rest of the show is focused on how this environment informs its students and faculty. That doesn't make them immune to fair or unfair criticism. Amara has her class load diminished as a result of being the whistleblower on the baseball scandal. That has a direct impact on Damon's career. It sets a fast timeline for Coach Turner to turn the team around after losing many of its star athletes. The former coach who orchestrated the cheating scandal still lingers too. It all reveals how emotional manipulation can have a direct effect on athletic performance. Damon expects the best. He doesn't think he should ever go easy on his teammates. That doesn't help them improve. If he isn't going to succeed here, then he believes it was all a mistake to enroll in the first place. It's all or nothing for him. That's how he approaches the world. It's what has been conditioned into him. He is suppose to be a great athlete. That was the only narrative he could fulfill. Those expectations are high. The pressure is just as intense. Coach Turner knows that he needs to push this team. That's the only way to save the program. Damon also comes from a place of entitlement. He believes his opinion is on equal footing with the coach. He operates with that assumption because he helped secure the position for Turner in the first place. He carries that burden. All of this has to work. That doesn't give him the right to storm off in the middle of practice. People are going to have different opinions. He can't simply shut down the argument because he doesn't like what he's hearing. That's not productive. Baseball has been his life for so long that he doesn't quite know how to engage socially with others. That's not stopping the show from setting up a will-they?/won't-they? dynamic between Simone and Damon. It's just noticeable as a more formulaic storytelling ambition instead of challenging itself to explore the nuances of this particular setting.