What would you do if you were given an opportunity in high school that could change your life? An opportunity that would uproot you from everyone you know? An opportunity where you would have to risk going into unconventional territory — would you take it?
That’s the setup of The CW’s new culture-clash drama All American (debuting Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 10/9c). The series is based on the real-life story of former NFL star Spencer Paysinger, who left his hometown in Central LA for a shot at a better opportunity. Paysinger spent seven years in the NFL playing for the New York Giants, Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers, and serves as the show’s executive consultant.
The series follows Spencer James (Daniel Ezra), an African American teenager with dreams of being an NFL player. In the premiere episode, shots are fired and a lifeless body lays on the pavement only yards away from the football field during Spencer’s homecoming game, an all-too-familiar reality for Spencer in his neighborhood. Opportunity knocks when Coach Billy Baker (Taye Diggs) wants to recruit Spencer for his Beverly High School football team. Accepting the offer, Spencer finds himself transitioning into the upscale “white” lifestyle, which he abruptly learns isn’t as glamorous as it seems.
All American will definitely grab the attention of football lovers and urban drama TV enthusiasts. It reminds me a bit of a more urbanized impression of The Game (2006-2015), which ran on the CW, and later on BET. All American, however, has a more cinematic appeal as it focuses on the journey of the main character while he adjusts to his new school and team. “Welcome to LA,” says Jordan Baker (Michael Evans Behling), the son of Coach Baker and a fellow teammate, as Spencer gets a grand tour of Beverly Hills High. It feels genuine until another player, Asher (Cody Christian), and Jordan set out to sabotage Spencer’s image. When Spencer grabs the attention of the coach and Asher’s girlfriend Leila (Greta Onieogou), Asher and Jordan are threatened by Spencer and want to remove him immediately. Spencer’s new friend, Jordan’s sister Olivia (Samantha Logan), warns him about this side of LA and keeps him afloat. While he’s looking over his shoulder in Beverly Hills, Spencer still has to watch his back in his old neighborhood, where his mother Grace (Karimah Westbrook) and little brother Dylan (Jalyn Hall) still reside, and where childhood rivals try to take him out. Secrets are to be revealed as tension arises.
As the show’s new breakout star, Ezra is a fresh face from the UK with only a few projects under his belt since his debut in 2014. All American will give him a much deserving jump in his acting career. Most recognizable in the cast is Empire’s Bre-Z, who plays Spencer’s best friend Tiana “Coop” Cooper, who also lives in Crenshaw and encourages Spencer to take the opportunity.