October 11, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “All American”


ALL AMERICAN:  Wednesday 9PM on CW

The ALL AMERICAN of CW’s pilot may or may not be fully representative of the series going forward, since creator and original showrunner April Blair is no longer involved with the production of the show, replaced by writer/producer Nkechi O. Carroll.  (The series is under the overall supervision–as is almost everything else on CW–of Greg Berlanti.)  Whether that change was due to business or creative reasons hasn’t been made public.

For now, all we have to judge is the pilot, which is earnest but overwhelmingly glossy, a high school football story that’s much less Friday Night Lights than The OC.  The premise may sound like it has some grit, as it tells the story of Spencer James (Daniel Ezra), an inner-city LA football phenom at Crenshaw High School who’s recruited by Beverly Hills High coach Billy Baker (Taye Diggs) to play among the rich and privileged.  (The premise is loosely inspired by a true story.)

All American is awfully blunt, and in the opening scene, one of Spencer’s Crenshaw games is marred by a drive-by shooting, so we’ll understand why Spencer’s mom Grace (Karimah Westbrook) is so thrilled her son will get an education in a different enrivonment.  (The closing scene of the pilot strongly implies that there’s a much soapier reason for her enthusiasm as well.)  Things aren’t any subtler at Beverly High, where the mostly white and biracial members of the team make insensitive jokes and try to dupe Spencer into drinking and drugging before a key practice.  And, this being CW, Spencer is quickly in a potential romantic triangle with the glamorous Leila (Greta Onieogou) and the coach’s more down-to-earth daughter Olivia (Samantha Logan).  Spencer himself is ambitious and prone to anger (he has daddy issues, the family having been deserted when he was young), but good-hearted of course.

By the end of the pilot, a plot contrivance requires Spencer to move in with the coach and his family, so it seems clear that at least in its original incarnation, All American has much more interest in Beverly Hills than Crenshaw.  As a neo-The OC, All American is competent enough, with a charismatic lead in Ezra and solid support from Diggs.  Pilot director Rob Hardy contrasts the smeary skies of South LA with the crisp visuals of Beverly Hills, and the drama is well-paced.  Blair’s writing, though, doesn’t have anything like the spark of Josh Schwartz’s OC script, and none of the characters pop or suggest any surprising aspects.

All American‘s slick tone fits more or less with its lead-in Riverdale, but without that show’s stylishness and meta nods to 1980s TV.  Perhaps the new leadership may change things.  At this point, though, the series isn’t varsity level.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."