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Review: The CW's 'All American' Is a Formulaic, Fish-Out-of Water Underdog Story And It's Terrific

By Dustin Rowles | TV | October 11, 2018 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | October 11, 2018 |


There’s a reason why underdog stories work, and why fish-out-water stories work, and there’s a reason that Hoosiers and Remember the Titans and The Mighty Ducks are so rewatchable. Underdog stories never seem to get old, and that is never truer than in the context of sports. We know what’s going to happen, we root for it to happen, and when it happens, it’s still incredibly satisfying. It just works, especially when it entails likable, well-drawn characters.

The CW’s All American works for those exact reasons. The premise is cookie cutter. It’s basically Friday Night Lights crossed with The O.C.. It’s what would happen if Smash moved to Beverly Hills, only here Spencer James (Daniel Ezra) moves out of South Crenshaw, where scoring a game-winning touchdown and a drive-by shooting can take place within 10 seconds of each other.

Taye Diggs plays Billy Baker, the coach of a struggling high-school football team in Beverly Hills. He’s a rags-to-riches story from South Crenshaw himself. He played in the NFL briefly before an injury ended his career, and now he’s living the good life, except that his team really needs a guy like Spencer James if it’s going to have any chance at wining. So, Baker pulls some strings, talks to Spencer’s mom, and bing, bang, boom, welcome to Beverly.

This is where the fish-out-of-water premise kicks in. Spencer tries to fit in Beverly Hills where some of the rich white kids are assholes, where some of his female classmates seem immediately drawn to him, and where some on his own football team seem to resent his talent. That problem is compounded by the fact that Olivia (Samantha Logan) the Coach’s daughter, seems to have a crush on Spencer, while the coach’s son, Jordan (Michael Evans Behling) is jealous of the attention that his father showers on Spencer. There’s also the whole living between two worlds thing: He doesn’t fit in in South Crenshaw because he goes to Beverly Hills High, and he doesn’t fit in in Beverly Hills High because he’s from South Crenshaw.

It plays out fairly predictably in the pilot, but then again, so did The O.C. and Friday Night Lights, although this pilot drops a compelling soap-opera BOMB in the last second. It’s not groundbreaking television, but it’s solidly entertaining, occasionally insightful, and it has a solid cast, where — aside from Diggs — Ezra and Samantha Logan are already poised to break out. It may be formulaic as hell, but it is a winning formula.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

Header Image Source: The CW