CW’s All American first premiered in late 2018, and the high school drama has received stellar reviews for its first season. Based on the true story of football player Spencer Paysinger, the sitcom follows high school student Spencer James, whose only desire is to play football at the professional level. The show touches on things bigger than football though, such as the contrast between wealth and poverty. Football is the way through which the show depicts some powerful themes and life lessons.
Photo: Will Porada on Unsplash
All American’s premise centers around James, a high school student from the neighborhood of Crenshaw in Los Angeles, California. James is a very gifted and freakish athlete on Crenshaw High School’s football team, and after a game, James is recruited by Beverly High School coach Billy Baker to come play for the Beverly High’s Eagles. Playing at Beverly High presented the only way for James to escape the dangerous surroundings of his neighborhood, which included the presence of gangs. It also allowed the best opportunity to showcase his skills to make his way up to the college level and beyond. Unfortunately, this meant leaving his mother Grace James, younger brother Dillon James, his current team, close buddy Chris, and even closer childhood friend Tamia Cooper (Coop).
The initially reluctant James takes the offer to play wide receiver and safety for Beverly High, and he goes from the rough neighborhood of Crenshaw to glitzy and lavish Beverly Hills. As a condition, the new Beverly player must live at Coach Baker’s mansion with his wife and two kids. Though James stays at the Baker mansion during the week, his loyalty to Crenshaw is strong, and he visits family on the weekends. The main cast, aside from James, includes Beverly High students Olivia Baker, Jordan Baker (QB), Asher Adams (wide receiver), and Layla Keating. The entire cast of the show is ethnically diverse, building on increasing diversity trends that shows such as Grown-ish, Fresh off the Boat, and Black-ish have depicted.
Though the sitcom is about a football player trying to increase his chances of going pro, the show does much more than focus on football. James hits a rough patch initially, as his background and personality do not match with his new Beverly teammates. In fact, his talent is great on the field, but relationship tensions off the field with J. Baker and Adams are just as significant as this was a result of two different worlds intersecting. As the series progresses, James must weigh in on trying to fit in with the wealthy players of Beverly High, or going back home and staying true to his roots and old buddies. Unfortunately, James becomes stuck as he realizes it is not possible to dip his foot into two pools at once.
Consequently, James’s loyalty and commitment to Beverly is tested, as he often finds himself heading back to Crenshaw during his scheduled Beverly days to talk to his old teammates and look out for his childhood friend Coop, who was now falling into deeper trouble with a gang. James’ persistence on and off the field is unquestioned, and though he eventually develops closer bonds with his teammates on Beverly High, he stays dedicated to Crenshaw. An example of this is developing a community outreach and activism day to promote peace and unity in his neighborhood and explain the negative impacts of violence.
As James’ time from playing on Crenshaw High becomes distant, Coach Baker, J. Baker, and Adams all become very loyal to James. This is evident in an instance where James’ old teammates from Crenshaw propose a scrimmage between the teams. The Beverly boys arrive to the scrimmage promptly, and even to a place that was rough on the edges. All American shows the importance of family, both blood and not blood related.
All American’s season one finale premiered on Wednesday, March 20, and a season two renewal is unconfirmed. Football is the central theme of the show, but other life related themes orbit the central theme, and they comprise more significance when combined. James learns about bonding, friendship, loyalty, and commitment off the field.
All American depicts the reality between wealth/privilege and poverty. James and his Crenshaw buddies must work twice as hard to receive every opportunity they can get. This is a difference from Beverly kids, who have opportunity handed down to them because of status, and who can afford many luxuries in life. James maximizes his opportunity to play at Beverly and begins to carve his own path to greatness. On that road, he never forgets his roots and remains dedicated to the place of his upbringing, which is by far the best touchdown he can score.
Rishi Patel is a senior majoring in Communication Studies at the University of Iowa. He has written as an intern for SPORTalk and Study Breaks Magazine. He also loves to write fiction, non-fiction, and poetry as a hobby to expand his writing prowess. He hopes to work as a writer/editor when he graduates.