I hate to be like every other TV writer, but it’s true what they say: “All American” on the CW (9 p.m. Wednesdays) is what you’d get if you put “The O.C.” and “Friday Night Lights” in a blender and added a racial twist.
The premise is that the star African-American footballer from Crenshaw High, the charming yet sometimes cocky and moody and pugnacious Spencer James (Daniel Ezra), is recruited to play for posh Beverly High. The recruiter is coach Billy Baker (Taye Diggs), an NFL star until he busted his knee. Since recruiting from outside a school’s zone is not allowed, Baker does some creative rule bending.
The show is “inspired” by the life of former NFL player Spencer Paysinger, who is a consulting producer. The fictional Spencer isn’t sold on the idea at first. Does he really want to leave his neighborhood and friends and be an outsider in a rich-kid school? Then again, maybe he does want to quit a school where a drive-by shooter fires into a football game.
So off Spencer goes, ultimately lured by the coach’s promise to fulfill his dreams of playing pro football. The plot thickens with soap opera suds.
Two female students are flirting with Spencer. One of them is the queen of the school’s social circle. The other is the biracial, recovering-drug-user daughter of coach Baker. Booze flows freely at high school parties. And there are hints of a Big Family Secret involving Spencer’s absentee dad.
What lifts “All American” above the cliched teen melodrama is its unflinching look at the blatant and subtle ways racism plays out — from the white parent who declares, “That boy doesn’t belong here” to the classmate who won’t share his laptop with computer-less Spencer.
Even though the black-and-white divide is a tough topic, the show still plays with stereotypes. At an after-school beach outing, Spencer says with a grin, “This is what rich kids do at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday!” He also wants to know: “What is it with white people and mayonnaise?”