In “All American” (9 p.m. Eastern Wednesdays on The CW), Spencer James (Daniel Ezra) gets a chance to move from gang territory to a safe neighborhood to play football, coached by a former NFL player, Billy Baker (Taye Diggs). After taking three buses to Beverly Hills, he hits it off with the coach’s daughter, the star receiver’s girlfriend, and even the coach’s son after some initial tension. Cue the theme music.
Oh wait, that’s right: modern TV shows are too cool for old-school opening credits. But “All American,” created by April Blair (“Hart of Dixie,” “Scream: The TV Series,” “You”), does borrow other things from old shows. Judging by the pilot episode, “All American” is not quite original enough to stand out, but it is slickly made and might be worth keeping on your DVR for a second week.
Unlike “Beverly Hills, 90210’s” Andrea, Spencer doesn’t go out of his way to get into Beverly High; he has to be talked into it by the coach, who needs to win soon to keep his job. But as with Luke Cafferty on “Friday Night Lights,” expect battles with stuffed-shirt administrators about what district Spencer is allowed to go to school in. “All American” isn’t all about football, but it is fairly thick with it. Midweek drama comes from the coach switching Spencer from receiver to safety (which shouldn’t be a conflict, since at this level, the top athletes play both ways), and on Friday nights, every game comes down to the last play.
Game days are where it runs into the same problems as “Friday Night Lights,” which could’ve been 25 percent better if the on-field drama was handled better. In the opening scene, Spencer’s team is tied with 6 seconds left, just out of field goal range. The defense blitzes, which is an illogical strategy, and making it dumber is the fact that Spencer knows they are going to blitz. He waltzes in for the winning touchdown. It’s disappointing that “All American” didn’t hire a football consultant. Actually, considering how popular the sport is, there must be someone already on the staff who could scan the scripts and make the game drama less silly.
“The O.C.” is another comparison I’ve heard a lot. Spencer would be the wrong-side-of-the-tracks Ryan character, with coach’s son Jordan (Michael Evans Behling) filling the Seth role — although they aren’t besties just yet. The gang stuff in Spencer’s old neighborhood is pretty light so far, although I fear for his best bud Coop (Bre-Z) now that Spencer isn’t there to protect her.
It’s amusing that we’re supposed to believe that coach’s daughter Olivia (Samantha Logan) is the friend-zone girl whereas the wide receiver’s girlfriend, Leila (Greta Onieogou), is the one who catches Spencer’s eye. They are both brazenly Hollywood attractive, and Olivia is clearly the better choice for every reason – there should be no conflict here.
With “All American” being so centered on football – yet not quite understanding football – it makes me miss last spring’s “Rise.” While not a great show, and in fact one that included some silly football stuff itself, “Rise” used the production of a fall musical as the backdrop rather than the gridiron. By chronicling an underexplored discipline, it gave us a different entry point and some specifics we hadn’t seen in other teen dramas.
“All American” is back to the tried-and-true. You can’t write off a series after one episode any more than you can write off a season after one game. But in this era when old shows are easily accessible, the pilot episode of “All American” has me considering a 10-season binge of “Beverly Hills, 90210.” Then perhaps five seasons of “Friday Night Lights.” And maybe I should give “The O.C.” another shot.