Executive Producer Greg Berlanti assures us that All American is about more than who won the football game of the episode. “For any show in this day and age to make it on any network, it has to have something to say,” he says. “The people behind it have to have something to say and then you have to be lucky enough to get cast like this that really can just take you to the next level.” (The cast of All American: Karimah Westbrook, Greta Onieogou, Daniel Ezra, Cody Christian, Jalyn Hall, Bre-Z, Samantha Logan, Michael Evans Behling, Monet Mazur and Taye Diggs.)
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Spencer (Daniel Ezra) gets the chance to leave his South Central life for Beverly Hills, where he could be taking the first steps to a pro football career. “Spencer’s main trajectory is trying to rationalize his survivor’s guilt,” says Ezra. “Getting out of this environment and not being able to take all your loved ones with you is a difficult thing to put on a 17 year old’s shoulders. For me, Spencer’s story is about how he deals with that, how he comes to terms with that, and ultimately how he transcends it.”
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Taye Diggs says Coach Baker may not be as sincere and upstanding as Kyle Chandler’s Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights, but he’s certainly not a villain. “The characters and the writing are very nuanced,” he says, adding that the relationships on the show aren’t black and white either. “In one scene, it’s coach-player. In another scene, it’s father-son. In another, it’s friend-friend. Adversaries. Teammates. We delve into all those different dynamics.”
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Bre-Z (Empire) plays Spencer’s BFF but his leaving her behind for Beverly Hills could be tough on her for more reasons that just missing her bestie. “Spencer was her rock, and as a friend, when you lose someone like that, it’s devastating,” Bre-Z says. “And to be growing up in South Central and to have to, again, deal with the gang influence, the street influence, the drug influence, and then on top of that, she’s battling with her sexuality. So she’s kind of in a space where she has to figure it out.”
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As Olivia Baker, Samantha Logan plays part of what could be a love triangle between Spencer and seemingly perfect-girl Leila (Greta Onieogou). But Olivia is more than the coach’s daughter and has her own demons she’s fighting.
If Spencer (Daniel Ezra) has to cast his eye to anyone, is Layla (Greta Onieogou) his best bet? Not only is she unavailable — she’s dating Spencer’s teammate, Asher (Cody Christian) — but he also needs to focus on his football skills if he really wants to go all the way.
Friend or foe? That’s the big question surrounding Jordan Baker (Michael Evans Behling) and newbie teammate Spencer. It doesn’t help that Jordan and his father, Coach Baker, aren’t the closest. Also, having the coach focus so much on the new kid — and inviting him to live with the Bakers — is going to make things tough on Jordan.
Like co-star Behling, Cody Christian (Teen Wolf) also hails from Indiana (Franklin, IN) and says Hollywood is more than a little different. “I left at 10 years old to come out to California and to pursue a career in this industry. So, it’s a different culture, and it took some getting used to it.” On the show, we’ll see if Asher is going to end up being one of Spencer’s biggest allies…or biggest threat.
While Dillon James (Jayln Hall) seems like a fun-loving kid when we meet him in the pilot of the new series, he and Spencer are also very close and having his big brother away could prove to be tougher than anyone thinks.
Of course, Spencer’s mother, Grace (Karimah Westbrook) is all for him pursuing his dreams. But, like Dillon, what will having Spencer away from their South Central home do the family? And does Grace have a past that she doesn’t want Spencer to know about? (Watch the pilot and then we’ll talk!)
We don’t get to know much about Coach Baker’s wife, Laura Fine-Baker (Monet Mazur), but why do I think there’s more to her story that we’ll be finding out over time?
Football coach Billy Baker has more on his mind than simply winning the next game on the new CW drama, All American, which premieres Wednesday. To beef up his high school team in Beverly Hills, the ambitious mentor (Taye Diggs) invites Spencer (Daniel Ezra), a talented athlete from a rough neighborhood, to move in so the teen can play ball in the (safer) 90210 zip code.
So begins this new drama about a young man navigating two worlds, and there’s trouble from the get-go. Spencer’s arrival threatens the status of Baker’s wide receiver, cocky Asher (Cody Christian), as well as his quarterback — and son — Jordan (Michael Evans Behling).
“There’s someone coming into the household who’s a similar age and has the same interests vying for the coach’s attention,” Diggs says of Spencer and Jordan. “There are times you see them get along. Then there’s tension. With each episode, the levels change.” One constant: the complexity of Diggs’s character. “The writers are not going the normal route where you have the coach who’s earnest and is always doing the right thing,” Diggs adds. “Sometimes Billy can be a little shady.”
For instance, he works hard to keep a few secrets — one involves Spencer’s working-class mother, Grace (Karimah Westbrook) — safely hidden. “What does it say about a person who can’t even be 100 percent honest with his own family?” queries Diggs. Executive producer April Blair (who recently exited the show) offers an answer. “Billy is deliciously messy,” she says. “But viewers will relate to him protecting the people he loves from his mistakes.”
Click through the gallery above to meet the cast of your soon-to-be new favorite show!
All American, Series Premiere, Wednesday, October 10, 9/8c, The CW