I had just been told the rest of my semester as a graduate student at USC would be spent online. My dreams of walking across the stage to grab my second degree had been shattered. To be honest, it only took the fourth email from the Office of the Provost for me to realize how serious things were getting. After reading, “We encourage students not to return to campus during this time, but to take their classes remotely,” it hit me. Sad is an understatement. I was heartbroken. I felt like all of my hard work was for nothing.
But after a few tears and with the suggestion of a friend, I scoured Netflix for a series that might help pass time. After all, I was stuck in my apartment, on lockdown, trying to find ways to divert my attention from the pandemic happening all around me.
With hesitation, simply due to the fact that I’m not a big TV person, I started season one of “All American.” I ended up binge-watching all 32 episodes of the two available seasons in just a few days. Doing so has been one of the greatest things that happened to me during quarantine.
The series, inspired by the life of retired NFL player Spencer Paysinger, is an effective depiction of the struggle to succeed that many black people in America face because of the color of their skin. For some, the necessity of doing whatever it takes to feed the family, even if it means finding answers in the “streets,” is also a theme represented not only in the series but in the real world as well.
The storyline illustrates the resilience and determination of Spencer James (Daniel Ezra), a black teenager from Crenshaw, having been raised by his strong, supportive, nurturing black mother.
Despite the unfavorable circumstances, James works hard to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional football player. Off the field, he strives to ensure that his family and community are well taken care of.
Though I didn’t grow up on the streets of Crenshaw fighting gang and street violence, I did grow up with hopes that the young kids — who I often witnessed fall victim to drug life and didn’t have the necessary educational resources — would one day turn their lives around.
Most importantly, I fully resonate with the love, gratitude and admiration James has for his mother, Grace (Karimah Westbrook). His deep appreciation and acknowledgement of the sacrifice and perseverance his mother displayed, shines through.
Grace’s main goal is to raise her children respectfully. She reminds them that anything is possible and success is attainable no matter what obstacles they may encounter. I felt that. Grace reminds me of my mother.
The acting was the real standout of the series. Ezra is probably the most talented young actor I have watched in a long time. And I mean that. He is so believable! I would often get goosebumps watching scenes of him express his yearning to be loved by his father who abandoned him and his younger brother.
Tamia Cooper, also known as Coop in the series, is played by Philadelphia actress and rapper Bre-Z. She’s James’ right-hand-girl and childhood best friend. Her delivery is convincing and natural. Whether she is fighting to stay away from gang life, standing up for friends or struggling to be accepted because of her sexual orientation, her performance is always on point.
The writing is solid and honest. As a young black woman striving for success and aiming to give back to my family and community, I connected on numerous levels. My sisters and I literally laughed out loud watching Layla, played by Canadian actress Greta Onieogou, recite the phrase “cray cray” as a way to describe her personality.
The build up to important plots in the story is always so nerve wracking, I cringe at times but love every second of it. From dodging school work assignments to staying up until dawn, it became a top priority to continue watching.
I needed to know if Shawn or Tyrone would ever give up gang life. I couldn’t wait to learn about what drama the Bakers would try to sort out in their Beverly Hills mansion. It was imperative for me to find out if Corey would ever return. If you watch the show, you’d know exactly what I mean.
The way the team weaved in, so seamlessly, the very meaningful topic of social injustice — an important theme seen in the real world today — is so necessary.
Samantha Logan plays Olivia Baker, a fraternal twin. She realizes her social class and being stuck in her “Beverly Hills bubble," contributes to the fact that she never experienced discrimination or bias. Through expressive, truthful words, Baker created and uses her podcast to remind everyone about the inequality in America and the lives lost to police brutality.
It takes a lot to keep my attention when it comes to TV series. Though I welcome change, Steve Harvey’s “Family Feud” and Courtney Kemp’s “Power,” were my only source of entertainment whenever I did decide to pick up the remote. I’m glad I gave “All American” a try.
Though I’m a bit impatient, I will wait for season three to air on the CW. I doubt I have the self-control to hold out for the full season release to binge-watch. I’m a fan of the show now, I even got my family to jump on board.
They ask questions pertaining to the main characters, wondering about their fate in episodes to come. I’m laughing as I witness them experience the same joy I had watching my new favorite show, “All American.”