‘All American’ review: Much more than your average teen drama

Oct. 7, 2021, 6:41 p.m.

This article contains spoilers for “All American” seasons one through three.

At first glance, “All American” seems like your typical teen drama. The popular Netflix teen drama highlights that things are not always as they seem as “All American” incorporates relevant social issues that deserve attention into its entertaining plot. 

“All American” centers on Spencer James, a  young, Black high schooler and football star. He lives in Crenshaw, a Los Angeles neighborhood associated with gangs and violence. He is recruited by football coach Billy Baker to Beverly Hills where he gets trained and led on the path to fulfill his dreams of playing in the NFL. His time at Beverly Hills quickly becomes formative, with Spencer meeting many influential people who become primary characters in the show’s plot. Beyond the surface level of teen drama and love triangles, the show presents important modern societal issues in meaningful ways. 

Spencer struggles to balance football, family drama and school as well as all of the other normal stressors of being a teen. His best friend Coop struggles with gang-related issues when she decides to join one in order to make ends meet. Coop’s struggles highlight the socioeconomic inequalities and lack of financial opportunities that are so heavily correlated with race in America, as one of many race-related inequities that are addressed throughout the show. With the majority of the main characters being Black, “All American” consistently addresses issues of racial inequity in America. In one scene, Spencer and his friends get kicked out from a frozen yogurt shop by the owner after dropping their frozen yogurt and offering to pick it up, with the owner saying that she does not want any issues with them as people (Black people).  She calls the cops on them as they get offended and ask why they are being kicked out. This is the result of just one of several instances that address racism in the world. 

Coop — a young, Black, queer woman — serves an important role in the show as she struggles to be accepted as herself not only in society but in her own family. She manages to always embrace her identity and instead of succumbing to pressure, fights for people to accept her. Her character brings inspiration to others with identities like Coop and brings relevance to another issue of being accepted as LGBTQ+, especially among racial minorities. 

We see the rare case in coach Billy Baker’s household where the woman of the house earns and provides more for the family than the man, breaking social norms and again providing representation on societal outcomes that are not seen very frequently.

Another major issue is addressed when one of the main characters, Layla, struggles with depression. We learn that she has never gotten over the death of her mother and feels immense pressure with everything in her life as she feels she needs to be perfect at all times. She is going through all of this in an empty house since her father is traveling so often. This storyline has become even more important now that we see the immense pressure athletes in the Tokyo Olympics are put under and how important mental health is. Mental health issues have been very rarely addressed in teen TV shows and even then have not been made as important as it has been for Layla as we see her really struggling with it. This storyline has surely inspired many others with mental health issues in assuring them they are not alone, and it’s okay not to be okay. This has an even bigger impact with the issue coming from the character Layla, who seems to be the perfect human being, but really this shows the audience she has issues and flaws, just like the rest of us.

Another major issue covered is substance abuse. Olivia, one of the show’s primary characters, is one who has suffered and continues to suffer in her recovery from drug use. She resists the urge to go back to drugs and we see her path of recovery more than her path to destruction, which is equally as important, shedding positivity to those struggling with substance abuse while still portraying her situation as a serious one to other audience members. Like many other issues, for people struggling with substance abuse and drug issues, seeing Olivia on the screen battling her urges and having the courage to talk it out with her family is very inspiring and possibly life changing. 

“All American” covers many important issues in a smart way which is relevant to the whole world, since the main audience, teens, are the next generation. “All American” particularly makes an impact by sharing this content through a show made for teenagers. The show presents necessary education and inspiration, along with the classic indulging teen drama viewers come for. “All American” is an amazing show that serves a meaningful purpose.

Isabella Hirsch is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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