The CW’s “All American” has had a successful run — a notably successful one, on a network dominated by superhero programming — taking on stories about high school football. Now, a spinoff shifts the action to college baseball and tennis, but keeps the source material’s focus on Black youth. It’s a strong drama that will likely lure in both franchise fans and new viewers.
Executive produced by, among others, Nkechi Okoro Carroll and CW megaproducer Greg Berlanti, “All American: Homecoming” follows Simone (Geffri Maya), a series regular on the original “All American,” as she heads to the fictional HBCU Bringston University. There, she’s trying to find her way onto the tennis team; another storyline follows Damon (Peyton Alex Smith), an aspirant baseball superstar whose talent is balanced by a fierce individuality that can fly in the face of the team ethos.
Issues of collegiate athletics enter the frame, not without accompanying soap suds. The baseball team is rebuilding after an academic scandal forced most of the team out; Simone’s aunt, a journalism professor who blew the whistle (Kelly Jenrette), faces career consequences for standing in the way of athletic achievement, while Damon is under intense pressure to lead the team’s revival. And Simone faces fierce opposition in her desire to join the squad from Thea (Camille Hyde), an athlete who views the tennis team as her domain.
Again, these issues are treated both with consideration and a somewhat heavy hand: Thea is drawn, at first, as almost comically oppositional. And a throughline in early episodes about the circumstances of one character’s birth, and under what auspices he came to join his family, seems like an attempt to generate melodrama in the midst of successful drama: Adoption is a serious and charged issue that this show sometimes treats squarely and sometimes tries to squeeze for suspense.
I suspect this will even out as “Homecoming” continues its run. (Notably, Simone is the biological mother of a child who was later adopted, a character element that the show treats with care and thought, so the right impulses are generally there.) And, too, it seems likely that the initial flatness of Thea and others will arrive at a place of at least some complexity; that process is underway over this series’ first four episodes. In all, “All American: Homecoming” is admirably big-hearted in crafting two protagonists whose struggles viewers will follow attentively, and in conjuring a campus whose squabbles and scandals feel human-scale.
“All American: Homecoming” premieres Monday, Feb. 21 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.