It seems the TV Gods have heard me. Late last year, I lamented about the lack of college shows. It’s a setting that ideally enables characters to break out and find themselves away from parental oversight (much like it does in real life), instead of pigeonholing adult narratives to high school. When Mindy Kaling’s Sex Lives of College Girls premiered, I was overjoyed that it showcased four diverse girls navigating their newfound freedom, providing an excellent slice of life story at a private east coast college.
Thankfully Kaling’s is not the only new show that will take up the collegiate challenge. CW’s All American: Homecoming, a spinoff of their hit show All American, will focus its attention on the HBCU (Historically Black College or University) world and follow Simone (Geffri Maya) as she navigates life at Bringston College in Atlanta, thousands of miles away from the Beverly Hills-set original series.
Backdoor pilots are used in TV as a springboard for a new series, allowing beloved characters from an original show to seamlessly transition to their spinoff. The backdoor pilot for All American: Homecoming aired as the seventeenth episode of All American’s third season, and provided a platform for Simone’s fresh start. After Simone had a baby and went through the adoption process, she’s ready to move across the country—even if that means leaving her boyfriend-slash-husband, star quarterback Jordan (Michael Evans Behling), behind. But that void is filled almost immediately: when she arrives on campus, she finds herself drawn to the Jordan of the Bringston college campus, semi-pro baseball player Damon Simms (Peyton ‘Alex’ Smith).
All American: Homecoming stays true to its roots as a sports-centric show in the three episodes screened for critics, allowing Simone’s tennis background to come to the forefront while equally delving into the school’s prestigious baseball program that recently faced a massive scandal. But it’s still accessible to viewers who never watched the original show; new drama is promised between Simone and the uptight captains of the team who view her status as a walk-on as less impressive than her teammates, and fresh romances are being explored for all main characters. The spinoff’s structure also mirrors that of the original show, with adult characters who have fully fleshed-out arcs alongside the kids, inviting audiences of all ages to find storylines that resonate with them.
As a college-based show, it’s great to see Simone struggle with some of the temptations that being an independent adult for the first time brings: endless socializing, access to alcohol, and a forced reprioritization of everything in life. She’s imperfect, as many of us are as freshmen, trying to figure out how to balance the things required for our future with the things that bring us pleasure in the present. There is some cliché storytelling at play, like when Simone decides to party hard the night before a big tennis scrimmage, but overall the show does a good job of balancing all that college has to offer and not leaning too far in any one direction.
What’s missing on the new show is an Olivia-style character (played by Samantha Logan on All American), who was a great mouthpiece for many socio-political and cultural issues like substance abuse and police brutality that the show became known for seamlessly weaving into storylines. Olivia is fiery and hard-headed, and quite often was the reason that All American felt like it had something to say beyond the high-octane rush of sports. Without a similar character, Homecoming lacks a bit of the spice that the original series had, though Simone’s world is filled with outspoken and diverse individuals (including a non-binary character who will hopefully get their own storyline instead of just being an accessory to Simone’s).
There’s a lot to like in All American: Homecoming for both fans of the original series and people entering this world for the first time. The tone is familiar and approachable, and the show is bolstered by solid performances. Most importantly, it’s a fun hang that fully buys into what college is all about.
All American: Homecoming premieres Monday, February 21st on The CW.
Radhika Menon is a pop culture-obsessed writer and filmmaker living in New York City. Her work has appeared in NY Post’s Decider, Teen Vogue, Vulture and more, and is featured in Brown Girl Magazine‘s first ever print anthology. She is a proud alumna of the University of Michigan and thinks she’s funny on Twitter.
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