“Keep Ya Head Up” (Episode 109)
January 16, 2019
Man, it feels like it’s been more than a month since the last new All American. Wait. It has been more than a month. Anyway, we’re back and breaking down all the action from the mid-season premiere, “Keep Ya Head Up.”
To refresh your memory from the Winter finale, Spencer and the Beverly Eagles won the big Homecoming game against those cheaters at Malibu but elsewhere, things were falling apart. Shawn bought his way out of the gang life only to be shot and killed as we was getting ready to celebrate with Coop. Jordan was lured into taking drugs by the hot Malibu cheerleader only to be put on the carpet for a drug test after the game. The episode ended with Coach Baker switching out his son’s urine sample. Ruh Roh. Problems on problems.
Catch up on the entire recap of the last episode here. Now, on to the deep dive recap and review of tonight’s all new All American, “Keep Ya Head Up” … BEWARE OF SPOILERS!
Tonight opens with Spencer running himself hard through the streets of Crenshaw. He’s calling highlights of the first half of the season around his decision to pick up his life and move to Beverly Hills. He pulls up short at a playground, the same playground where Shawn and him almost came to blows over Coop early in the season. Except now, he doesn’t think about those bad times, Spencer stares at the swings and remembers when the kid versions of him, Shawn and Coop tried to out do each other on swing height. Before life became too real in the mean streets of Crenshaw.
Beverly Hills. The Eagles are back at it, having practice to get ready for playoffs. But, Jordan’s mind is elsewhere and he is shitting the bed. Billy calls time and scolds the team for being a guaranteed one and done if this is how they are going to play in the playoffs. He pulls his son aside and Jordan tells him that the drug test is on his mind. Billy assures him that until those results come back and they hear differently, Jordan IS his QB … so get it together man!
After the little father-son talk, Billy huddles up the team and announces that he has been named Division Coach of the Year and Spencer, Division Player of the Year. Cheers and whoops around. Spencer looks surprised and humbled which is a credit to his character growth.
Billy dismisses the team but keeps Spencer back. Alone, Spencer apologizes for missing practice and Billy gives him some decent leash. He tells Spencer that he understands he’s going through a lot (the Shawn stuff) but reminds him that Billy and the team need him to. He tells Spencer that there is an awards dinner to go with these Division Accolades and thinks it would be good for Spencer to attend. Also, he fully expects Spencer to thank him in Spencer’s speech. Humble, coach.
“I told you this would happen if you came to play for me. If you keep playing like this, you’ll be All American.”
Crenshaw. Spencer and his family are gathered with the congregation of the Slauson Baptist Church while Pastor Weeks preaches about the endless cycle of violence claiming their young people. He highlights that Shawn should be sitting there in church with his mother; he nods to Spencer as he says that their young are moving away to stay safe. Sad and angry, the Pastor asks whose name will he read next?
After the services, Spencer finds Layla waiting for him outside. She asks how he and everyone are holding up. Shawn tells her about Coop being in a bad place and how this is the second son Shawn’s mother has had to bury in the last two years. That’s crazy but probably not unheard of in real life. Layla admits that she’s been waiting outside for an hour – she wanted to be here for him but wasn’t sure what their relationship status was or if she should have gone inside. Spencer kisses her and tells her they’re definitely in a relationship. “Good talk,” Layla says.
Shawn’s Apartment. Patience questions what is going on in Coop’s mind as she didn’t talk the whole ride home. Coop is frustrated that Pastor Weeks is always preaching the same old stuff and Patience counters that if young people stopped dying, he’d change his material. She suggests that Coop give up the revenge fantasy or else, it’ll be her name Pastor is reading in church. Coop doesn’t want to hear that as Shawn would have revenged her if the roles were reversed. Patience points out that’s true but it’s also why Shawn is dead now. Coop storms off.
Patience is smart – Coop is definitely going to fuck that relationship up.
The James House. Mama James asks Spencer about his “secret” and he apologizes for not mentioning Layla … it’s all new and everything. Mama J is all, “mmm hmmm, I met your other secret, the Player of the Year Award.” Coop told her about it in church. She’s so proud of her son and tells Spencer that all of his dreams are starting to come true. Spencer tells her that it doesn’t feel right, celebrating in Beverly when everyone in Crenshaw is in pain. Grace tells him he shouldn’t feel guilty for doing something great. She tells Spencer that he and Shawn chose different paths but Spencer isn’t sure.
Flashback! We’re back at the swings like the opening of the episode. Except we go longer now and see Shawn’s older brother coming towards the kids. Older brother tells Shawn they’ve got to go, he’s got something he needs Shawn to do. Young Coop and Spencer wonder what that thing might be and Young Shawn is pretty sure it’s stealing something … this seems to be a recurring theme in Young Shawn’s life. The flashback ends as Young Shawn follows after his brother.
Beverly Hills. The next morning, Spencer comes downstairs and Billy mentions it’s going to be a big day. Spence is all, “Huh?!?” and Billy kind of freaks out .. they’ve got a scrimmage today, remember? Sure sure, Spencer is all over it. Billy, a little worried now, also mentions that the LA Tribune is sending a reporter to interview Spencer and, as they have named him Player of the Year, he kind of has to speak with them. Billy implores Spencer to not lose focus now of all times and Spencer assures him that he’ll take care of business on the field.
“I’m talking about off the field.”
Spencer tells Coach that he’s got his community on his mind and he’s feeling that pressure. What pressure, Billy asks, and Spencer says that he feels like he has to be a beacon of hope for all of Crenshaw, living proof that not everyone has to end up like Shawn. Billy can related coming out of Crenshaw himself and tells Spencer that when he left, it wasn’t because he didn’t love his community but because he couldn’t carry that burden anymore.
“So, yeah, remember who you are, remember where you came from, but don’t let the burden of your community weigh you down.”
Which is exactly when his community literally calls him in the form of Patience. She’s worried about Coop because she’s acting more like Shawn than herself. She’s talking about getting revenge and Patience hopes that maybe Coop will listen to Spencer.
Beverly Hills High School. Olivia is trying to get an update on Asher from Jordan but Ash is dead to him as far as Jordan is concerned. He is also officially off the team we learn. Jordan wants to bitch about his problem though … whereas Olivia was able to bounce back from drugs because she’s smart and college is her future, Jordan is sure that no one will want a “stoner QB.” Olivia is trying to puzzle out how Malibu would know to file a drug protest and Jordan is all, “I dunno, it was just me and Ripley.”
Jordan better not lose football because he is too dumb to make it through college. How has he not realized it was Ripley. C’MON!!!!
Olivia is with me and all rolling her eyes at Ripley. Jordan acts like this is the first time the idea occurred to him. He’s a good looking boy but boy is he dumb.
Scrimmage Time. Billy is calling Spencer because the players are on the field, the scrimmage is about to begin, and Spencer is not there. Spencer is all, “whoops, not going to be able to make that game today, Coach.” As Billy is getting ready to be all, “The fuck you say?!?,” Spencer hangs up on him. Which is when Gordon Bauer (Chris Conner), reporter for the LA Tribune walks into his office. Billy breaks the bad news about having to reschedule the Spencer interview and Gordon is all, “hmm, he’s one of those kids.” Billy is all,” ?!?” and Gordon clarifies that he thinks Spencer is a big ego, too good for things like interviews. Billy tries to defend Spencer’s dedication to but Gordon is all, “suuuuuuureee.”
Crenshaw, Shawn’s Apartment. Ty and all the boys are hanging in Shawn’s crib, playing video games. Coop is freaking out, she wants to go get some revenge and Ty explains to her that “Ray” will get his but they gotta lay low for a minute. Coop isn’t having it and thinks playing video games is poor service to Shawn’s memory. Spencer comes barging in and Tyrone is all, “hey” but Spencer makes it clear he isn’t here for a reunion. Ty doesn’t like this attitude at all and Coop drags Spencer outside.
Outside, Coop reminds Spencer that she doesn’t need a babysitter but Spence makes clear that he’s not leaving until Coop promises to not doing anything stupid. Shawn is dead, he says, he doesn’t need anyone having his back anymore. Spencer tells Coop that he’s not going to make the same mistake twice and Coop is all, “?!?”
Flashback! We’re back on the swings but now Spencer and Shawn are grown. Spencer gives Shawn his sympathy about his Brandon’s (that’s his brother’s name) death. Shawn tells Spencer that he’s going to take care of it but Spencer doesn’t understand what this means. Tyrone walks up and tells Shawn that it’s time to go. He sees Spencer and tells him, “it’s been a minute” (which is what he just said to Spencer in the apartment. Must be his phrase). Ty asks is Spencer is running with them today and Shawn answers on Spencer’s behalf that nope, Spencer always someplace better to be. Spencer turns to his friend and tells him he doesn’t have to do “this.” “See you around, Spencer.”
Back in the present, Spencer tells Coop that maybe he could have done more to stop Shawn from wanting to get revenge for his brother’s death. He’s damn sure going to do more to stop Coop from doing the same thing.
Beverly Hills. Layla finds Asher working at pool hustling. Since being thrown off the football team, this is how he is spending his time now instead of going to school. Really good parental oversight on Asher. Just, tops. Anyway, Ash is deep in a pity party and thinks no one wants him to come back. Layla says that isn’t true and that there is always a way back. I think the latter is true but the former? I dunno, does anyone want Asher back?!? Who, give me their names.
The Baker House. Ripley finds Jordan out by the pool and says that she assumes his phone died since he ignored her all day. He tells her the drug tests come out tomorrow and then, that will be the end of his life. She thinks it won’t be so bad, they can spend more time together. Jordan cocks his head and then accuses her of ratting him out to the Malibu coach. She counters that the coach filed protest against the entire team – he would have just filed it against Jordan if she had ratted on him. She gets huffy and storms out.
Her logic makes NO sense. Of course, he’d file it against the whole team, A. he wouldn’t want to be so obvious as specifically target Jordan and B. who knows who else he might have snared in the drug net?!? Jordan looks like he might believe her which makes him a bigger idiot. Ugh.
Crenshaw. Coop comes back into Shawn’s apartment and finds Miss Ruth (Shawn’s mom) with Tyrone, packing up some of Maya’s things. She leaves and Tyrone tells Coop he liked her fire today, he offers her Shawn’s spot in his organization. Coop tells him she’s good and Tyrone makes it clear that he wasn’t asking. Coop acknowledges that and says she’s still saying no. Ty accuses her of being weak but she calls his bluff. She tells Ty that she’s being strong and if Ty needs to do something about it, whatevs. He tells her he’s going to let the sleight go out of memory to Shawn. But he’s hella pissed.
The James House. Late that night, Spencer comes home to find Billy waiting for him. Billy starts in that for now on, Spencer will start looking out for himself and Spencer flips it on Billy. He calls bullshit on the statement earlier that community is a burden. “It’s a responsibility,” Spencer says. Spence tells Coach that Coach has forgotten where he came from.
“Watch your mouth, son.”
Billy tries to convince Spencer that he’s just looking out for him but Spencer counters that he can’t even trust Billy. With so many secrets swirling, Spencer doesn’t know what to believe. He drops the knowledge about Billy and Spencer’s dad competing for the coach’s job (another nugget planted by the Malibu coach). Billy is hard on rubbing his temples at this point. “Everything I’m doing is to protect your future,” Billy says
“My future or your future?”
Oh, Burn Spencer! Billy comes back at Spencer, shows Spencer the social media bomb that the LA Tribune reporter wrote on Spencer when he ghosted the interview. Spencer is over it and any award and starts to leave. Billy (finally) raises his voice and yells at Spencer to not walk away from him. This at least gets Spencer to stop. Billy gets in his face and tells him that if he wants to be an All American, he needs to play two games: one on the field and one here, in the real world. If Spencer blows off the awards, that’ll cause headlines. Colleges don’t like headlines and if colleges don’t like Spencer, there will be NO NFL.
“So believe it or not, I’m trying to protect YOUR future. Dismissed.”
Damn Billy, that was like a boss.
The next day, Layla is reading Gordon Bauer’s several flame tweets about Spencer and his poor work ethic (Gordon was really butt hurt about being blown off for the interview). She counsels Spencer to go to the awards dinner and show them all the real Spencer, “it’s impossible not to like you.”
Somewhere, Asher raised his hand and began to cry.
Spencer thinks he only won the award because he got the “golden ticket” out of Crenshaw. Layla tells him he won the award because he’s the best player on the field. Every single game. Aww, she’s a keeper.
The Baker House. Billy is working on his speech when Jordan comes in all freaked out about the test. Billy tells him not to worry, everyone on the team passed. Jordan is stupid so he accepts his father’s statement that the drug must have left his system before the test. He asks if his dad if his father thinks the Malibu coach knew he smoked weed. Billy responds that if he did, he wouldn’t have reported the whole team.
Oh, okay. I see where Jordan gets his stupid from. His daddy.
Jordan leaves but Olivia is still there and she’s not stupid. Also, she knows about drugs. She mentions that she thought it was 8 days before marijuana left your system. “Got lucky,” Billy replies distractedly. Olivia doesn’t question it further.
The James House. Spencer is decked out in his suit and his mom is beaming with pride. She’s excited to be his date. She notes the look on his face and asks what’s wrong. He asks her, “why me?” Him and Shawn used to be the same kid, that like the same things. He blames Shawn’s brother for choosing Shawn’s path, not Shawn. Grace tells him that this is life in Crenshaw.
“Most of us don’t even start the race until it’s over.”
She tells Spencer he’s been given an equal opportunity to succeed so “go win that race for the rest of us.”
I Heart Mama James so much!
Crenshaw. Coop is waiting for Ray as he returns to his car. She’s just there to say that no one is coming after him, it’s over. Which is when she notices Ray is toting around Shawn’s old courier bag. Yep, Tyrone is now employing the guy who killed Shawn.
That’s super fucked up.
Coop starts a half dozen questions but Ray stops her each time. His advice, don’t ask any questions. Because, anything she’s thinking about asking at this point, won’t bring Shawn back but will get her killed. Ray drives off.
The Awards Ceremony. Billy is up first with his speech.
Side Note: I want to stop a moment and question why Laura isn’t there — she’s getting ready to run for office, she has to be at these kinds of functions. Right?!? Weird.
Back to Billy’s speech. It’s pretty vanilla and he thanks everyone he has to thank. He raises an eyebrow for me, and for Olivia, when he mentions how his team handled all the adversity this season, mentioning their outstanding “accountability” for their actions. Hmmmmmm
We get a quick cut to Crenshaw where Coop has arrived for Shawn’s funeral only to find Tyrone sitting next to his mother, cooing in her ear. Ty and Coop exchange eye daggers.
Back to the awards ceremony, Gordon Bauer, the petty reporter, introduces the Player of the Year, Spencer James. Led by Dillon and Mama James, the whole crowd stands and applauds. Spencer leads with the list of people he’d like to thank.
After the obvious names, he pauses and flashes back, again, to young Shawn on the swings.
Back in the present, he puts his list away and tells the crown, this list reminds him of another. He recites the name of gang members killed this year, the same list that Pastor Weeks read at the top of the episode. Spencer tells the crowd that they have never heard of these young men because when gang members die, people just shrug. There are no awards or stages for these men. He makes it clear that these dead boys were not born with the same opportunities as the people in the audience tonight.
“I think it’s time we stopped shrugging. Because now on, I’m winning this race for them.”
He finishes his speech by talking about how his life isn’t about scholarships or the NFL anymore, it’s about giving back to where he came from .. so the people living there have a chance to write their own stories. He smiles sheepishly and thanks them all before leaving the stage.
Note: Gordon Bauer had the decency to look a little regretful during Spencer’s speech.
Cut back to the funeral and Coop approaches Ty, she says she wants in to Shawn’s spot. Tyrone tells her that it’s already gone and now Coop’s “on the outside looking in.” He dismisses her, telling Coop to go kiss Shawn’s mom.
Beverly Hills. Billy and Spencer run into each other and bury the hatchet. Billy tells him that he respects Spencer and they don’t have to agree on everything. One more thing, about Spencer’s dad. He admits that he was up against Spencer’s dad for the coaching job … but so were “50 other candidates.” Billy tells Spencer getting that job probably saved Billy’s life and he certainly didn’t steal it from anyone, “I earned it.” Why are you telling me this now, Spencer asks? “Because I want to win back your trust.”
Awww, Billy. Be more concerned with getting into trouble for swapping pee samples, my man.
Crenshaw. Patience begins to sign at the funeral. She’s singing a beautiful song, “River” by Leon Bridges:
“Oh, I wanna come near and give ya
Every part of me
But there’s blood on my hands
And my lips aren’t clean.“In my darkness I remember
Momma’s words reoccur to me
“Surrender to the good Lord
And he’ll wipe your slate clean”
As Patience sings, the James family arrives and Tyrone gets up to talk to Spencer. He tells Spencer that Shawn was Spencer’s guardian angel. While Shawn may have always gone at Spencer, he made everyone else in Crenshaw leave him be. Shawn told everyone that would listen that Spencer was going to make Crenshaw proud. Ty repeats to Spencer now, the line we heard earlier in the flashback.
“Spencer always got somewhere better to be.”
As everyone cries, we head into the final commercial break.
Beverly Hills. Inside Spencer’s restaurant that everyone hangs out in, Asher approaches Layla with flowers in his hand. He totally misread her message from earlier. As he starts to tell her that he loves her, she cuts him off to say that she is with Spencer now. He slams the flowers down and walks away.
He’s such Douchebag.
The Baker House. Olivia catches her father alone and compliments his speech, especially the part about “integrity” and “accountability.”
I told you she noticed. Olivia starts to go into an accusation without making it sound like an accusation but Billy stops her and flat out lies, saying he had nothing to do with Jordan passing the drug test. Ay, caramba!
Crenshaw. Nighttime in the hood and Coop approaches Tyrone and his gang. She repeats to him wanting to be in and she acknowledges that there is a penalty now for coming late. He nods and the girl members of the gang proceed to give Coop a beat down. We pull away as Tyrone watches with a satisfied look on his face.
What is Coop playing at, here? Long con?
Flashback. In the bright sunshine, Spencer stands at a freshly dug grave. We think it’s Shawn’s but then Shawn walks up. They hug and Shawn cries into Spencer’s shoulder. He places a flower into the fresh dirt of his brother’s grave. Spencer tells Shawn it’s gotta end. Whomever did this to Brandon, Spencer pleads, let it go. Don’t retaliate, Spencer begs. “Too late,” Shawn replies before walking away.
Leon Bridges’s version of “River” cues up as we return to the present and Spencer is bringing a flower to Shawn’s freshly dug grave.
“I’ll see you around, Shawn.”
If you’re reading this, then i am already preaching to the choir but man, All American does not sugarcoat it’s message or how it delivers on them. In the hands of almost any modern TV, especially one that is focused on teenagers, tonight’s All American would have read like a melodramatic after school special, heavy on over your head imagery of how bad it is “in the hood.”
But, for All American, for this world that they have built, like Mama James says in the episode … this is just life in Crenshaw.
Again, the wonderful Daniel Ezra does the heavy lifting tonight. Between his speech at the awards dinner and then his plea to Shawn at the end of the episode, Ezra’s Spencer is becoming a man before our eyes and realizing that his community is not a burden but rather, a responsibility. Through these recent life experiences, Spencer James has been changed forever and now carries the weight of his home with him, a weight he will only be able to excise through working to improve the problem.
When does the cycle of violence stop? He asks this of Shawn in the final flashback when he knows that Shawn is going to go after Brandon’s killer (sadly, he was too late on his plea).
There are so many questions. When will those that don’t live with this violence in their backyard stop ignoring the problem? When will the shrugging stop and the realization come that entire generation of men (and women) are being wiped from this Earth? And it’s happening in virtual anonymity.
I applaud All American for this episode and all of its episodes where it takes on the hard subject matter of realistic, modern life in the urban wasteland.
“I think it’s time we stopped shrugging.”
You’re 100% correct Spencer, it’s time we all stop shrugging.