All American is never without drama, but Wednesday night's episode took a deeper look into the the backstory of Olivia (Samantha Logan) and Spencer (Daniel Ezra) to reveal the traumatic events they had to overcome on their collision course into each other's lives.
Olivia was introduced in the pilot episode as the addict daughter of Coach Baker (Taye Diggs), and while the first season has given us several reminders that Olivia continues to struggle with keeping sober, Episode 12, "Back in the Day," gave audiences their first real look at the downward spiral that led Olivia to rehab.
The episode revealed that Olivia turned to alcohol and pills to cope with feeling invisible to her parents and brother. Even though her near-overdose got their attention, the Bakers have acted like a stint in rehab was enough to fix Olivia's problems. "Back in the Day" flashed back and forth between the day Olivia overdosed and the one-year anniversary of her decision to get sober, showing how far she's come.
Simultaneously, the episode gave us a glimpse at Spencer's life pre-Beverly Hills and a look at his inner demons, especially his trust issues that developed after his father left. In the present, Spencer's insecurities threatened his budding relationship with Layla (Greta Onieogou). Over the course of the hour, both he and Olivia were able to conquer their demons once again to find some solid ground in their lives.
TV Guide talked to All American executive producer Nkechi Carroll about the special episode and how it sets up the back half of the season. She also shared the creative team's game plan for the show, which did not get an early pick-up with the rest of The CW's slate.
Why did now feel like the right time to dig into Olivia's backstory?
Nkechi Caroll: We felt like we've seen so much growth from the character over the season, and we didn't want it to seem like her drug addict past was some kind of cool backstory we gave her and not address the reality of it. Kind of the way we do everything that happens in Crenshaw, we wanted to make sure we were authentically portraying the truth of what even the teens in Beverly Hills go through. So it felt like it was the right time and Olivia had earned the right for everyone to know her backstory — and not just in a sort of informative way, but to actually see it play out and see what difference it made, not just in her life but in her family's as well.
We also get a look back at Spencer's pre-Beverly Hill days. Why did you think that his backstory was paralleled to or worked well with Olivia's?
Caroll: We have them both in current day dealing with their demons, right? And Spencer's demons have to do with his trust issues and his dad leaving and all of the anger that surrounds that. For Olivia, it's her demons around her drug addiction and what led to it and never really addressing that with her family. It felt [like] if we were tackling one we should tackle the other at the same time. It's sort of the idea of flashing back to the worst day in both of their lives, which led to the collision course [that] is the two of them now together in Beverly Hills and the people they are in current day.
Olivia has a boyfriend right now, but I keep seeing some sparks between her and Asher (Cody Christian). Should we be on the lookout for something potentially developing there or do you want the two of them to just be allies at this point?
Caroll: We love Asher. We love Chris. We love Olivia, and it's that thing [where] you've got these amazing characters who so many of us recognize not just from our childhood, but I have two young sons and I see it in their friends and everything. We wanted to portray the authenticity of the friendship and hey, if that develops into something more that's gonna be something they have to deal with, and if they do develop feelings for each other, if that's something they wanna act on, which is a whole other side of it as well. If you're feeling sparks between Asher and Olivia, good! Whether or not they're gonna act on it, eh. People are gonna have to wait to see.
Olivia kind of has a breakthrough with her parents in this episode, and it helps them see that just because she got out of rehab doesn't mean this is over for her. How is that acknowledgment going to help the relationship going forward?
Caroll: It's not just for her parents, but parents who deal with this in general. Whether it's a child who has a drug addiction problem or a child that has a mental health problem or anything like that, there can be a feeling of, "We threw money at the problem and we sent them to rehab, or we got them the doctor they need so everything's good." I think it was really important for the truth of that family and they way they operate together for Olivia to really be honest with them about how it felt like they just threw money at the problem. No one really stopped for a second to be like, "Oh, well did we really address what was at the heart of the problem?" It's sort of like, "We dealt with the symptoms, but did we deal with what caused it?" For her, feeling like she can't really move on and battle her addiction until she's honest with her parents about that.
That just opens up the Baker family as a whole to a different way of how to be family. You'll especially see it play out between Laura and Olivia, and Laura trying to sort have this new dynamic with her daughter where she is more present and more observant and very much carries the guilt, as most of us moms do when something happens to our child. Laura carries the guilt of feeling like she failed her daughter because she didn't see what she needed in time.
Well now that it feels that Olivia is on some sort of solid ground, we now get to be worried about Jordan (Michael Evans Behling). Is he going to do something stupid now after finding out his dad fixed the drug test for him at the end of the episode?
Caroll: Jordan is having to grow up very quickly. He's been very sheltered and very tempered. Spencer moving into his house and this whole new dynamic for him with his dad and meeting his grandfather — there's a lot of discovery for Jordan. He's figuring out for the first time who he really is and who he wants to be. That journey of discovery for him is one of my favorite storylines, and Michael Behling has been so phenomenal. I can't wait for people to see these last few episodes. It's a tough journey for him to go on, and there'll be stumbles along the way, but there always are when there's growth.
I really love the conversation that Billy and Laura (Monet Mazur) have when they're talking about everything that's going down and the honesty in their relationship. Considering that conversation, should we assume that Laura knows the full story between Spencer, Billy, and Grace (Karimah Westbrook)?
Caroll: I would never assume anything! As honest and as beautiful as their relationship is, I think in any relationship, there's always more you could be saying that you're not. The beauty of a relationship like Billy and Laura's is that you get to test whether it can withstand all sorts of things and see if the foundation is strong enough for that. That's not only good drama and exciting drama to watch, but it's also the reality of marriage. It's something you put work into every day and you make a choice about every day. We're going to really dive into that story with Billy and Laura.
You guys have done a great job of teasing what the secret is between Billy and Grace. Can you tell us when we should start expecting some real answers to what is happening between them?
Caroll: I promise that by the end of this season people will have answers. And more questions, but they'll definitely have answers.
We just got this round of renewals for The CW and we're still waiting on word for Season 2 for All American. Are you guys taking that into consideration for how you approach the end of the season?
Caroll: We're sticking with the game plan. I have such a phenomenal writing staff and I've been so proud of the material they've been churning out. We had a game plan from the beginning and one we felt really strongly about. We've been really proud at how it's been playing out and how it's been received by our fans and by [the press]...We have no idea what's gonna happen in May. We're optimistic, and we really are hoping we'll get a Season 2 because we have so much more story to tell with these amazing characters. But all we can do at this point is just tell the best version of the story, and we're sticking with that plan
All American airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW.
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