How ‘All American’ Crafted A 100th Episode Filled With Nostalgia, Triumph & “Ghosts Of Football Fields Past”

How ‘All American’ Crafted A 100th Episode Filled With Nostalgia, Triumph & “Ghosts Of Football Fields Past”

Six years ago, Spencer James was just a kid from South Crenshaw with a big dream. 100 episodes later, he’s never been closer to that dream.

The CW‘s All American celebrated a milestone Monday that is becoming exceedingly rare in television. Back in the day, reaching 100 episodes was an accomplishment, because it meant that a show qualified for syndication. But now, it means much more. It signifies that the show has beat the odds and survived through the tumult of an ever-changing TV landscape.

It’s only fitting that All American‘s 100th episode, titled “100%,” was also directed by its star, Daniel Ezra.

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“I think I just told him [he was directing],” showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll said of the decision for Ezra to direct his third episode of the series.

Ezra remembers Carroll “called me to say, ‘So this season we’re going to hit our 100th episode. We think it’s only fitting that you direct it.’ But she warned me, ‘It’s going to be a lot of work. There is no scenario where you’re going to be light in that episode.”

For Ezra, taking on the task was a no brainer. He says it he hadn’t, he would have regretted it “forever.”

The episode comes about halfway through Season 6, as the stakes are reaching an all time high for all of the characters. But no one is feeling the heat more than Spencer. He’s already declared for the draft and, after a tough season, GAU’s championship prospects have been miraculously reignited after another team loses unexpectedly in the playoffs.

Not only are the Condors headed to the Rose Bowl to compete for the national title, they’re also going up against their local rival and defending champions, Coastal California.

To help the weight of the moment sink in, Carroll and co-writer Chynna Ladage infused a heavy dose of nostalgia into the episode as well.

“We were a mess the whole shoot,” Carroll remembered.

The recalls are meant to be more than just tearjerkers, though. Taking a poignant trip down memory lane helps reinforce the idea that everything Spencer’s been through up to this moment is engrained in the fabric of his life. Everyone who has ever been part of his journey is standing next to him on this day, whether they’re still earth side or not.

Who better to help guide Spencer on his journey to the championship than all those who have been with him since day one?

“We just started talking about ghosts of football fields past, [which] just kind of emerged as a theme even before we got into the writers room,” Carroll said.

All American ushered in its 100th episode with the return of Billy Baker (Taye Diggs) in Episode 608, when Laura (Monet Mazur) gifts Jordan (Michael Evans Behling) and Olivia (Samantha Logan) letters their father wrote them when they were children. She also gifts Spencer Billy’s journal from the first year that he took Spencer in and recruited him to Beverly, hoping it would provide insight into Spencer’s own journey at this moment.

“We have a probably disproportionate amount of us on the show who lost our fathers at a young age,” Carroll reflected. “And the one thing we all consistently talked about was ways in which they stayed alive with us. We found ways to talk to them or reconnect with them a really pivotal moments. Nothing is more pivotal for Spencer than leading up to the NCAA championship and leading up to the draft.”

In Episode 609, after receiving some insight from Billy’s journal, Spencer thinks he’s got it all figured out — as most young 20-somethings do. It doesn’t take long for him to realize that he’s more nervous for this moment than he might have let on, even to himself.

What helps ease his nerves is being surrounded by the support of his family and friends, like Chris (Spence Moore II) and, of course, Coop (Bre-Z). His mom, as well. The person he finds the most comfort in, however, is Shawn (Jay Reeves), who has been visiting Spencer in his dreams leading up to the big day.

“A part of the whole fabric of the show is the fact that Shawn protected Spencer so that he could achieve this dream without Spencer realizing that,” Carroll explained. “He put a halo of protection over him in the neighborhood to make sure that he was one of the ones that made it out. So, as he was approaching arguably the biggest game of his career to date, it only felt right that Shawn be part of that.”

It’s a testament to the community this show has created that Reeves was “an immediate yes,” as Caroll recalled. “Without seeing a script…He was like, ‘I’m blocking out some dates. I’m yours. Let me know what you need.'”

As Spencer prepares for the championship, he visits each of the fields he’s previously played on to remember just how far he’s come.

“All those fields mean something to me, just as an actor,” Ezra said of returning to each of them, now taking the reins on both sides of the camera. And it all culminated in a return to the Rose Bowl, where the show had shot in Season 1 under very different circumstances.

“We weren’t allowed on the field,” Ezra remembered of shooting that scene in Season 1. “To come back six years later to scout it and walk through the tunnel was a very, very poignant moment for me.”

The 100th episode wasn’t just a chance to show how far Spencer has come and how close he is to everything he’s always dreamed of. It was an opportunity to highlight to growth of every character toward becoming the person they’ve always dreamt of being, even if they didn’t that’s who they wanted to be.

Asher (Cody Christian) steps back onto the field in a moment of crisis for Coastal California, not to return to the game, but to say goodbye to it so he can focus on his family and create the family for his son that he never had as a child. Olivia turns down her book deal after her publisher insists she include details about her dad’s affair, potentially pumping the brakes on her career trajectory, but also probably opening the door to something new and, ultimately, more fruitful.

When Layla (Greta Ongieogou) tries to plan a surprise wedding ceremony after she feels Jordan pulling away from planning, it almost feels like she’s reverting back to a version of her old self. That is, until Jordan meets her with empathy and understanding, and she’s able to understand that she’s being triggered by her parents relationship. They work through the speed bump and call off the last-minute nuptials in one of the most deeply moving scenes of the entire episode.

“That was the one scene in the episode that I remember telling NK, it came out fully formed in my head. That was one of those scenes I didn’t have to block or plan…I was like, ‘Oh, I know exactly how this scene should be,'” Ezra said. “The most important thing to show was how far they’ve come…they’re way more communicative. They really approach problems as a unit and as a family, and all that is a result of the work from the previous season.”

That is true for all the characters, not just Jordan and Layla. And while Ezra was the perfect choice to direct, having Ladage — who began as a production assistant on the series — co-write with Carroll also seemed like a no brainer.

“I feel like I’ve grown up with the show,” she said, as Carroll pointed out that Ladage used to drive the golf cart to take Ezra to lunch. Carroll adds that “it felt only right it should be a full circle moment.”

Having both been there since the beginning, Carroll and Ladage said there was no limit to the ideas they had for this episode.

“The toughest part was the stuff we had to lose,” Carroll lamented. “Everything in that script felt like it needed to be there.”

(Maybe one day audiences will get to read what Carroll called a “beautiful scene that no one will ever see,” written by Ladage, featuring the main characters that was “part of the motivation” for the turning point in the championship game.)

In some ways, making tough decisions on what to cut has been the story of the season, as Season 6’s original 13-episode order was a significant reduction from the show’s previous 20-episode orders the writers are used to.

This season was recently greenlit for two additional episodes, expanding the season from 13 to 15, in order to allow the writers to better flesh out the story and build toward a satisfying conclusion for this season. So far, there’s been no word on Season 7.

“I asked for those two episodes,” Carroll told Deadline. “In this particular chapter of the story, I was like, there are a couple more stories that in a perfect world I wish I had room to tell.”

The two additional episodes allowed Carroll to both expand upon stories that she felt needed more room to breathe in the second half of the season, as well as open up some new threads that couldn’t fit in a 13-episode season.

With a championship under Spencer’s belt, all signs point to the draft coming next — though Carroll remains tight-lipped on what’s still to come. There’s also still, presumably, a wedding in Layla and Jordan’s future.

Whatever’s in store, Carroll warns: “From now to the end, I’d say maybe just keep a box of tissues nearby.”