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All American: Homecoming Recap: Simone Braves College Alone in Spinoff Premiere — Grade the First Episode

All American Homecoming Episode 1

Even as she’s surrounded by pep rallies and giddy upperclassmen, it takes quite a while for Simone Hicks to feel any school spirit during All American: Homecoming‘s series premiere.

The All American spinoff — which unofficially began with a backdoor pilot last July — formally kicked off its run on Monday night, with Simone flying solo to Bringston University’s move-in day.

In fairness to Simone, her emotional funk for most of Monday’s premiere is warranted: She’s now miles and miles away from boyfriend Jordan and her baby son, Shay, and she’s also surprised to learn that she isn’t guaranteed a spot on Bringston’s women’s tennis team. Rather, five girls are competing for the last open slot, and team captain Thea hasn’t gotten any less catty since Simone first encountered her last year.

Silver linings, on the other hand? Simone has an excellent confidant in her aunt Amara, who assures Simone that she’ll find her people at Bringston, if she gives it some time. Plus, Simone’s still tight with Bringston sophomores Nathaniel and Keisha, who she met during her initial visit to campus. And, yeah, tennis court queen Thea might live in Simone’s dorm building… but so does standout baseball player Damon Sims, who Simone also previously met, and let’s just say she remembers him well. Sorry, Jordan.

Simone’s first 48 hours at college are a bit of a whirlwind, prompting plenty of homesickness and some deep concern that she made the wrong choice to attend a school so far from California. For one, Simone parties a little too hard at a welcome bonfire on her first night, and she underperforms during tennis drills the next morning, thanks to her nasty hangover. Her showing on the court is so bad, in fact, that the coach sends her home before practice is over for the day.

All American Homecoming Recap Episode 1Then, later, Simone learns that she can’t stay in her originally assigned dorm room, after all: Her mother, who had long hoped for Simone to attend an Ivy League school, apparently sees Simone’s choice to go to Bringston as an act of defiance that will wreck Simone’s life. In turn, she’s refusing to pay for Simone’s room and board, and Simone must leave the dorm.

By the end of the hour, though, things are looking a little brighter for our girl. Simone will crash at Amara’s place while her living arrangements get sorted, and she confidently tells Thea the next day that she will never perform so embarrassingly during tennis drills again. Thea counters that their coach cares more about actions than words, but Simone replies that she plans to show Coach exactly what she’s capable of on the court.

There is one last curveball for Simone on move-in day that comes in the form of Cam Watkins, who we’ve previously seen in a dozen episodes of All American proper; he was a major football rival of Spencer’s back in California, and, much to Simone’s disgust, a good friend of her ex (and father of her child) Dane. But after getting a chilly reception from Simone at the Bringston bonfire, Cam lets her know that he was never a huge fan of Dane’s at all. He actually thought the guy was an ass — and hey, that seems to soften Simone a bit.

Elsewhere in the premiere:

* Damon — who you’ll remember gave up a potential career in the MLB to play for Bringston and rebuild its baseball program after a cheating scandal — is a total jerk during practice, constantly reminding his teammates that he gave up the pros and that their baseball skills don’t match his. But Damon (kinda) changes his attitude (a little bit) when he gets word that Bringston’s baseball program may get scrapped altogether. As President Allen informs Coach Marcus, the university is facing serious financial trouble, and given the baseball team’s previous scandal, it now tops the short list of programs to potentially cut… and it will be cut, if the Lions don’t become a championship-caliber team by the end of the semester.

All American Homecoming Episode 1 RecapDamon understandably panics at how little time that leaves the team to get its stuff together, but Marcus assures him it will all come together, if Damon is just patient with the players and helps them get their confidence back. Slight wrinkle here, though: The Lions’ first scrimmage is against Hawkins University, whose baseball team is now coached by Bringston‘s ousted leader, Leonard Shaw. Not only does Hawkins beat Bringston at the scrimmage, but Shaw approaches Damon at the end, telling him to give Shaw a call if he decides he wants to play for a program “that knows what to do with your talent.”

* Amara, who initially blew the whistle on Bringston’s cheating scandal during the backdoor pilot, realizes that her teaching course load is unexpectedly lighter this semester. President Allen tells Amara that although he has her back, there are certain trustees and influential parents that would love to see Amara get fired for what she did. By lightening Amara’s workload as a professor, he hopes she can keep a low profile this semester and let this all blow over until those parents are distracted by some new grievance. (Amara’s students, including Keisha and Nathaniel, also promise to have Amara’s back, and she pledges that she’ll continue to teach “wherever I damn well please.”)

* But perhaps the biggest development of the premiere has nothing to do with the cheating scandal, or even with Simone. It happens at a family dinner that Amara is hosting for Simone and her friends, where Damon’s longtime friend JR — who’s also the catcher for Bringston’s baseball team — overhears Damon telling Simone that he’s adopted, and the only thing he knows about his birth parents is that they’re Bringston alumni.

JR, who didn’t previously know that Damon was adopted, goes back to his dorm that night and pulls out a box of mementos from his closet. He flips through a Bible that his mom gave to him for his Communion; it was originally hers from her childhood. Stuck in the middle of the Bible, there’s a photo of a young toddler — who looks an awful lot like a young version of Damon — with a cut above his right eye, the same place Damon now has a scar. And as JR remembers Damon saying, earlier that night, that his birth parents both went to Bringston, JR remarks aloud, “Mine, too.”

OK, your turn! What did you think of All American: Homecoming‘s official debut? Grade it in our poll below, then drop a comment to back up your vote!