WARNING: Spoilers Ahead! This article contains details about Season 5, Episode 11 of “All American.”
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Taye Diggs bids farewell to The CW’s “All American.” Having portrayed Billy Baker on the drama since its debut in 2018, the actor’s departure was revealed in the latest episode. In Monday’s installment, Billy shares with his team that although there were rumors about him leaving to coach BAU, he has reconsidered and will continue as their coach.
While returning from the Crenshaw combine, the team’s bus suffers a blown-out tire, resulting in an accident. Billy, along with the rest of the team, exits the bus thinking everyone is safe. However, upon calling his wife and daughter to assure them of his well-being, he realizes that Jabari (Simeon Daise) is trapped in the bus, which is precariously hanging off a cliff. Despite pleas from Grace (Karimah Westbrook) and Jordan (Michael Evans Behling), Billy decides to re-enter the bus in an attempt to rescue Jabari.
The episode concluded with Grace and Jordan returning home to deliver the devastating news that Billy had passed away. Spencer (Daniel Ezra), who had ignored a call from Billy earlier in the day, found himself comforting a tearful Olivia (Samantha Logan) as the episode came to an end.
Reflecting on Diggs’ departure, showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll shared with Variety, “I had a pretty good idea at the end of last season that that was where the season was going.”
Since assuming the role of showrunner in Season 2, Carroll has been in the habit of discussing each actor’s character trajectory at the end of every season.
“We were incredibly fortunate to have Taye Diggs as an integral part of this production right from the beginning. We were always aware that holding onto someone of his stature indefinitely would be a challenge. I mean, he’s Taye Diggs,” she adds. “So, we made a pact to keep an open line of communication and agreed that when the timing was right, if we both felt it, we’d have the discussion and work together to craft a meaningful departure from the show.”
Carroll reveals that toward the end of Season 4, she and Diggs began discussing Billy’s journey and his legacy. “It just fell into place,” she recalls.
“It was a mutual decision that we had an opportunity to do something unexpected. We both felt it was the right moment,” she says, emphasizing that Diggs was emotionally invested in the conversation. Yet, she understood it was the only way for him to leave, as Billy would never intentionally abandon his family.
“Even though it was planned well in advance, I already knew that whenever it happened, this was how I wanted to do it. I pitched it to him with the same detail as I would for an episode, step by step, even though it was still a year away,” Carroll shares. “He said, ‘It feels like the right time, and it feels like the right way to do it.’ It just felt right for both of us.”
In the upcoming episodes, each one delves into the aftermath of the death from the perspective of different characters, and each character copes in a unique way.
For Jordan, the loss comes amid a significant milestone — finally realizing his long-held dream of having his father coach him at GAU.
“Billy went to south L.A. and met Spencer after a game and said, ‘I want you to come play for me.’ He’s never said that to his son until this moment where Jordan was going to lead GAU,” she elaborates, referring to the conversation between Billy and Jordan in Episode 8. “So, to finally have that moment where Dad needs you, not the other way around, and wants you to come play for him and stay at GAU, and then to have that taken away before you could experience it, what impact does that have on Jordan? How does Billy’s legacy shape Jordan’s life? How does Jordan step into the role of the Baker man of the house now?”
For Spencer, the burden of guilt lingers as he reflects on the last argumentative conversation with Billy and the unanswered call.
“When you have the chance to talk to someone and you send them to voicemail, and then suddenly that person is gone, you never get to call them back and have that conversation; that’s going to weigh on you,” says Carroll. “It weighs on Spencer in unexpected ways, some of which will feel very relatable, and then in some other ways that hint at something more significant at play.”
Additionally, there’s the grief Olivia will grapple with over the loss of her father and its implications for her sobriety.
“This is the first man she’s ever loved. She spent a lot of time this season in this new phase of her life with her career, and Billy was a significant part of that with the GAU article. It’s essentially the last major thing they did together. So, we will truly witness her wrestling with what life looks like post-Billy,” Carroll explains. “It’s no secret that she is a recovering addict. However, we had no interest in revisiting stories we’ve told before with Olivia, especially regarding the narrative of falling off the wagon. We deliberately crafted a unique journey for her, exploring how she processes grief and navigates to identify her emotions, along with those who support her on this journey.”
“All American” secured an early Season 6 renewal last month. The spinoff created by Carroll in 2022, “All American: Homecoming,” is currently in its second season.
“All American” airs on The CW on Mondays at 8 p.m.
(Note: This interview has been edited and condensed.)