The will-they, won’t-they couple is the cornerstone of every important teen drama. Chuck and Blair weren’t Gossip Girl’s perfect couple, but they were the most exciting, and today’s shows are continuing that formula with Monse and Cesar (On My Block), Zoe and Aaron (Grownish), and Rue and Jules (Euphoria). And now, there are two more names to add to that list: Spencer and Olivia. The tension between the two has been brewing since All American, CW’s sports drama, premiered in 2018, and after three seasons, the midseason finale, which aired this week, showed it was finally time for them to take their relationship to the next level. Except, the more the show develops, the more it looks like Spelivia (a couple name coined by countless fan pages) has gone from having one of the purest friendships on the show to a relationship predicated on lies.
Recent teen programming is a reflection of Gen Z's status as the “most well-educated generation yet.” These shows are writing activism in the language of teenagers, and using scripts to tackle real issues like gentrification, racism, sex work, and trans issues. All American’s midseason finale finds Spencer and Olivia at what could be a fatal crossroad in their relationship. But if the show wants to stay in the conversation of impactful teen dramas, the writers have to address that Spelivia isn’t just a harmless will-they, won’t-they couple. Together, they’re dysfunctional and the fallout of finally committing to each other could have serious consequences. And Spencer, if you’re reading this, it’s not too late—run.
It’s easy to understand why fans are so invested in Spelivia, and how their stories are intertwined. Billy Baker (Taye Diggs) is a former NFL star turned coach at a high school in Beverly Hills when he recruits Spencer James, a football star from Crenshaw. Coach Baker offers to let Spencer stay with his family so he can play football in a better school district. On his first day at Beverly High, he befriends Olivia in class only to find out that she’s Coach Baker’s daughter. At the time, it wasn’t clear how All American was positioning them. Was Spencer supposed to be a surrogate brother, a best friend, or more? They adjusted to the grey area of existing as friends who are attracted to each other while living under the same roof, despite moments where their chemistry was undeniable, like Olivia walking in on Spencer getting out of the shower or their friend daring them to go skinny dipping in a hot tub together.
Through it all, Spencer and Olivia’s friendship never wavers. They met when they needed each other most: Spencer was acclimating to a new school, and the student body shunned Olivia after she overdosed on prescription pills. Although they eventually ended up dating different people, Spencer made a vow to always be there for her, so when she needed a partner for her cotillion, he obliged. That night, he took a bullet for her, injuring his arm in the process, which put his football career in limbo. Olivia didn’t ask him to save her life, but what she asks him to do in the latest All American episode crosses the lines of healthy boundaries and personal accountability.
Season three of All American toggles back and forth between time, using the previous summer to explain why Spencer and Olivia are barely talking in the present day. Last summer, Spencer confessed his love for her, and instead of sharing how she felt, she caught a flight to see her boyfriend. A failed group trip at a cabin forced Spencer and Olivia to be honest to their partners and themselves about what really happened that summer.
This week’s episode explores the fallout from the cabin trip as Olivia reveals her feelings for Spencer during a car ride home. “Feelings that I’ve had since you first came to Beverly have only gotten deeper since,” she says. It was the confirmation we’d been waiting years for. Tiana Major9’s “Collide” plays in the background, and her lyrics sum up the entire arc of their relationship: “When we collide, it’s a beautiful disaster.”
Too fixated on Spencer, Olivia crashes the car—and that isn’t even the wildest part. “You have to switch seats with me before the cops come,” she says. “I’m not going to pass the sobriety test.” In the same breath that Olivia confesses her love to Spencer, who was unaware that she was no longer sober, she asks for the ultimate sacrifice. Asking to switch seats isn’t a small favor: Olivia actively decides that getting a DUI would be worse than Spencer taking the fall for her, when it is known that since 2015, 24 percent of unarmed Black people were killed during traffic stops.
Unfortunately, we won’t know what happens until the second half of the season returns on April 12. Still, we hope the All American writers who spent three seasons showing how much Spencer and Olivia had in common use the rest of the season to explore how different they are, primarily through their levels of socioeconomic privilege. As a family, the Bakers’ have made an effort to understand Spencer’s circumstances, and at times, his presence in their lives have forced them to understand their own place in the world. But there is still a disconnect. When Spencer makes the decision to return to Crenshaw High to use his football skills as a resource to keep Crenshaw from turning into a magnet school—which would shut kids from the neighborhood out—no one acknowledges that as a burden that a 17-year-old, who is still recovering from an injury, should have to bear.
Spencer is always sacrificing some part of himself to be a part of the Bakers’ world, while their lives remain unchanged. Olivia, a biracial kid from Beverly Hills, would have been just fine in the aftermath. Her mother Laura, who is white, is a newly elected District Attorney, and her dad is a former professional athlete. Last season, we watched Olivia find her voice as a “woke” podcaster, and this week’s episode dismantles that persona. Putting Spencer in harm’s way not only could jeopardize his chance to continue playing under the constraints of a new, strict principal, but also his life.
Spelivia isn’t the first toxic couple, and they won’t be the last. Monse and Cesar, Aaron and Zoe, and Rue and Jules are all dysfunctional in their own ways—but shows like On My Block, Grownish, and Euphoria are a voice for the issues that transcend adolescence. CW has become a network filled with superheroes, with flagship series like Black Lightning and Batwoman, and it’s no surprise that Spencer fashions himself as a crusader too, wanting to help everyone around him. But it’s time he realizes that he’s already taken a bullet for Olivia once, and he isn’t immortal.
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.