Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Saturdays, I will be reviewing California Dreams, which ran on NBC from 1992 to 1996. The entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!
In 1992, with Saved By The Bell coming to a close, Peter Engel attempted to duplicate that show’s magic with California Dreams! The story of a bunch of teens who start their own band, California Dreams was basically Saved By The Bell if every episode had centered around the Zack Attack.
The first season of California Dreams centered around Matt Garrison (Brent Gore) and his younger sister, Jenny (Heidi Noelle Lenhart). Matt played guitar and was the band’s lead singer. Jenny played keyboards and sang. Tiffani (Kelly Packard) was the surfer who played bass. Tony (William James Jones) played drums. Sly Winkle (Michael Cade) managed the band. Mr. Garrison (Michael Cutt) and Mrs. Garrison (Gail Ramey) supported Matt’s ambitions. The youngest Garrison child was Dennis (Ryan O’Neill). The Garrisons were a pretty boring family and they would be phased out after this season.
Now, sing it….
Episode 1.1 “Battle of the Bands”
(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on September 12th, 1992)
The story of California’s blandest garage band got its start with a simple episode about a Battle of the Bands. As the episode begins, California Dreams has already been formed and apparently already has fans. We’re starting in medias res and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact …. wait a minute! Where’s Jake!? Where’s Sam!? Where’s Mark Winkle? WHERE’S LORENA!?
(Lorena is the character to whom I always relate.)
Sorry, none of those characters are present in season one. Of the classic California Dreams line-up, only Sly, Tony, and Tiffani were present at the start and, during the first season, all three of them were overshadowed by the Garrisons. Though it’s easy to forget, the band was originally formed by Matt Garrison and his younger sister, Jenny. Matt Garrison is quick to tell everyone that he’s rock and roll. In this episode, he talks about how much he loves obscure bands like The Beatles and U2. I wonder if he’s ever heard of the Beach Boys. Needless to say, without Jake and Lorena, the first season of California Dreams is pretty bland.
Anyway, in this episode, the California Dreams enter a Battle of the Bands contest but they find themselves competing against their hated rivals, Bradley and the Billionaires. We don’t get to hear Bradley’s music but the band looks pretty sharp in their old club jackets. GO BRADLEY! When the Battle of the Bands ends in a tie, this means that California Dreams and the Billionaires will be competing in a run-off for …. well, I’m not sure what the prize is. Probably an Applebee’s gift card or something.
(Actually, I just rewatched the episode. The prize was $500, the majority of which would probably be spent at Applebee’s.)
Sly decides that Matt should date one of the judges, Angela. Matt doesn’t think that he and Angela have anything in common but then Angela reveals that she also likes the Beatles. ANOTHER BEATLES FAN IN CALIFORNIA!? WHO COULD HAVE SEEN THAT COMING!? Can Matt tell her the truth about why he asked her out and still win the contest? Who cares? Bradley is clearly a better musician. That said, the Dreams win the contest because the show is named after them. Angela forgives Matt after he gives her tickets to a big concert. “Beethoven!” Angela says, looking at the tickets. Sweetie, he’s not actually going to be there.
Meanwhile, Tony decides to get an earring but freaks out when he sees the needle. Wimp.
Episode 1.2 “Beat Of His Own Drum”
(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on September 19th, 1992)
Tony has finally written a song that he’s proud of but it turns out that his father doesn’t care about the band. So, Tony tries to win his father’s love by dropping out of the band and playing football. Eventually, Tony fakes an injury to get out of playing football and rejoins the band.
Meanwhile, Matt’s creepy little brother develops a crush on Tiffani. It’s extremely awkward and uncomfortable to watch.
It all works out in the end. Tony’s dad begrudgingly comes to a California Dreams performance and sees Tony perform his song. While Tony sings, we get to see a music video that I guess is supposed to be taking place in Tony’s head. Tony sings and dances with an umbrella while Matt hops around in a green suit and Jenny poses with two ventriloquist dummies. It’s the type of thing that makes O-Town look edgy. But no matter! Tony wins his father’s support. Yay!