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!
I do have to say that, having now watched several episodes of City Guys and One World, I actually appreciate California Dreams a bit more. It was one of the better shows to be produced by Peter Engel, one of the crown jewels of the Engelverse.
Episode 2.14 “21 Jake Street”
(Originally aired on December 25th, 1993, directed by Don Barnart)
Wow, this episode premiered on Christmas Day? Really? How many families put off unwrapping presents so they could watch the latest adventures of the California Dreams?
There’s a new girl at PCH and all the male members of the Dreams want to date her. However, the only guy that she’s interested in going out with is Jake. Soon, Jake is dating her and …. WAIT A MINUTE! Isn’t Jake dating Tiffani!? Have we not gone through several episodes that have featured Jake dating Tiffani? Yet now, Jake is dating a new girl and Tiffani isn’t even upset about it. Once again, it appears that this episode was shown out of its intended order. NBC was notorious for doing this with their morning sitcoms and, as a result, the continuity of California Dreams, City Guys. Hang Time, One World, and Saved By The Bell was always a mess. At the time, it’s possible that no one noticed or cared. Back in 1993, it wasn’t like people could hop on Twitter and demand to know whether Jake and Tiffani were still a couple. And honestly, there are worse things in the world than sloppy continuity. It’s just that, when you binge one of these shows, screwed-up continuity jumps out at you in a way that it might not otherwise.
Anyway, the new girl is really interested in Sly’s plan to get fake IDs so that the Dreams can play in a 21-and-over club. It turns out that she’s an undercover cop and she’s working to break a Fake ID ring! If you only watched shows that took place in the Engelverse, you would be justified in thinking that fake IDs were the biggest problem in high schools in the 1990s. Saved By The Bell, Hang Time, City Guys, California Dreams, they all did at least one episode about fake IDs.
The fake ID dealer is arrested. Sly nearly gets arrested as well but he’s allowed to go free after he promises to never buy a fake ID again. That’s not really how the legal system works but whatever. Jake tells the undercover cop to look him up after he graduates from high school. He says it right in front of Tiffani. WHAT A JERK!
Meanwhile, Matt and Tony compete in an art competition. Matt paints an abstract portrait of Sam. Sam tells Matt that he has no talent. Tony sculpts a bust of Tiffani and wins first prize after a large chunk of it is broken off. Yay! The art stuff was dumb but kind of cute. The cast had just enough chemistry to pull it off.
Episode 2.15 “Can’t Buy Me Love”
(Originally aired on January 8th, 1994, directed by Don Barnhart)
The high school needs a new scoreboard for the gym so Tiffani decides that the perfect way to raise money would be told hold a slave auction!
Okay, technically, it’s a “servant” auction but the idea is that, once someone buys you, you do whatever they say for an entire week. And you don’t get paid and you don’t really get any say in what you’re ordered to do and …. well, it’s a slave auction, okay? Oddly enough, buying people was a frequent theme in the Engelverse. Saved By The Bell, Hang Time, and City Guys all had episodes that featured date auctions.
Anyway, if that premise wasn’t awkward enough, the show’s only regular black character, Tony, agrees to be sold. He’s hoping that he’ll be purchased by his crush. Instead, dumbass Matt scratches his head during the auction and he ends up accidentally buying Tony! Agck! At first, Matt refuses to give Tony any orders but, eventually, he does ask Tony to do a few things. Matt feels so guilty about it that he ends up becoming Tony’s servant.
Meanwhile, Sly buys the most popular girl in the school because he’s convinced that he can brainwash her into loving him. (Good Lord, what is with this episode?) However, the girl turns out to hate Sly so much that all of his efforts go nowhere and she ends up telling everyone in the school what a sleazy dork he is. For some reason, we are now supposed to feel bad for Sly, despite the fact that he is kind of a sleazy dork.
Jake gets purchased by a group of cheerleaders who drive him crazy by being overly peppy. Tiffani is purchased by Sam, who really enjoys bossing her around. To be honest, Sam buying Tiffani (at a discount because Tiffani is the last person left to be auctioned off) is a lot funnier than you might expect. That’s largely because Jennie Kwan had the best comic timing of any of the second season cast members. As played by Kwan, Sam is an agent of chaos and her cheerfully destructive performance contrasts nicely with Kelly Packard’s much more earnest performance as Tiffani.
This is an episode that probably shouldn’t work but it does. The entire premise is incredibly problematic but the cast had a strong enough chemistry that they could even gets laughs out of the dumbest of situations. I already mentioned the comedic team of Jennie Kwan and Kelly Packard but Michael Cade and Jay Anthony Franke also make for a good team in this episode. Sly and Jake were probably the most cliched characters on the show but Franke and Cade both brought a lot of energy to their performances and they played well off of each other. As with so many of the second season episodes, you find yourself laughing almost despite yourself.
Next week, hopefully no one will be sold or brainwashed. It’s supposed to be about the music, people!