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!
This week, California Dreams is all about family.
Episode 3.10 “Daddy’s Girl”
(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on November 19th, 1994)
Tiffani is worried that her father (Rod Arrantis) is lonely being a single man who spends all of his time studying humpback whales. So, she decides to set him up with Ariel (Kristine Sutherland), who is also a humpback enthusiast. (Wait, that sounds weird….) Somewhat distractingly, Ariel is played by the same actress who played Zack Morris’s mother on Saved By The Bell so it’s easy to spend this entire episode wondering if maybe she divorced Derek Morris after Zack graduated from high school and Tiffani and Zack are about to become stepsiblings.
Anyway, things are great at first but then Tiffani gets jealous and tries to break up her father’s relationship by revealing the Ariel has a police record. Unfortunately, Tiffani doesn’t actually bother to take a look at the record before barging in on her father’s date and it turns out that Ariel only has two unpaid parking tickets. Today, of course, Ariel would be thrown in prison for the tickets and locked up while the FBI, CIA, and NSA searched her twitter account for any negative remarks about the government’s COVID policies. However, 1994 was a more libertarian time and everyone on the show understood that parking tickets were no big deal.
After her father ends his relationship to keep Tiffani happy, Tiffani realizes that she was in the wrong. That means that it’s time to save the relationship by singing a song!
The thing that bothers me about this episode is that Tiffani is a hundred times brattier than Lorena was when they all visited Lorena’s father’s ski resort and yet nobody accuses Tiffani of being spoiled. That’s a bit of double standard. That said, there was one funny scene in which a horrified Tony realized that there was nothing that Mr. Smith enjoyed talking about more than humpback whales. “I’ve got to get back to work,” Tony said. “I’ll just tell you about them while you work,” Mr. Smith replies (or words to that effect). It made me laugh.
Episode 3.11 “Family Tree”
(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on November 26th, 1994)
For history class, the Dreams are investigating their family trees. Jake reveals that his grandparents were refugees from Eastern Europe. Sam reveals that her ancestors built the Great Wall of China. Lorena turns out to be related to both Benito Juarez and Mario Lopez. Tiffani is forced to research both the Smiths and the Joneses. Amazingly, it appears the genealogical research is so easy that all you have to do is check out a few books from the library.
Tony is upset to discover that his earliest known ancestor was a slave so he makes up a story about being descended from an emperor. Everyone is really impressed. “That’s wonderful, Tony,” the very white teacher announces, “especially since most African-American can’t find anything before the Civil War.” She said it in such a cheerful and condescending manner that it immediately made me think of the incredibly awkward episode of The Love Boat in which Captain Stubing took it upon himself to explain black history to Isaac.
Eventually, Tony is visited by the ghost of one of his ancestors and he finally decides to be honest about his background. This episode was well-intentioned and nowhere near as bad as the infamous Running Zack episode of Saved By The Bell. A bit of the humor was a bit awkward. For a show that was ground-breaking in the diversity of its cast (at least as far as TNBC shows were concerned), a lot of the humor is still based on stereotypes and the same studio audience that cheered Tony for embracing his identity also laughed whenever Lorena spoke Spanish. For the most part, though, this episode worked and it gave William James Jones a chance to do something more than just be the goofy comedic relief.
(Incidentally, I love family tree projects. I’m Irish on my father’s side and Italian/Spanish on my mother’s side.)
Next week, it’s a double dose of Jake as he takes up smoking and considers losing his cool!