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!
Let’s see what was happening in California back in 1994.
Episode 3.14 “Boyz R Us”
(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on December 17th, 1994)
When Tony’s old friend Darren comes to visit, it’s revealed that Tony and his family are apparently form South Central. Over the course of nearly three seasons, this has never once been mentioned by Tony or anyone else on the show but, in this episode, everyone acts as if they’ve always known that Tony comes from the hood and that his family moved away to keep Tony from falling in with the wrong crowd. In fact, it’s treated as being such common knowledge that it actually seems a little bit offensive, as if everyone just assumed that Tony grew up in a crime-ridden neighborhood because of the color of his skin.
Darren comes bearing grim news. Their friend, JR, has fallen in with the gangs. When JR is ordered to rob a liquor store, he refuses to do it. The gang retaliates by beating him up and leaving JR with permanent brain damage. (We don’t actually see JR. Instead, Tony just spends the episode answering questions about how JR is doing.) Tony thinks that he and Darren should go to the police. Darren thinks a better solution would be to kill the guys who beat up JR. Tony returns to South Central and literally stands in front of two gang members to keep Darren from shooting them. The gang members say that they’re going to repay the favor by killing Tony and Darren. But then a bunch of older people show up in the alley and announced that they’re taking their neighborhood back. The gang members run off and apparently, that’s all it takes to deal with the gang problem.
I have no doubt that this episode was written, directed, and acted with the best of intentions but Peter Engel-produced sitcoms were always at their worst whenever they tried to deal with the issue of race. The need to neatly wrap everything up in 22 minutes did not exactly lend itself to examining serious issues. The whole episode felt a bit heavy-handed and I didn’t buy the episode’s conclusion for a second. The episode suggested that the best way to deal with gangs was to just stand up to them as you would to any other group of bullies. It worked in this episode but that’s because there was only two gang members and neither one of them was armed when they were confronted.
In the B-plot, the Dreams were broke so they got jobs delivering singing telegrams. Lorena got a job as well because, even though she was rich, she wanted to see what it was like to be poor. Lorena was so cool.
Episode 3.15 “Junior Achievement”
(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on December 24th, 1994)
For their Business class, the Dreams set up a corporation and attempt to make a profit. Jake and Mark try to succeed by giving music lessons. The rest of the group decides to exploit Sam’s cold remedy, which has apparently been in her family for centuries. At first, Sam is reluctant to sell out her heritage but then she’s told that she could become a millionaire so….
If this sounds familiar, that’s because this is the same basic plot as the Saved By The Bell episode where Zack and the gang try to sell Screech’s Spaghetti Sauce. For that matter, it also has a lot in common with the infamous “buddy band” episode. Just as Zack did for the spaghetti sauce, The Dreams even air a commercial for the cold remedy on public access TV. Tony directs the commercial. Sly plays a cold germ. Sam plays her grandmother. The commercial seems like it runs way too long but whatever. Jake and Mark make no money teaching music while the other Dreams initially make a fortune. But then, in order to save on production costs, Sam cuts a few corners and the medicine goes from curing colds to causing hiccups. Sam tells the teacher the truth about what happened and is praised for being ethical.
So, in other words, there’s no actual consequences for anything that Sam may have done wrong. That’s the advantage of being one of the main characters, I suppose.
This wasn’t a bad episode as much as it was just a totally silly one. The storyline was predictable but the cast certainly seemed to be having fun. This is one of those episodes that worked almost entirely due to chemistry between the actors. Though the episode focuses on Jennie Kwan, Michael Cade also gets his share of good lines. Any episode that features Sly being totally immoral and greedy is usually a good one.
Next week, Tiffani gets hooked on steroids!
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