Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 1.13 “Where’s Dennis?” and 2.1 “Jake’s Song”

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, season one comes to an end and season two begins.  And with season two, an important new character is introduced.  With the start of the second season, we also get new opening credits.

But first, let’s get the end of season one out of the way.

Episode 1.13 “Where’s Dennis?”

(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on December 5th, 1992)

With their parents out of town, Matt and Jenny throw a big party at the Garrison house and, naturally, the Dreams perform.  A promoter comes by the party and tells the Dreams that they’re “sick.”  (“That means good,” he adds as the Dreams breathe a sigh of 90s relief.)  However, younger brother Dennis feels that his old siblings are neglecting him and he runs away.  Can Matt and Jenny find Dennis before their parents come home?

Eh, who cares?  The worst episodes of the first season of California Dreams were the ones that focused on the Garrison family.

Episode 2.1 “Jake’s Song”

(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on September 11th, 1993)

In between the end of the first season and the start of the second season of California Dreams, NBC delivered an ultimatum to the show’s producers.  If the show was going to continue, it would need to lose the adults and focus on the band.  It would also need to add some more Saved By The Bell-style hijinks.

As such, the Garrison adults were largely dropped, as was younger brother Dennis.  Whereas the first season didn’t feature a single scene that actually took place in a high school, the new California Dreams would feature clueless teachers, sputtering principles, and the same high school interiors that would later show up in Hang Time.

Most importantly, the first episode of the second season introduced viewers to Jake Summers (played by Jay Anthony Franke).  Jake was a tough guy who rode a motorcycle, wore a leather jacket, and who never lost a fight.  Jake was a rocking rebel with the soul of a poet and he was obviously added to the show to try to give the California Dreams some sort of edge.  Of course, California Dreams was still a TNBC show so “edgy” really just meant that Jake looked like he might have smoked a cigarette at some point in his life.  Jake wore a leather jacket and got a serious look on his face whenever it was time to play guitar but the music was still Disney-level pop.  Jake was the toughest California Dream in the way that Joey Fatone used to be the toughest member of NSYNC.

Jake makes his first appearance in California Dreams when he walks into the high school, wearing a leather jacket and followed by several adoring girls.  “Woooooooooo!” the audience yells, showing that they already know that the new star of the show has arrived.

Anyway, Jake says that he wants to talk to Matt.  Everyone’s terrified that Jake is going to kill Matt but instead, Jake just likes some music that Matt wrote and he wants to offer him some lyrics for the song.  Matt discovers that Jake can play guitar and he invites Jake to join the Dreams.  The rest of the Dreams are like, “Jake’s too tough and scary!”  Can’t they hear how crazy the live audience goes whenever Jake enters a scene?  The Dreams need Jake!  Of course, Jake isn’t even sure that he wants to join the Dreams but then they all play together at Sharkey’s.  Jake becomes a Dream and immediately  start to overshadow the star of the show.  The future is set.

Jake would eventually become a bit of a neutered character, especially after Matt was written out of the show and Jake took over the band.  But, in his first appearance, he actually has enough rebel charisma that it’s easy to understand why the show’s producers decided to build the new California Dreams around him.  His surly attitude actually provided a nice contrast to Matt’s more vanilla style.  In their first episode together, Jay Anthony Franke and Brent Gore brought out the best in each other.

Would Jake and Matt continue to bring out the best in each other?  We’ll find out next week!

Retro Television Review: California Dreams 1.11 “They Shoot Videos, Don’t They?” and 1.12 “The Time”

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!

The story of California’s blandest garage band continues.  Last week was all about Tiffani getting mad at her mom and surfing.  What will this week be about?

Let’s just lie here in the sun until these dreams are done.  Actually, how do those lyrics go?  I don’t really feel like relistening to theme song to find out.

Episode 1.11 “They Shoot Videos, Don’t They?”

(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on November 21st, 1992)

Remember Randi-Jo?  Randi-Jo was Matt’s girlfriend.  She was incredibly boring but so was Matt.  On the show, Randi-Jo appeared in the pilot and then she appeared in the 3rd episode and then she vanished and the viewers even saw Matt dating (or at least trying to date) other women.

In episode 11, Randi-Jo suddenly shows up again!  She and Matt are so in love that she gets upset when Matt is supposed to be kissed by a girl in a music video that the Dreams is filming for a music video contest.  Randi-Jo ends up dumping Matt’s boring ass and Matt gets all mopey and writes a depressing song.  The Dreams then go on to film a music video that looks like every student film ever made.  Check out that dark lighting!  Check out that emotional close-up!  It looks like every bad indie film to ever come out of Austin.

This episode might have been better if Matt and Randi-Jo weren’t such boring characters and if maybe Matt was a little bit less whiny.  (“I just need to be alone, okay?”  Shut up, Matt.)  We do get watch the process by which Matt turns heartbreak into a song and it’s not very impressive.  (“Maybe I’m crazy,” Matt sings and I have to admit that I kind of groaned at the realization that Matt Garrison was essentially a 16 year-old version of Michael Bolton.)  To be honest, though, Randi-Jo was being a bit unreasonable.  People kiss in music videos.  Calm down.

Episode 1.12 “The Time”

(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on November 28th, 1992)

The Dreams need a tour bus so that they can get to a show that’s several miles away.  Sly buys an old VW van, one that is covered with 60s era graffiti and bumper stickers about making love and not war.  Jenny freaks out when she finds a Partridge Family cassette in the van.  I don’t blame her.

Jenny has other problems, though.  She’s gotten back together with her jerky ex-boyfriend, Eric.  Eric is charming but self-centered and he doesn’t believe in the Dreams!  Soon, Jenny is blowing off rehearsals and actually having a life separate from hanging out with her brother’s band.  However, Eric soon proves himself to still be a cad and Jenny returns to the band.  Yay, I guess.

This one was okay, if just because every woman has known and dated someone like Eric and it’s good to be reminded that we deserve better.  Plus, Jenny got to star in her own black-and-white music video, which was far superior to the video that Matt starred in with his little break-up song.

These two episodes left me feeling mellow.

Retro Television Review: California Dreams 1.9 “Mother and Child Reunion” and 1.10 “Romancing The Tube”

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!

Last week, California Dreams dealt with both racism and misogyny.  It was two heavy episodes, featuring important lessons about the problems of the world.  Would the trend continue?  Let us find out!

Surf dudes with attitude, feeling mellow, let’s get on with it….

Episode 1.9 “Mother and Child Reunion”

(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on November 7th, 1992)

It’s been over a month since the Dreams last had a gig.  Maybe they should break up!  Matt thinks that they just need to practice more.  (Of course, being a music camp kid, he would say that, wouldn’t he?)  Sly thinks that the band need to change its image and be less beach-y.  Considering what was going on in music in the early to mid-90s, Sly probably has a point.  Anyway, Sly goes out and buys a smoke machine so that the Dreams can use it to change their middlebrow image.  Maybe they just need a new lead singer.  WHERE’S JAKE!?

Now, the smoke machine and the edgy image stuff is actually kind of cute but the majority of the show revolves around Tiffani and her mom.  It turns out that Tiffani’s mom essentially abandoned her when Tiffani was only six.  For ten years, Tiffani’s mom worked as a dancer in New York.  Now, she’s back in California.  At first, everyone is shocked by the fact that Tiffani doesn’t seem to be angry at her mom but it turns out that Tiffani is angry and that anger finally comes out at Tiffani’s 16th birthday party when her mom suggests that Tiffany come live with her for a year.

By the standards of California Dreams’s first season, this wasn’t a bad episode.  Kelly Packard did a good job of portraying Tiffani’s anger.  Plus, this episode did have one good joke, in which Sly tried to rename the band The California Nightmares in an attempt to change their image.  They should have stuck with the new name.

Episode 1.10 “Romancing The Tube” 

(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on November 14th, 1992)

This was a weird episode.  I’ve seen plenty of episodes of California Dreams but somehow, I never knew that Sly and Tiffani were a couple for an episode.  Apparently, Tiffany and Sly fell for each other while Tiffany was teaching Sly how to surf.  It all led to a “Surf Soul Swapping” ceremony, which was overseen by Peter Tork of the Monkees.  However, at the last minute, Tiffani realized that she was just using Sly as a rebound to help her get over her ex.  And Sly never really wanted to be in a committed relationship to begin with.  So, they broke up and I guess it all worked out in the end.

Meanwhile, Matt, Jenny, and Tony were supposed to paint a room in the Garrison House in return for Mrs. Garrison paying them $300 so they could get a new lighting system.  But then they got bored and abandoned the job.  Fortunately, the new lighting system turned out to be a bust so they tricked Mrs. Garrison into taking it off their hands.  No one learned a thing, which was probably about as realistic as California Dreams ever got.

Weird episode.

Retro Television Review: California Dreams 1.7 “Guess Who’s Coming To Brunch?” and 1.8 “It’s A Guy Thing”

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, the California Dreams confront racism and misogyny!  Let’s see how it goes.

Episode 1.7 “Guess Who’s Coming To Brunch?”

(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on October 24th, 1992)

During a performance of “Rain” (which is the first vaguely good song to be featured on this show), an amp blows out.  It’s going to cost $300 to replace!  Sly suggests that the band take a job writing an advertising jingle but Matt’s all like, “No, man!  It’s about the music!”  Matt, we’ve heard your music.

Fortunately, Tony has a new girlfriend and she comes from rich family!  Her father (played by the same actor who played Zach Morris’s Dad during the Good Morning Miss Bliss incarnation of Saved By The Bell) offers to pay for the amp but he has a condition.  “Stop dating my daughter.”

“Ohhhhhh!” the audience gasps.

Tony’s black and his girlfriend (and her father) are white.  When the girlfriend’s father says that the relationship will never work because “you two are from different worlds,” everyone knows what he means.  This leads to a discussion about race, which was probably quite progressive for 1992 even if it seems rather anodyne by today’s standards.  Tony’s girlfriend explains that her father can’t be prejudiced because he gives money to all the right causes.  Way to call out white liberalism, California Dreams!

Of course, this discussion about race takes place while everyone tries to write a jingle for Uncle Slappy’s Root Beer.  “We can’t lie in the jingle!” Tiffany argues.  Has Tiffani never watched a commercial?  This band deserves to fail for being annoyingly naïve.

The episode ends with the band playing a song called “One World,” which I was disappointed to learn was not the One World theme song.

Episode 1.8 “It’s A Guy Thing”

(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on October 31st, 1992)

In order to force Sly and Tony to confront their own misogyny, Tiffani and Jenny trick them into falling in love with a non-existent French girl named Monique.  Kelly provides the French-accented voice over the phone.  Jenny wears a wig whenever Monique needs to be seen.  It’s kind of a dumb plan but Sly and Tony are both fairly stupid characters.  That said, Sly and Tony do eventually learn that Monique is just Jenny in a wig and somehow, this all leads to a boxing match.

Meanwhile, Mr. Garrison tries to figure out how to fix the family washing machine, in a storyline that I’m pretty sure was eventually reused on an episode of One World.  Speaking of reusing plotlines, the whole fake girlfriend thing was originally used in Saved By The Bell.  Remember when Zach pretended to be a Southern blonde in order to get Screech to do his homework?

This episode features Matt announcing, “Let’s do another tune!,” which is the funniest line in the script.  I’m always amazed at how the Dreams can produce that perfect studio sound while performing in their garage.

The Dreams dealt with some pretty serious issues this week!  What will they deal with next week?

Retro Television Review: California Dreams 1.5 “The First Gig” and 1.6 “Friends First”

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!

The saga of California’s blandest garage band continues.

Is anyone reading this a surf dude with attitude?

Actually, wait a minute.  Didn’t I use the exact same introduction last week?  Eh. It’s the first season of California Dreams, a show that was constructed out of unused story ideas for Saved By The Bell.  A little bit of deja vu is understandable.

Episode 1.5 “The First Gig”

(Directed by Don Barnhart, Originally aired on October 10th, 1992)

Wimpy California dude Matt Garrison has formed a band called the California Dreams.  Matt plays guitar and sings.  Matt’s sister, Jenny, plays keyboards and sings.  Tony Wickes plays drums and works at Sharkey’s, the most popular restaurant on the beach.  Tiffani plays bass and surfs.  Matt’s best friend, Sly, wants to manage the band and he even gets them their first gig!  Sly arranges for them to play Randi-Jo’s birthday party.  Matt totally has a crush on Randi-Jo….

Wait, this doesn’t make any sense.  First gig?  The California Dreams have had plenty of gigs!  They’ve even got a fanbase.  Sly already is the band’s manager.  And Matt’s been dating Randi-Jo since the show began.  What the Hell!?

Well, it turns out that the fifth episode aired of California Dreams was actually the first episode filmed.  The First Gig also served as a pilot for the show but, when the show went into production, the pilot was shown during the middle of the season as opposed to the beginning.  This, of course, led to a mess of continuity errors….

Of course, that’s not a surprise to anyone who has watched any of the shows that Peter Engel produced as a part of TNBC.  Maintaining continuity or, for that matter, any sort of consistency was never a huge concern.  And they got away with it because it was the 90s and its not as if the people watching the show could have jumped on twitter and complained about how it didn’t make any sense.

As for the pilot itself …. eh.  I can understand why this pilot would have led to a show, as the cast was good-looking in a very nonthreatening way.  But good Lord, is the music ever dull!  Fortunately, the music would improve sometime around the start of the third season but, while watching the pilot, I found myself wondering why a group of teenagers would want to start a band to play the type of music that their parents probably listened to on the easy listening station.  Judging from the pilot, the Dreams were the only teenagers in 90s America who had never heard of Nirvana.

Episode 1.6 “Friends First”

(Directed by Don Barnhart, Originally aired on October 17th, 1992)

Continuity continues to go out the window as this episode opens with Sly trying to convince Sharkey to hire the Dreams to play at his restaurant, despite the fact that we’ve already seen the Dreams playing Sharkey’s several times over the past few episodes.

While Sly tries to make money, Matt’s friend from music camp comes to visit and both Jenny and Tiffani fall for him after discovering that he’s lost over 200 pounds since his music camp days.  It leads to a typical TNBC situation in which Jenny and Tiffani learn to not let liking the same boy ruin their friendship.  To be honest, my main reaction to this episode was a strange sense of annoyance with Matt.  Seriously, he was exactly the type of kid who would go to music camp and come back as a huge music snob.  One can just imagine Matt ruthlessly critiquing every other band in the world.  “I didn’t care much for that bridge …. the pitch is not perfect …. here’s where you need to drop the chorus….”  Shut up, Matt.  It’s supposed to be about the feelings and the emotions!

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 1.3 “Double Date” and 1.4 “Dream Man”

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!

The saga of California’s blandest garage band continues.

Is anyone reading this a surf dude with attitude?

Episode 1.3 “Double Date”

(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on September 26, 1992)

Oh, California!  What a confusing place.

When Sharkey (the owner of Sharkey’s) goes out of town, he leaves Tony in charge of the restaurant.  He promises that, if Tony does a good job, Tony will get a promotion and more money.  But Sharkey, isn’t leaving Tony in charge already a promotion?  Anyway, it turns out that Sharkey made a huge mistake because soon, Sly has convinced Tony to hold a luau at Sharkey’s.  Tony spends a lot of Sharkey’s money on the luau.  Sharkey returns home early and demands that Tony pay back the money with whatever is made at the luay.  The luau has to be a success!  It’s a good thing that the Dreams will be playing at Sharkey’s.

Unfortunately, Matt has already booked the Dreams to perform at a wedding on the same night!  This leads to some conflict between Matt and Tony.  The conflict would perhaps be more dramatic if Matt wasn’t a total wimp.

Fortunately, Tiffani suggests that maybe the Dreams could just play both shows, considering that there’s apparently only 2 minutes of distance between Sharkey’s and the yacht club.  (The wedding, of course, is taking place at the yacht club.  Do poor people even exist in California?)

This episode basically felt like it was left over from the Saved By The Bell episodes where Zach and the gang worked at Malibu Sands …. actually, wait a minute.  IT IS!  When Mr. Carossi went out of town, Zach and Stacy booked two parties for the same night and had to throw both parties during the same night.  History repeats itself.  Of course, every time that it does, things get progressively dumber.

For the record, the Dreams would have been a terrible wedding band in real life.  Hire a DJ, like my friend Xander.  He’ll keep your party going.

Episode 1.4 “Dream Man”

(Directed by Don Barnhart, originally aired on October 3rd, 1992)

When Jenny hold a slumber party, Sly and Tony plant a listening device so that they can learn what Jenny and Jenny’s friend Jasmine are looking for in a boyfriend.  This leads to …. WAIT A MINUTE!  THIS IS ANOTHER SAVED BY THE BELL PLOT!  Zach bugged Jessie’s bedroom so that he could learn who Kelly was planning on asking to the school dance.  Jessie figured out what was going on and told Kelly to pretend to have a psychotic breakdown.

Anyway, this leads to Sly wearing an Italian suit and a silk tie in an effort to impress Jenny and the audience going, “Wooooo!”  But, because Jenny knows about the listening device, Sly ends up getting grape juice splashed on his shirt.  “Wooooooo!” the audience continues.

Meanwhile, Tiffani tried to help Matt write a song about a kid named Tommy who can’t swim.  The song is supposed to be bad (which leads to Matt learning a lesson about being honest) but the end result is still better than Friends Forever.

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 1.1 “Battle of the Bands” and 1.2 “Beat of His Own Drum”

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!