Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 4.9 “Operation Tony” and 4.10 “Community Service”

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 Saved By The Bell!

Episode 4.9 “Operation Tony”

(Dir by Don Barnhart, originally aired on November 18th, 1995)

Tony needs to have shoulder surgery and he’s so worried about dying that he not only practices laying very still but he also requires Sam to practice mourning.  The night before the operation, he has a dream where he sees his own funeral and, upon waking up, he tries to sneak out of the hospital and …. wait a minute.  This seems familiar.  The exact same thing happened to Zack Morris on Saved By The Bell!

Yes, this episode is pretty much a remake of Operation Zach.  The California Dreams version works a bit better than the SBTB version because Tony is a more sympathetic figure than Zach Morris and, unlike Zach, Tony didn’t have the power to stop time whenever he felt like it so Tony has no way to magically put off the operation.  Plus, this episode has a B-plot where Lorena volunteers as a candy striper in an attempt to catch the attention of a handsome doctor.  Unfortunately, the doctor explains that he doesn’t date people with whom he works.  (I would hope that he also doesn’t date teenagers.)  It was a predictable storyline but I still always like episodes that focus, even if just partially, on Lorena because Lorena is who I was always relate to whenever I watch this show.

Anyway, this was a good episode, even it was a familiar one.  Let’s move on.

Episode 4.10 “Community Service”

(Dir by Don Barnhart, originally aired on November 25th, 1995)

In this episode, the members of the California Dreams do community service!

Now, I know that I always complain whenever this happens on City Guys but that’s because City Guys usually features Ms. Noble ordering her students to do stuff during their free time.  On California Dreams, everyone actually volunteered of their own free will.  It is true that Tiffani guilted them into volunteering but still, there’s a big difference between Tiffani looking sad and Ms. Noble telling all of her students what they’re going to give up their weekend just because she says so.

Sam volunteers for the blood drive.  Jake volunteers for Meals on Wheels and eats all the food himself.  (In 1995, this was played for laughs.  You can only imagine how it would be portrayed today.)  Mark helps to clean the beach and ends up smelling like a toxic waste dump.  Lorena gives some things to the Goodwill.  And Tiffani and Sly end up working at the Teen Help Line.  Tiffani tries to sincerely help people while Sly orders pizza and hits on all the female counselors.

Uh-oh!  The school is cutting its budget and the Teen Line is going to be closed down!  Sly comes up with an idea!  Maybe the Dreams can play a benefit concert.  I mean, it worked on Saved By The Bell …. TWICE!  Sly organizes the concert and basks in everyone’s attention, even though Tiffani is upset that Sly is doing the right thing for the wrong reason.  (Calm down, Tiffani.)  Fortunately, during the concert, a teen calls in and says he wants to run away from home.  Because Sly is the only person in the office, he’s forced to help the caller and he discovers that joy of doing the right thing for the right reasons!  Yay!  Of course, I imagine this lesson will be forgotten by the next episode.  We’ll find out next week!

As a general rule, the best episodes of California Dreams are the ones in which Sly is let loose to be his sleazy but ultimately good-hearted self.  Though the story was familiar, Michael Cade did a good job playing the two sides of Sly.  Plus, the Dreams performed that “To the End” song, which has a really rocking guitar solo.

Next week, Tiffani tries to heal the bay!  Hopefully, she’ll have better luck at it than Mark did during this episode.

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 4.7 “Secret Admirer” and 4.8 “Old”

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, Sly breaks hearts and hurts feelings!  And maybe he learns a lesson.

Episode 4.7 “Secret Admirer”

(Dir by Don Barnhart, originally aired on November 4th, 1995)

This episode opens in Pacific Coast High’s state-of-the-art computer lab!

After accidentally deleting a love poem that Mark has spent weeks working on, Sly spots a student named Lynn awkwardly asking people to come to her sweet sixteen party.  Realizing that Lynn comes from a wealthy family, Sly decides that the Dreams have to play that party!  The only problem is that Sly has known Lynn since kindergarten and he’s spent that entire time making fun of her weight.  Lynn cannot stand Sly.

Can you feel the hatred?

Sly, having learned nothing from being put on trial last week, steals one of Mark’s love poems and slips it into Lynn’s locker. “Wow, a secret admirer,” Lynn says.  Then Sly pops up and starts trying to flirt with her.  At first, Lynn refuses to believe that Sly is being serious but, slowly, he wins her over.  And what happens here is kind of interesting.  As Sly eventually figures out, it’s not that Lynn believes him as much as she wants to believe him because she has absolutely no self-esteem.  Even after Lynn hires the Dreams and pays them $2,000, Sly still feels guilty.  He feels so guilty that he gives up the money.

This was not the first Peter Engel-produced show to figure its lead character going out with a someone who weighed a bit more than Tiffani-Amber Thiessen.  Saved By The Bell actually used that plot a few times.  On Saved By The Bell, Zack got sold in a date auction to a girl who wasn’t his type and the audience screamed in shock.  But this episode of California Dreams is different from Saved By The Bell in that it is more on the side of the girl than on the guy pretending to like her.  Sly does a terrible thing and, when he realizes it, Michael Cade does such a good job of playing Sly’s guilt that the viewer really does feel like Sly is probably never going to forgive himself.

That’s a good thing.  That said, this still isn’t a particularly strong episode.  The actress playing Lynn delivers all of her lines in the same flat manner and there’s a rather annoying B-plot about everyone thinking that Mark’s love poem was written for them.  (That’s another plot that was used and reused on Saved By The Bell.)  Sly learned a lesson about making fun of people but I doubt it will last….

Episode 4.8 “Old”

(Dir by Don Barnhart, originally aired on November 11th, 1995)

Sly makes fun of a bunch old people and then has a dream where he’s old and all the members of the band make fun of him!  He then wakes up and visits an old man in the hospital.  So, basically, Sly learned the same lesson that he should have learned in the last episode and in the episode before that.  Some people just don’t ever learn!

That said, by the time this episode aired, Michael Cade had really grown as an actor and he’s convincing as both an old man and an obnoxious teenager.

Next week, in another story borrowed from Saved By The Bell, Tony gets an operation!  The fun never ends when you’re surrounded by surf dudes with attitude and feeling mellow.

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 4.5 “Fallen Idol” and 4.6 “Defending Sly’s Life”

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, Jake learns an important lesson about how ruthless and heartless the music business actually is.  Meanwhile, Sly is forced to defend a lifetime of bad ethical choices.

Episode 4.5 “Fallen Idol”

(Dir by Don Barnhart, originally aired on October 14th, 1995)

Never meet your idols!

Jake learns that lesson the hard way when his hero, faded rock star Zane Walker (Julian Stone), wanders into Sharky’s.  Jake is stunned to see Zane.  Jake is overjoyed when Zane agrees to listen to the Dreams play.  And Jake is stunned when Zane steals Jake’s latest song and releases his own version of it.  The song becomes a hit in record time.  (Apparently, it only took about a week for Zane to steal the song, record it, and then release it.)  Jake and the Dreams crash Zane’s press conference, with Jake still convinced that Zane is going to give Jake credit for writing the song.  Instead, Zane smirks and takes all the credit for himself.  Tiffani and Sly suggest suing Zane.  Jake replies that it’s not about the song.  He can write a hundred good songs.  But he’ll never get another idol….

Wow, what a depressing episode!  I mean, Jay Anthony Franke really poured his heart into his performance and it’s good that the show taught kids about the importance of copyright laws but still…. let’s move on to something happier.

Episode 4.6 “Defending Sly’s Life”

(Dir by Don Barnhart, originally aired on October 21st, 1995)

The episode opens in a court room.  All of the Dreams are in costume.  Sam is a court reporter.  Jake is a judge.  Tiffani and Tony are lawyers.  Poor Mark and Lorena are forced to wear unflattering bailiff’s uniforms.  Meanwhile, Sly is wearing an orange jumpsuit because apparently, he’s on trial for being the most greedy, selfish guy on Earth.  Tony is his lawyer.  Tiffani is the prosecutor.

Is this a dream?

No, it’s a clip show.  Each member of the Dreams testifies about how Sly has been both a bad and a good friend.  Why are they in court?  It’s never really explained and I actually appreciated that.  It was a nice break from the usual “Remember that time that we played Sharky’s?” format of most clip shows.  Interestingly enough, we even get clips from the first two seasons despite the fact that there’s no way Sam, Lorena, and Mark could have remembered any of that stuff.  But at least the show is acknowledging that Matt Garrison and his sister used to be members of the Dreams.

(If I may briefly go off-topic, I always found it weird that, after Matt left, the Dreams went on without him.  I mean, Matt started the band.  He named the band!  Was he okay with the Dreams continuing to perform his songs and under the name he came up with even after he left?  Did Jake and the other band members even ask?  After he moved, they could have at least come up with a new name for themselves.  I would have suggested something like Jake Sommers and Funtime Quartet.)

Anyway, after all the Dreams testify about all of the sneaky things that he’s done, Sly testifies about the time that he helped Tiffani get off the steroids that he had previously given her.  Apparently, that’s enough to convince Judge Jake to rule that Sly is not the most selfish person on Earth and Sly is allowed to go free.  What would have happened if Sly had been found guilty?  Who knows?  I just like the fact that this totally weird episode came out of nowhere and will probably never be mentioned again.  This is something that you won’t ever see on City Guys or One World!

Next week, the recently acquitted Sly is rude to multiple people, therefore proving that Jake shouldn’t have been the judge.

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 4.3 “Principal Tiffani” and 4.4 “The Dateless Game”

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!

Surf dudes with attitudes….

Episode 4.3 “Principal Tiffani”

(Dir by Don Barnhart, originally aired on September 30th, 1995)

Earl Boen returns as Principal Blumford!  The last two times that Blumford appeared, he was given dialogue that deliberately harkened back to his days of appearing in the first two Terminator films.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen here but Principal Tiffani is still an important Blumford episode because this is the episode where it becomes clear that Tiffani and Blumford are having a secret affair.

Seriously, how else do you explain Blumford’s decision to appoint Tiffani to the role of “student principal?”  In fact, I’m not even sure that there is such a thing as the student principal program, despite the fact that both Saved By The Bell and California Dreams did episodes about it.  It just doesn’t make any sense.  Why would a student be put in charge of the school for a week?  In this episode, Blumford not only names Tiffani as student principal but he also expects her to run the school during mid-terms week.  I mean, shouldn’t Tiffani be studying for her mid-terms?  And why make Tiffani principal as opposed to someone who actually wants the job?

I think we all know the answer.

At first, Tiffani struggles with her new position.  No one will listen to her.  Then her other boyfriend, Jake, gives her a lesson in how to yell at people.  Tiffani takes his lessons to heart and goes mad with power, handing out detentions and forcing troublemakers to stand in the corner of her office in time-out.  Eventually, the entire school rebels and, on cut day, Tiffani discovers that the halls are completely deserted.

The entire school goes to Sharky’s, of course.  The Dreams, minus Tiffani, perform.  I imagine there’s nothing better than getting hired for a sweet cut day gig.  Eventually, Tiffani and Blumford show up at Sharky’s but Tiffani has learned to not be such a martinet so she lies and says that students had her permission to go to Sharky’s.  She then orders all of them to start studying, which they do.

Blumford pretends to fooled by Tiffani but, obviously, he knows what’s really going on.  Technically, Blumford could have gotten in trouble for giving an important role like student principal to someone who was obviously unqualified for the job but the hearts wants what the heart wants.

This was a very romantic episode.

Episode 4.4 “The Dateless Game”

(Dir by Don Barnhart, originally aired on October 7th, 1995)

Speaking of romance, it’s time for Jake and Tiffani’s first anniversary!  They’ve only been dating for 2 episodes but whatever.  Everyone acts like they’ve been together forever.  (Actually, Lorena specifically says that Tiffani and Jake have been a thing for 3 months.)

However, before Jake can celebrate their anniversary, he decides help Sly and Mark out with their plan to take part in a charity dating game.  When the third bachelor fails to show up for the event, Jake agrees to take the stage with Sly and Mark.  Of course, despite his best efforts to pretend to be a shallow burn-out, Jake wins and it turns out his date is scheduled for the night of his anniversary!  Instead of just coming clean to Tiffani, Jake attempts to go on both dates at the same time.  That was a pretty dumb idea on Jake’s part and it helps to explain why Tiffani has been cheating with Blumford.

Needless to say, Jake’s dumbass plan explodes in his face.  Fortunately, the Dreams know how to fix the situation,  They hold a dating game of their own so that Jake and Tiffani can see that they belong together.  Tony is the host and William James Jones totally throws himself into the performance.  For some reason, the fake dating game is held at Sharky’s.  As far as I could tell, no one was ordering food during the dating game.  If Sharky’s goes out of business, blame it on the Dreams and their constant drama.

These two episodes felt very much like they belonged more on Saved By The Bell than California Dreams but no matter!  This cast long ago proved that they had the chemistry necessary to transcend even mundane material and that’s certainly what happens here.  Jake and Tiffani forgive each other and the audiences says, “Awwww!’ but somewhere, Principal Blumford’s heart is breaking.

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 4.1 “Two Too Much” and 4.2 “My Valentine”

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!

Welcome to season 4!

Episode 4.1 “Two Too Much”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on September 9th, 1995)

I have to admit that I’ve now reached the point where I automatically smile as soon as I hear the opening of the California Dreams theme song.  Over the past few months, I’ve come to appreciate California Dreams with its (mostly) good cast, its occasionally clever writing, and even its inoffensive music.  Of course, compared to City Guys and One World, anything is going to look good but California Dreams is a surprisingly entertaining show.  It has its own enjoyably odd but mellow vibe.

The fourth season gets off to a good start with a ballet class!  Yay!  Of course, Sam and Lorena are in the class.  But so are Mark and Sly, largely because they both think it’ll be a good place to pick up girls.  And so is Tony, due to Sam ordering him to take the class.  Jake, however, thinks that ballet is stupid and doesn’t understand why Lorena doesn’t want to spend all of her time watching him ride his motorcycle …. uh-oh, I think I see where this is going and I’m not happy about it because I’m one of the few people who thinks that Jake and Lorena were a good couple.

After his fight with Lorena, Jake finds Tiffani at Sharky’s and asks her for advice.  However, Tiffani is on a date with Keith Dell, “the teen radio shrink.”  Keith, who is a hilariously mellow and understanding character, tells Jake that a successful relationship is all about compromise.  Keith then suggests that Jake and Tiffani are still in love.  “Wooooo!” the audience replies.

Determined to try to make it work with Lorena, Jake tries to share her interests.  He takes her shopping for shoes.  Then he shows up for ballet class, having exchanged his leather jacket for a pair of tights and ready to dance.  After Lorena accuses Jake of embarrassing her, Jake has a black-and-white fantasy about being married to Lorena.  Of course, it’s called I Love Lorena.  Jake becomes Desi Arnaz.  Lorena becomes Lucille Ball.  Fred and Ethel are embodied by Sam and Tony.  Even in the fantasy, though, Jake keeps accidentally saying that he loves Tiffani.  It’s actually pretty funny, largely because of the chemistry of the cast.

I’m sure everyone reading this can guess what’s going to happen.  Jake and Lorena amicably break up.  Jake and Tiffani get back together.  Tony becomes dance-crazed and puts together a wonderfully pretentious performance at Sharky’s.  As always, everything happens at Sharky’s.

Despite the fact that my favorite couple broke up, this was a good start for the fourth season.  The cast’s chemistry was as strong as ever, Jake and Lorena’s breakup was handled intelligently, and William James Jones had some funny moments as he went mad for ballet.  And who knows?  I liked Jake and Lorena but Jake and Tiffani have chemistry as well.  Maybe this breakup was all for the best….

Episode 4.2 “My Valentine”

(Dir by Don Barnhart, originally aired on September 16th, 1995)

It’s Valentine’s Day!  Looking to make his first Valentine’s Day with Samantha a special one, Tony writes a love song and has Jake sing it.  After Jake finishes the song, Sly says that it was the perfect gift.  Tiffani agrees that it was very romantic.  “No,” Sly says, “it was free.”

Oh, Sly …. never change!

Tony, however, is worried that Sam will be returning to Hong Kong as soon as they graduate from high school.  Tony’s solution is to ask her to marry him.  Sam says, “Yes!”  The audience goes crazy but the Dreams have their doubts.  Lorena and Jake think Tony and Sam are too young to get married.  Sly agrees but his main concern is whether or not Tony and Sam will hire the Dreams to play at their wedding reception.  I’m not sure how that would work, considering that Tony and Sam are in the Dreams.

Tony and Sam haven’t been engaged for more than a day before they have their first fight.  Sam discovers that Tony hasn’t told his parents that they are engaged.  “If you can’t yell your parents,” she says, “your obviously too immature to get married!”

“I’m not immature,” Tony replies, “I just didn’t want them to ground me.”

Hey, it make me laugh.  I laughed even harder when Sam revealed that she hadn’t told her parents either.

Anyway, Tony and Sam break up but, luckily, they get back together a few hours later at the big Valentine’s Day dance, agreeing to date and putting off marriage for now.  I was glad about that.  Tony and Sam are a cute couple and no one should break up on the most romantic day of the year!  While Tony and Sam are getting back together, Jake and Tiffani are having an O. Henry moment as they realize that they’ve both sold their most prized possessions to get the other a present.  It’s a sweet moment for them.  Meanwhile, Lorena gets to wear a really cute red dress so everyone’s a winner this Valentine’s Day!

I own the same dress!

Next week: Tiffani is principal for a day!  I’m sure this won’t lead to any drama at all….

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 3.16 “The Treasure of PCH” and 3.17 “Tiffani’s Gold”

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!

Season 3 comes to an end!

Episode 3.16 “The Treasure of PCH”

(dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on December 31st, 1994)

The Dreams have turned into a reggae band!

At least, that’s the impression that one gets from the opening of The Treasure of PCH, which finds the Dreams performing on a pier at night as a part of the On The Pier Presents festival.  The song’s beat has a reggae feel and it actually sounds pretty nice until the very white Mark starts to sing with what I think is meant to be a slight attempt at a Jamaican accent about how someday “you might need a friend when you least expect it.”  Watching and, in some cases, re-watching these shows, I now realize that, musically, the Dreams actually had a pretty good sound but they were always tripped up by their simplistic lyrics.  “Anytime you need me, I’ll be there….” I mean, if you want to sound like David Hasselhoff, that’s fine but it’s still a bit odd to watch the pier crowd act as if these lyrics couldn’t have been written by a computer program.  In fact, maybe they were.  Was AI around in 1994?

Anyway, the Dreams are totally excited because the Concert on the Pier promoter pays them a thousand dollars.  “We’ve never gotten that much before!” Sam says but actually, I remember them getting paid that much during both the first and the second seasons.  Lorena is worried that the Dreams are getting greedy, which is an easy thing to worry about when you’re already rich and have nice hair.  Jake says that the money won’t change the Dreams.  Lorena and Jake decide to test that idea by convincing the Dreams that there’s a fortune hidden at Sharky’s!

Fortunately, it only takes one forged letter to trick the Dreams.  (As a group, the Dreams appear to have lost several IQ points when Matt Garrison moved away.)  At first, everyone works together but soon, the Dreams are getting paranoid and vindictive.  Lorena was right.  Yay!  Take that, Jake!  However, Jake and Lorena don’t give their plan enough thought and the Dreams — as stupid as they’ve become — still eventually figure out that it doesn’t make any sense that an eccentric oldster would have hidden his fortune at Sharky’s.  So, they turn the tables and convince Jake and Lorena that there’s a bunch of diamonds hidden at …. Sharky’s.  Is there no other place to eat in California?

“DIAMONDS!” Jake yells, in a rare moment of the normally laid back Jay Anthony Franke overacting.

This was a dumb episode but it was also oddly likable.  Sly running around and thinking to himself, “Gotta find the money …. gotta find the money….” made me laugh.  For that matter, so did Tony literally picking up Tiffani when she tried to run off with one of the clues.  The cast had enough chemistry that they were even able to pull off the show’s dumbest jokes.  Of course, the best thing about this episode is that my favorite character, Lorena, was proven to be correct.  Go Lorena!

Episode 3.17 “Tiffani’s Gold”

(dir by, originally aired on January 7th, 1995)

Every Peter Engel-produced sitcom had to have at least one episode where the least likely character got hooked on drugs, had a public meltdown, and then somehow got off drugs with a minimum amount of difficulty.  The most famous of these episode was the infamous episode of Saved By The Bell, where Jessie got hooked on caffeine pills and sang, “I’m so excited!”

When it came time for California Dreams to deal with drug addiction, the end result was Tiffani’s Gold.  In this episode, Tiffani is suddenly a star volleyball player who has a chance to make the national team and bring home a gold medal.  Tiffani, who up until this point has been portrayed as a mellow hippie, is suddenly determined to win and the Dreams want her to win as well. Unfortunately, Tiffani is struggling to keep up with the other girls trying out for the team.  So, she convinces Sly to help her get some …. dramatic music cue …. steroids!

You know what this means.  Tiffani makes the team but she also starts to have mood swings and violent outbursts.  Eventually, she makes a scene at Sharky’s and realizes that she has to stop taking drugs.  What makes this standard anti-drug episode memorable is just how unconvincing Kelly Packard is as a drug addict.  Don’t get me wrong.  She tries really, really hard to capture Tiffani’s anger and moodiness.  In fact, she tries too hard.  Scenes like the one in which Tiffani throws Sly against a locker are meant to be shocking but they actually inspire more laughs than gasps because Kelly Packard doesn’t come across as if she’s ever lost her temper before.  One gets the feeling that she was such a positive person that she didn’t even know how to fake anger.

As for the B-plot, Sly, Tony, and Mark compete to see who is the “bigger stud.”  Despite not being in contest, Jake is declared the winner.  Despite the fact that Jake and Lorena were supposed to be a couple, Jake is seen dating several other girls in this episode and Lorena doesn’t seem to care in the least.  Considering that Sly is wearing the exact same outfit that he wore in the first episode of season 3, I’m going to guess Tiffani’s Gold was filmed and meant to air much earlier in the season but, for whatever reason, it was held back until the very end.

(Incidentally, Christy — who rejects both Tony and Sly before going off with Jake — was played by a young Fergie.)

This rather campy episode was the final one of season 3.  Next week, we start season 4!

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 3.14 “Boyz R Us” and 3.15 “Junior Achievement”

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!

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 3.12 “Harley and the Marlboro Man” and 3.13 “Rebel Without A Nerve”

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, it’s all about Jake trying to retain his cool.

Episode 3.12 “Harley and the Marlboro Man”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on December 3rd, 1994)

“You can’t hide your smoking behind tic tacs and old spice!”

Yes, it’s time for another TNBC anti-smoking episode.  In California Dreams, Jake Summers starts to smoke after he see his super cool Uncle Frank lighting a cigarette.  Soon, Jake is totally addicted.  He can’t stop!  It doesn’t matter how many times the members of the band make him look at a picture of a cancerous lung.  It doesn’t matter that Lorena won’t kiss him.  It doesn’t matter that no one wants to be a friend with a smoker.  After smoking for one week, Jake Summers is hopelessly addicted.  He’s got the nicotine monkey on his back!  But then Frank shows up and says, “I’m dying Jake.”

Good Lord, this was heavy-handed.  This is actually the second time that I’ve watched and written about this episode and my reaction to episode pretty much remains the same.  I simply cannot believe that Jake Summers, an aspiring rocker who has spent his entire life hanging out with motorcyclists, never smoked a cigarette until he saw his Uncle Frank light up.  The Dreams themselves acted as if smoking a cigarette was the most scandalous thing in the world.  So, I guess no one smoked weed in 1990s California?  No one did cocaine in 1990s California?  None of the other bands at the Battle of the Bands ducked behind Sharkey’s to have a cigarette?  Seriously, there’s a difference between not liking cigarettes and being unbelievably naïve.  At one point, Tiffani says that nicotine is more addictive than crack cocaine.  I’ve seen several David Simon-produced shows and I just don’t believe that.

Anyway, the Dreams deal with this problem in the same way that they deal with everything.  They throw a benefit concert at Sharkey’s.

Episode 3.13 “Rebel Without A Nerve”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on December 10th, 1994)

Jake Summers is afraid he’s losing his cool!

Not only is there a new kid at school who is talking about Jake behind his back but Jake has twice crashed his motorcycle!  With his confidence shaken, Jake decides that it would be safer to accept Principal Blumford’s offer to join the school safety patrol!  Just as he was in Budget Cuts, Blumford is played Earl Boen.  In this episode, there’s yet another shoutout to Boen’s role in the Terminator films when Boen tells a photographer that some people have mistaken him for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Anyway, Jake eventually realizes how dorky he looks wearing the safety monitor sash so he decides to challenge the new kid to racing the infamous “Coolman’s Curve,” which is apparently the most dangerous road in California.  The new kid backs down and Jake is once again proclaimed the coolest student at Pacific Coast High.  Yay!

This episode was incredibly silly but, in its way, it worked.  Jake continually crashing his bike made me laugh a little more than it should have.  What made the joke work was that all of the accidents were due to an inconvenient speed dump that had been put in the parking lot by the safety patrol.  Safety Week turned out to be the most dangerous week in California.

The important thing is that Jake did not lose his cool and, as a result, was allowed to continue living his California dream.

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 3.10 “Daddy’s Girl” and 3.11 “Family Tree”

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!

Retro Television Reviews: California Dreams 3.8 “The Princess and the Yeti” and 3.9 “Winkle/Wicks World”

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 Dreams go to Colorado and Public Access Television.  To quote Matt Garrison, “Let’s do it!”

Episode 3.8 “The Princess and the Yeti”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on October 29th, 1994)

The Dreams have left California for Colorado!  It’s on temporary, however.  They’ve been hired to play at the ski resort that’s owned by Lorena’s father, Mr. Costas (Abraham Alvarez).  Lorena is looking forward to skiing and showing off her new outfit.  Her father wants her to work the front desk.  “I’m allergic to work,” Lorena says, which leads to everyone saying that Lorena is spoiled.

Which is not true at all!  Listen, Lorena is on vacation.  You don’t work when you’re on vacation.  At no point does Lorena’s father say that he’ll pay for Lorena to work the front desk.  Instead, he just says, “I need you to work the front desk tonight.”  Nah, old man.  It doesn’t work like that.  I, myself, have been called spoiled enough time to know that everyone is being way too hard on Lorena.  Lorena has every right to expect a chance to ski while on a SKI VACATION!

Anyway, Mr. Costas wants to expand his resort but there’s an old man (Sandy Ward) who lives in a cabin and he refuses to move off his property.  If the stubborn old man wasn’t bad enough, there’s also a Yeti running around the forest.  But what if that Yeti is just a man dressed in a costume?  Who would have the motive?  Mr. Costas?  No, he would be costing himself money by doing that.  How about the Old Man?  Other than the Dreams, he’s the only other person in this episode.

After Tony gets scared by the Yeti, he runs into the forest.  The rest of the Dreams follow him and come across the Old Man’s cabin and his yeti costume.  When Mr. Costas finds out, he wants to press charges but the Dreams are like, “He’s just an nice old man!”  Yeah, and you’re a bunch of high school kids from California.  Your opinion really isn’t that important.

The Dreams get mad at Lorena for not telling her father that the Old Man deserves to stay in his cabin.  (Again, I’m not sure how it’s any of their business.)  Miffed, Lorena goes skiing alone and injures her knee.  The Old Man saves her life and Lorena offers to help pay off whatever money the Old Man is costing her father by working the front desk and not taking an allowance for a year.  Mr. Costas agrees and everything works out …. except, of course, Lorena lives in California so how is she going work the front desk of a Colorado resort?

Also, I don’t care how nice the Old Man is.  He still dressed up like a Yeti and did a lot of property damage to Mr. Costas’s business.  Drag his his ass to jail!

This episode mostly serves to remind us that the California Dreams belong in California and on the beach.  It just doesn’t seem right whenever they appear in a different location.  It’s like one of those weird episodes of Saved By The Bell: The New Class where the gang all ended up working at a ranch.  As much of a misfire as this episode was, I did laugh at the scene where Jake had to wear Lorena’s pink snow jacket while searching for Tony.  A few years ago, in the middle of a torrential rain storm, Jeff informed me that he would rather get soaked and risk pneumonia than borrow my hot pink umbrella.  What do men have against the color pink?

Anyway, let’s move on!

Episode 3.9 “Winkle/Wicks World”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on November 12th, 1994)

Tony and Sly get a show on public access TV!  What was the deal with people in Peter Engel-produced shows always ending up on Public Access Television?  Anyway, The Goo-Ga-Moo Guys becomes a big hit, despite being just a lame Wayne’s World rip-off.  (To the show’s credit, Jake refers to show as being a “Wayne’s World rip-off.”)  Unfortunately, this means that Tony no longer has time to play drums and Sly no longer has time to manage the band.  Lorena takes over as manager and teaches the band how to be classy so that they can play an upper class gig that is, for some reason, being held at Sharky’s.

Anyway, fame goes to Tony and Sly’s heads.  In the end, though, they decide that friendship is more important than fame.  *Yawn*  This is a plot that was used and reused by so many Peter Engel-produced shows that, at times, it seems as if the entire Englverse was an autopilot.

Hopefully, next week’s episodes will encourage us to seek good vibrations and feel mellow.