California Dreams…Reviewed!

California Dreams is an enigma. People seem to remember it fondly, but it had such poor DVD sales the final season was never released. Jimmy Fallon even invited the cast on his show when it looked like he was never going to get a Saved by the Bell reunion. I rarely see anything negative about the series, even about the last two seasons I hated; the closest thing I usually see is about how useless the extended Garrison family was, and they didn’t stick around long in the grand scheme of things. But none of the cast really went on to become well known, and the series has largely been forgotten, not even a blip on most people’s radars.

For comparison sake, Saved by the Bell Reviewed regularly gets five hundred hits a day, even nearly a year after I finished that project. This one is lucky to get a hundred.

So why is it California Dreams has such a good reputation without the accompanying staying power in nostalgic memory that Saved by the Bell has enjoyed?

Personally, I blame it on having some very talented writers who weren’t given much direction where to take the show. Sure, it was quite obvious in the first season and even the second that this was supposed to be a dramatically different show from Peter Engel’s biggest hit: rather than focusing on the school lives of our character, we would see them form a band and try to make it big in show business. We’ll see another aspect of teenage life: the making of dreams and how real life and growing up interferes with and changes what we previously thought we wanted.

And, for a time, it worked. Despite the uselessness of the Garrison family as a framing device, the first two seasons were incredible, with some great writing, compelling characters, and memorable plots. I dare say that, at its best, California Dreams deserved to win some awards, and they certainly should have been nominated for more than The New Class. It was just different enough from the original.

Even Sly, as much as I hate him, was a well-written character. Recall that my two least favorite characters on The New Class were Brian and Tony. I hated them because they were poorly conceived, written, and just overall useless. I hate Sly for personality traits I think the writers intended to give him, and I can’t really fault the show for that. It would be like watching a James Bond film and getting mad at the villains for being too villainous. It worked.

So what happened?

Brent Gore’s exit might have been the worst thing to happen to this show. Though it had already been showing signs of morphing in its second season, the third was nearly a complete reboot. Suddenly, Jake was the leader of the band, and Sly’s dopey and horribly written cousin was kind-of sorta not really filling Matt’s role on the show. More and more plots started revolving around life in high school, and the band itself was relegated to a supporting role, being pulled out on occasion to remind us it existed. This was not the same show I reviewed in its first two seasons.

Yet the third season wasn’t terrible per se; it was just very different, adhering more closely than before to the tried and true Saved by the Bell formula nearly every Engel-verse show follows.

The same can’t be said for the final two seasons, where the writers seem to be phoning in the plots, not giving a shit anymore and barely putting any effort into distinguishing this from so many other Engel-verse shows. It was painful to sit through because I’ve seen all the plots so many times on other shows. I’m convinced this is the era of quantity over quality for Peter Engel, and he long ago gave up when he realized the California Dreams were never going to be a household name like the Saved by the Bell gang, but they were getting good enough ratings not to be cancelled.

Why, then, was the last episode so damned good? I have a theory: Ron Solomon really did care about this show, and it probably killed him they had gotten so formulaic to the point you could drop in the cast of any other Engel-verse show without consequence. So he decided to give it a send-off worthy of the potential it once showed. California Dreams was going to have a better ending than any other Engel-verse show, one that jaded, cynical critics would look back at twenty years later and realize how good it was.

And it worked. After yawning through most of the last two seasons, it was such a pleasant surprise to watch the final episode and see so much actual effort being put into it. Granted, it will still never stack up to classic final episodes like M*A*S*HThe Mary Tyler Moore Show, or Cheers. But, for a TNBC show, the finale is damned good, and it’s a shame most people will never see it, if for no other reason than they have no idea what California Dreams is other than a song by the Mamas and the Papas.

So why weren’t more episodes like this? Why give such few shits about a show with so much potential? I think the answer comes down to this: being different from Saved by the Bell wasn’t garnering the ratings. The NBC execs probably wanted a new Saved by the Bell, especially with the mothership going off the air and no guarantees for The New Class and The College Years. So, Engel and Solomon did what they had to do to keep it on the air: they sold out.

And it makes sense: think of all the critically acclaimed shows that, despite being good, never got the ratings: Freaks and GeeksFireflyArrested DevelopmentStar TrekEverwoodJack & Bobby, just to name a few. Being good doesn’t guarantee your show will be a commercial success, and that’s one of the major flaws of our entertainment industry. Fortunately, things are beginning to change with streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime investing in quality programs, but it’s still true that your show can be really good and never make money.

And that’s the story of California Dreams to me: a good premise and great talent flushed down the drain to make a few bucks.

But let’s not let this cloud our judgment of this show. Let’s always remember this show for what it was at its best. After all, when it comes down to it, I’d rather rewatch this show any day over The New Class and The College Years.

I reviewed this show largely because it kept coming up on Saved by the Bell Reviewed. So many of you remembered it so fondly that I decided I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Like the Saved by the Bell franchise, I had never watched this show prior to reviewing it. And, as you can probably tell, I’m very glad I did.

I’m feeling it’s time for a break from the Engel-verse, though. I’ve been at this for four years, and have now reviewed five of Peter Engel’s series. I’m a bit tired right now, and I’m beginning to be known as the person who reviews Engel-verse series. Some of you are even already asking if I’m planning on reviewing City Guys or Hang Time next.

And there was a time I wanted to review all of TNBC’s offerings. What I’ve come to realize, though, is I’m essentially just going to be reviewing the same plots over and over again if I do, and that prospect doesn’t particularly appeal to me. I have a feeling I’d eventually be reduced to just going, “Saved by the Bell already did that!” over and over again. Besides, I never wanted to become the internet’s foremost expert on Peter Engel shows.

So my next project I have in mind is going to be a little different. I want to do a blog on One Season Wonders. I’ve always been fascinated by shows which are cancelled after one season and whether they’re worth a second look. Of course, there are some that have become cult favorites in the age of DVD and Netflix, but I also want to review some of the oddities of the past, many of them forgotten, such as The Ugliest Girl in Town or Cop Rock.

So keep an eye out for that. I’ll be launching it soon and will post on Facebook when it’s ready.

In the meantime, I wanted to thank you all for following this blog over the last two years. It’s been such an honor to relive this show with you as it brought back memories for you. Seeing your comments every week kept me going, and I was always amazed by how respectful you all were, even when you disagreed with me.

I was going to do a bonus post or two, but I’m not sure I have much more to say about Califronia Dreams. There’s not much more out there. No, this is a good place to end.

So thanks for taking this journey with me, and I hope you’ll join me for One Season Wonders when it’s launched soon.

Until then, I’m always your friend, Chris the Geek.

Season 5 Recap

If I’m honest, I’ve spent much of season five ready to write it off as yet another year of rubbish. I have not been a fan of these last two seasons, and I’ve been pretty vocal in expressing the opinion that the show had, by this point, nearly completely lost its focus, barely being about a band at all but really just existing as yet another TNBC Saved by the Bell knock-off. I was ready to hate every bit of this season and what this series I had once praised as being innovative, especially for an Engel-verse show, had become.

And, let’s face it: for much of the season, that’s what we’re given: stuff about as palatable as the shit in season four. It’s directionless. It recycles so many plots from other TNBC shows it’s unbelievable. It flounders trying to find direction like a fish out of water. Its very special episodes make the Nancy Reagan episode of Diff’rent Strokes look like the finale of M*A*S*H. Perhaps the biggest sin of all: it doesn’t seem to give a shit that it’s about a band any longer, with barely any episodes focusing on them, and only an indirect focus most of the time they are featured. Hell, there’s only one original song this season. That’s how much of a shit the writers gave about this being a show about a band.

It was pretty depressing to watch all season.

And then along came the final episode, and all I could say was, “Damn!” I’m going to come back to why that episode was so good when so much else about this season was crap next week, but it made me realize that, behind all these goofy ass Saved by the Bell rip-off plots, there were confident writers capable of producing really quality television. How do you explain that? It’s like if Transformers 8 turns out to be a BFI Critics Top 100 choice. For all the crap I’ve endured the last two seasons, it doesn’t appear to be because the people either behind the scenes or in front of the camera lacked talent. Well, except Mark. He just sucks.

For how much season five sucked overall, I have to give it credit. Unlike season four, it at least seems to have the overarching knowledge that it was soon coming to an end, and was working hard to try to wrap up loose ends and move towards friends leaving each other. Season four had nothing, including a reason for existence, so it was refreshing to actually see some direction, even if it was contrived at times and ham-fisted. I would rather watch these fifteen episodes again than ever subject myself to season four another time.

I normally try to talk about characters in these recaps, but it’s really difficult to do for this season. You see, one of the major missteps of this season is I don’t feel most of the character change at all. In fact, nothing of consequence really happens this season until the last five episodes. Jake and Tiffani’s relationship is the same contrived fest it was last season. Tony and Sam continue to bore me with why on earth they are together. And Mark continues to be a useless waste of space. Nothing ever changes.

Sure, characters have their own episodes, but they don’t really effect their overall character arc. Jake is ashamed that his dad is the new school janitor? Get him fired and hit the reset button next episode. Tony cheats to get into the honor society and be with Sam? Let’s give him instant forgiveness and never mention it again! Mark nearly kills Tara Reid in a drunk driving accident? No one gives a shit about Mark anyway so we’ll never mention that bullshit again!

This is on top of the fact that characterization is so all over the map I can’t keep up. Mark suddenly has camera shyness after instantly getting over his stage fright two seasons ago. Sam’s suddenly the smartest girl in school even though it had only been previously hinted at that she was that intelligent. And Jake has long since forgotten the greaser motorcycle guy he was originally written as. I dare say any character this season could have been given another’s episode with barely any rewrites. Really, I can imagine Mark being ashamed his dad is working at the school, or Tiffani being the honor society president and Jake getting jealous and cheating to be near her.

Everyone is interchangeable, and that’s a huge problem when you want people to remember your characters. At least the Saved by the Bell gang were cut-out caricatures of high school stereotypes. These people have, at most, one defining thing that you can’t really even call personality as much as something they enjoy, like Tiffani’s surfing or Jake’s motorcycles.

You may notice I haven’t mentioned Sly and Lorena yet. Well, I’m saving the worst of it for these two. The contrivances necessary to get them from barely tolerating each other last season to dating this season are just completely unbelievable. As long as I live, I don’t think I’ll ever understand why the producers felt it necessary to shoehorn in a relationship with only three non-out-of-season episodes left in the series. For fuck’s sake, Screech and Violet got more development in their relationship than these two, and Tori Spelling was only in three episodes of Saved by the Bell!

On top of that, whatever character development they got was random and made absolutely no fucking sense. Sly’s sudden backstory of having a neglectful father really makes him sound like a jack ass for not empathizing more with the teen who wanted to run away last season. Lorena becoming co-manager of the band with only two more new episodes (one of which was an out-of-season episode!) remaining seemed like the writers’ way of acknowledging, “Yeah, she’s had no real purpose here at all since she and Jake broke up. Let’s pretend there was a plan for Lorena all along!” And their sudden decision to go to college together makes me wonder why this, of all the relationships on this show, is the one that’s going to “make it!”

I don’t understand how any of this turned out the way it did, and I will never forgive the writers for trying to make me sympathize with a jack ass like Sly when he does despicable things nearly every episode. They’re not even well-intentioned like Zack Morris most of the time. He just comes off as a greedy son of a bitch except where the writers want me to sympathize with him.

But then I keep coming back to that final episode, and I wonder why it all had to turn out this way? As I said, I’m coming back to that question next week, but I just find it so sad that a show I genuinely enjoyed in its first two seasons and still found likeable in its third got so bad in its last two years. I suspect this was part of the period where Peter Engel admits, in his memoir, he was really phoning it in, putting out crap like Malibu, CA based solely on his success with Saved by the Bell while hoping no one would be any the wiser.

In any case, season five left me with closure, but not much else. I feel like I could have skipped from season three directly to “The Last Gig” without missing a whole lot, and I wouldn’t have had to endure some truly terrible episodes either. Nothing else really to see here. Season five has never been released to DVD, and I have to wonder if it’s because most people have forgotten these episodes in favor of the first three seasons. That’s when the show was at its best and those episodes seem to be the ones fans discuss the most. These just feel like that horrible racist uncle you’re ashamed of came for Thanksgiving and refuses to leave: awkward, and you have no idea how to respond.

So how did the cast turn out?

Jay Anthony Franke now lives in Australia with his wife. According to his appearance on the Jimmy Fallon reunion, he’s still trying to have a career in show business, but with little success. He’s had a smattering of roles since the end of California Dreams, mostly as voices for video games, but nothing terribly successful that you’ve probably seen.

If you’ve seen any of the cast in anything else, it’s probably Kelly Packard. After the end of California Dreams, Packard joined the cast of Baywatch, where she happily destroyed what was left of her acting career before fading into obscurity. She still appears occasionally in films, usually in bit roles, and is married with four children.

William James Jones went on to star in the second season of Peter Engel’s USA High, which means you probably haven’t seen him in anything else. He had a few other bit parts on television and in film nowadays, but effectively retired from acting in 2002. On the Jimmy Fallon reunion, he said he’s a family man now with a wife and two children, and has switched focus entirely to clinical psychology.

Jennie Kwan has been fairly successful over the years, but behind the scenes rather than in front. Nowadays, she’s a respected voice actress, her most famous role being that of Suki on Avatar: The Last Airbender. She also has done some Broadway work, including a tour of Avenue Q, which, incidentally, is an amazingly funny show which you should totally see if you never have.

Michael Cade continues acting to this day, mostly in supporting and bit roles in films you probably haven’t heard of. He did a brief stint on General Hospital in 1997 and has kept busy over the years.

California Dreams was Diana Uribe’s break, but it doesn’t appear she was able to transition into a full-fledged career. She continued appearing in bit roles on shows like Nash Bridges and Strong Medicine before disappearing from the entertainment industry completely in 2001. She didn’t appear in the Jimmy Fallon reunion so I have no idea what’s become of her.

Aaron Jackson has continued to have some bit roles in television and film over the years, including trying his hand at producing and directing. His IMDB bio, which is way more proud of his appearance on California Dreams than it should be, says he’s a motivational speaker now and coaches up and coming actors. Let’s hope he doesn’t coach them into shows that will mark them for life like they did him. Also, you totally need to look at his default IMDB photo. With him completely tattooed and looking rebellious, he doesn’t even resemble the geeky Mark nowadays.

What more can be said about this season that hasn’t been said? It’s time to let it go and move on to examining the series as a whole, which I’ll do next week. What I can say is at least we got a satisfying ending. The rest of the season may be horrible or mediocre at best, but we’ll always have that one, final episode to fuel the question, “Why weren’t more episodes that good?” We may never have an answer, but, then again, most things in season five didn’t have a reason.

My Picks

As usual, here’s my picks for the best and the worst of the season. Feel free to agree or disagree with me in the comments below.

Two Episodes I Loved:

Episode 2: “Shaken, Rattled, and Rolled”: There was a beagle in this episode. I love beagles. That’s more things I love in this episode than most over the last two seasons. Therefore, I love this episode.

Episode 15: “The Last Gig”: This episode defies explanation. By far the best finale in the Engel-verse I’ve seen, it perfectly ended the series in a mature and realistic manner uncharacteristic for many of Peter Engel’s shows. It brought tears to my eyes, which has happened very seldom while doing this blog and my other one, so I give major props for producing a genuinely good send-off to the band.

Three Episodes I Hated:

Episode 10: “Babewatch”: I really got sick of all the episodes where Sam has to keep assuring Tony she’s not jealous of him noticing other girls and then having Tony not reciprocate such respect. The over-the-top Baywatch spoof that was not at all self-aware that Engel-verse shows succumb to some of the same criticisms as Baywatch pushed this episode over the edge for me.

Episode 11: “Love Letters”: Look, pairing up Sly and Lorena at the last minute just stunk of desperation. At least Saved by the Bell had the self-knowledge to know that having Lisa confess her love for Screech towards the end of the fourth season would have been a really bad idea. This, combined with the fact they seem to have forgotten they already did this plot, with an opposite result, in season four, and you really did waste my time.

Episode 12: “Graduation Day”: The epitome of this universe’s incompetence in handling serious issues, I was cracking up laughing during the over-the-top moralizing about underage drinking. Add to the fact that this was a Mark-centered episode and he was dating Tara Reid, and you have a formula for a truly terrible very special episode.

Season 4 Recap

This is the season of California Dreams I rarely see people discuss. If season one was origins, season two is changes, season three is revamp, and season five is graduation, season four is really the season when not much of consequence happens. Think about it: the only thing that really change this season was Jake broke up with Lorena and started dating Tiffani again. Seriously, that’s it. Sure, you could say that Sly liking Lorena is hinting at something next season, but that’s only one episode and, solely based on this season, it was not apparent anything was going to come of it.

That means this is nearly an entire season of filler. Nothing this season matters in the grand scheme of things. In fact, some stuff serves to muddle the overall timeline by implying the entirety of seasons four and five happen in three months. Peter Engel was not on his A game this season, and it shows. This is about the point in his memoir when he admits he was overstretched and going for quantity over quality. What was once a nice change for the Engel-verse has really dropped in quality.

This is not to say that the show is terrible. Indeed, it continues to be better than both The New Class and The College Years, which each suffered from having no reason to exist. Still, I praised this show during its first season for daring to be different than the standard Engel-verse formula first devised during Saved by the Bell. It seemed to have direction I haven’t seen in any other Peter Engel production besides Bell.

Think about it: the reason for the show to exist is supposedly that the group is in a band. Yet, at this point, the band rarely plays a role in anything. Many of the episodes don’t even feature an original song, which is something that once distinguished this show from others. You could swap out our cast of characters for Zack Morris and company often with very few consequences. It’s cut and paste at this point: find a plot that worked well for another Peter Engel show and insert the names of our band members.

This makes it hard when I’m supposed to be giving a fair review of this show and the reality is that there’s just nothing going on I didn’t see in thirteen years of the Saved by the Bell franchise. Truth be told, I was bored much of the time and wondering when my pain would end. How many more episodes to end of season, I would think. How many more times can I see a character with inconsistent characterization suddenly change personalty a few episodes later? How often can I scratch my head at the wrong character being given a plot on this show? How many times can I despise the emotional manipulation necessary to make Sly a likable character?

These are all questions I asked myself over the last fifteen weeks and, in some ways, they haven’t yet been answered. I’m hoping, oh so hoping, that season five is better. It’s sad when I would give anything to have season three back. I never thought I would say that.

Let’s talk characters.

If anything, Jake shows regression this season. He’s suddenly over his heartbreak with Tiffani two seasons ago despite there being any actual mending of fences and the fact their relationship was barely mentioned last season. It’s like the producers realized Jake and Lorena weren’t working as a couple and decided to press the reset button back to the glory days even though Jake and Tiffani are a much worse couple. At least Jake and Lorena had the opposites attract thing going for it. Jake and Tiffani are just…bland.

Other than that, not much changes for Jake. He’s the same old Jake he’s been for the last few seasons: supposedly a tough guy but having never shown any behavior that would back up that characterization.

Did Tiffani do anything this season other than date Jake and be a horrible student principal? I mean, I remember her in every episode, but it’s hard to remember what she did. She started a lot of episodes and participated in plots, but she usually fell to the background by act two. It’s kind of sad: when the writers are trying, Tiffani can be an interesting character. Therein lies the problem: they aren’t trying most of the time.

Another horribly underused character, Tony had a few plots devoted to him and some even worse subplots, but nothing to speak of this season. His relationship with Sam is relegated to the background in all but a few episodes, and he becomes a really bad comic relief character. This is all a shame: when Tony is at his best, he has the potential to be the best character on the show. Yet they won’t let him shine, forcing him to stick in the background in a relationship the writers insist on pushing even though they barely act like a couple in a relationship. Really, if the episodes involving him flirting with other girls weren’t out of season episodes, would you really find it so out of place?

Sam’s development this season is strange. She suddenly becomes a shop-a-holic despite showing no signs of it previously, and it continues to baffle me that she’s supposed to be an exchange student. They actually remembered that a couple times this season, though those episodes ended up being huge time wasters for her. Still, she at least wasn’t annoying most of the time, though I have to question her role in the band considering how few songs she gets to sing on. Don’t go getting rid of her, though. I’m saving my worst criticisms for another member of the band.

Lorena has very little to do this season after Jake breaks up with her, and I questioned at times why she’s still around. I guess I got my answer in the season finale, but it just seemed like she was acting as a rich snotty girl most of the time for the sake of a little conflict. If her role last season was to be Jenny mark two, the producers have long forgotten about it and relegated her to yet another background regular.

Sly has the most to do this season, acting as the focal point for more than one episode. Unfortunately, that means he’s also the most inconsistently written. Our clip show episode this season establishes he has a heart of gold, yet he’s a piece of shit to a girl with weight problems and immediately starts judging older people next episode. Every lesson Sly learns is forgotten by the end as the reset button is pressed, but I’m supposed to give a shit about Sly because he “comes through in the end,” even though that means he acts like a piece of crap in the interim.

Really, I don’t get what people see in Sly. At least you could see character growth in Zack Morris over the course of the Saved by the Bell franchise. Sly never seems to change, and always has a default personality to fall back on except when it’s convenient to not have him fall back on it, such as when Sly decides he genuinely likes Lorena and isn’t just treating her like a piece of meat like every other episode. It makes me sick, and I’m leaving this season continuing to dislike Sly.

Mark continues to be the most useless character on this show. He is completely superfluous, his out of season episode not withstanding. Several episodes prove he’s not needed at all when it’s shown there’s no difference in sound quality when only four members of the band are playing. It’s like the writers were trying desperately to craft a character worse than Fake Swiss Brian from The New Class, and they succeeded one hundred percent with one who shouldn’t be on at all.

God, why can’t I have Matt back? I miss him so much at this point!

This is shorter than most of my recaps, but that’s because I just can’t muster the energy to seriously think about this season. I don’t like it at all, and I doubt any of these episodes will be going down on a best of list at the end of the series. It’s been drudgery to get through, and I just don’t know what else to say. The season when almost nothing happened was the season I truly don’t want to think too deeply about. I’m just praying that the final season of the show is a bit more exciting and has something more to offer.

My Picks

It should be no surprise that I can’t muster the energy to actually like a single episode this season. So, here’s my three least favorite episodes, in no particular order.

Episode 5: Fallen Idol: Jake’s idol is a plagiarist and steals one of his songs. What pushed this episode into horrible for me was the ending. Seriously, they chose to do absolutely nothing about the plagiarism because being a terrible person is punishment enough? Fuck that! This guy is making tons of money off the band’s song. That’s what civil suits were made for.

Episode 8: OldAfter learning about being a shithead to overweight people in the previous episode, Sly’s now an ageist prick who hates old people because of an experience with his grandfather? The sudden change of heart and bonding with a guy are so lazy and even worse than when the same thing happened in “Running Zack” on Saved by the Bell.

Episode 13: We’ll Always Have AspenIt should come as no surprise this was my least favorite episode of the season. Any episode that tries to convince me Mark has an actual purpose on this show is going to fall flat, and his romance truly makes Maria and Tony in the final seasons of The New Class look like a classic romance by comparison. Seriously, just get rid of Mark and make us all happy!

Season 3 Recap

And with our new Jake-ified opening credits, we have completed season three of California Dreams, perhaps the most transformative year for the series. You see, if season one was trying to be a family sitcom and season two had no idea what they were doing, season three was here to tell you exactly what this show was supposed to be: a rip-off of Saved by the Bell with a band.

Yeah, I know they were going this route in season two, but they hadn’t gotten there completely. The Garrisons were still around and there seemed to be some acknowledgment that this is supposed to be a show about a band. This season is dominated by events at PCH. Hell, a significant number don’t even feature new songs this season, a bold move for a show that’s supposed to showcase the musical talents of our main characters.

No, they just don’t give a shit anymore, and nowhere is that clearer than in the fact they cast a replacement for Matt who can’t sing and has to dubbed over for his vocals. More on that in a bit, though.

I could complain about it forever, but, really, at this point the show has completely sold out. Any originality and distinction it might have once had from Peter Engel’s most popular show is long since gone. It’s hard to believe my biggest complaint two seasons ago was that Dennis Garrison didn’t have any purpose on the show. You know what: I will make a bold statement.

I would take Dennis Garrison back in a heartbeat if it meant returning to the quality of season one.

Alas, though, I know that’s not going to happen. For better or worse, Peter Engel decided California Dreams needed to be exactly like his other shows on the air, so indistinguishable that you could insert the cast of The New Class or Hang Time and imagine them doing these exact same episodes word for word. It’s really sad from a show that I once praised for distinguishing itself.

Without any further preamble, let’s talk characters.

I definitely get the impression that California Dreams is supposed to be about Jake now. He’s often touted as the voice of wisdom, except when he’s the one acting like a dumb ass, and he’s taking more of a leading role in the band the few times it’s on screen, more like Matt in season one. Yet, it’s clear that the writers aren’t even sure what to do with their most developed character. One minute Jake’s sensitive and wise beyond his years. The next he’s trying cigarettes with supporting characters from Laverne & Shirley.

As if that’s not enough, fresh off his contrived relationship with Tiffani last season (the repercussions of which, by the way, is not addressed at all this season except for an awkward mention or two), Jake almost immediately gets into a relationship with Lorena, another contrived mess that’s obviously trying to mimic the Slater and Jessie odd couple dynamic. It fails and, though Jake and Lorena are a marginally more interesting couple than Jake and Tiffani, Jake’s a much more interesting character when he’s single, something it seems like the writers are desperate to prevent him from being for long. Jake is completely different when he’s single, which may be why the producers keep him in a relationship.

Other than her freak-out over steroids in the season finale and her plot about her father, it’s hard to remember anything significant Tiffani did this season. Really, without her relationship with Jake, it seems like the writers aren’t quite sure what to do with her. That’s true of most of the characters on this show, though. Many episodes it just seemed like she was barely there, hanging out in the background while other characters got the focus.

Really, there has to be more for her to do. At least with Saved by the Bell, you knew what to expect out of the characters. After three seasons on this show, I should know more about Tiffani, yet I feel like I don’t know much at all. Here’s hoping they give her some more to do next season.

Mind you, that could be a dangerous wish since I was saying the same thing about Tony last season. They found a lot more for him to do this year, and much of it was painful to watch. From his sudden insecurity over genealogy to his previous unstated origins about being poor and coming from the hood (despite the fact that his father’s clearly shown to be college educated and hold a middle-class job!), Tony’s definitely found his niche this season: as the black guy, which is a shame out of the character I found the most interesting when I started reviewing this show.

As if that’s not enough, his relationship with Sam comes the fuck out of nowhere. It’s like they thought the easiest way to develop two chronically underutilized characters was to put them in a relationship. The results are painful to watch as it really just means they’re being defined by their relationship. One thing I’m learning is that this show hasn’t the slightest clue how to handle relationships. It’s like the writers are aliens who have a vague notion of hu-man emotions but not the experience of them.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sudden special friendship between Tony and Sly that lasted for exactly an episode. After Tony was shown to hate Sly’s guts, culminating in Sly injuring Tony on Jake’s motorcycle last season, suddenly they’re best friends this season…for exactly one episode. Seriously, it’s like they flew in a writer who’d never seen the series and just thought those two find young chaps would do well for the episode. The result is all what the fuck?

I’ve mentioned Sam’s relationship with Tony this season, but the most baffling thing about her is why she’s even around. Mark plays keyboard and Tiffani can sing if they need a female vocalist, so what is even her purpose? She doesn’t even actively contribute to most of the songs, instead just standing around and pretending she’s off in a corner playing her own keyboard.

Really, the only episode she gets solely about her this season is the stupid cold cure one. Sam remains underused, sticking around only because the writers seem to think they need her.

I continue to be unimpressed with Sly. He’s a conniving, unlikable shit head who the writers occasionally try to emotionally manipulate me into giving a shit about. Luckily, despite his move up in the credits, he’s really not much more important to the series than he has been the past two seasons. He’s mainly around to act like a jerk and occasionally strut around shirtless for the camera.

Don’t get me wrong: some of his plots have potential. Had Allison been dating anyone other than Sly, I might have given a shit. As it is, I really don’t and I wish he’d just go away. Why the rest of the characters want anything to do with him, especially in the absence of Matt, is simply beyond me.

The better of the two new characters this season is, by far, Lorena, but that’s like saying deep fried butter is better for your body than arsenic. I mean, she’s not a bad character, but she’s all over the place. She’s supposed to be a rich, spoiled little girl, but she actually acted as the voice of reason about money in an episode. That’s like asking Jared the Subway guy to teach us about proper sexual boundaries.

Other than that, she seems to be Jenny-light. Her plots with Jake could have been recycled from last year following Jenny’s departure, kind of a look into what the writers were originally planning between Jake and Jenny. It’s all really uninteresting and perplexing what they see in each other, but it’s a forced relationship that just keeps on forcing itself on us so we’re cursed with it until the end.

Oh, Mark. You are, by far, the weakest link this season, and I don’t make that declaration lightly. I compared Mark to Tony Dillon from The New Class in his first appearance, and the comparison couldn’t have been more apt. Aaron Jackson can’t act to save his life, and, as a character, Mark is flat, boring, and pointless. He seems to just be hanging around the rest of the band most of the time, until one of his desperate subplots show up showing just how unlikable a character he is.

This makes me miss Matt all the more: it’s almost like they introduced a replacement character so weak they hoped it would make Jake and Sly even better. Mark’s sole focus episode, in which he randomly falls for Lorena, is just the fuck out of nowhere. He gives me someone to point and laugh at. Beyond that, not much. He can’t even sing, which makes me wonder what the fuck made the producers think this was the right person for a show about a band?

Overall, I could have really done without this season. I know I’ve said it before, but I really don’t get why it exists any longer? They act like the music holds the show down and have more and more episodes without it, to the point that, towards the end of the season, I was beginning to forget that sometimes they play a song. This is a very poor man’s Saved by the Bell,

I know I have two more seasons left to review but, if they’re like this one, I’m scared it’s going to be a boring, forgettable experience. I was excited to be reviewing this show in the beginning. Now, it just feels like I’m doing The New Class again. Something interesting, please happen next season!

My Picks

Three Episodes I Loved:

I’m suddenly realizing I’m finding it more and more difficult to pick three episodes from this season I actually liked. So, here are three more tolerable episodes.

Episode 1: “The Unforgiven”: After what I just said about Mark, I can’t believe I’m putting his debut episode on this list, but it’s actually not that bad. Had they cast an actor who could actually act and continued developing Mark from this episode, he could have been an interesting character. Resolving his issues with Sly right away was a mistake as well. It’s all downhill for Mark from here, though.

Episode 5: “Yoko, Oh No”: This is not a good episode by any means, but it’s at least competent. They at least addressed the elephant in the room about Lorena being the only cast member without musical experience early so they can move on to other things. It’s an okay episode, and I have no problem placing it as one of the better episodes.

Episode 10: “Daddy’s Girl”: Despite the fact that Tiffani goes from supportive to spoiled brat very fast in this episode, it’s, overall, a decent one, even if it does go nowhere. I would have preferred if they’d actually seriously addressed Tiffani’s jealousy instead of just having it come up and leave out of nowhere, but it is what it is.

Three Episodes I Hated:

Episode 8: “The Princess and the Yeti”: Talk about a pointless episode with mixed messages and the wrong protagonists. The entire band turning against Lorena for her treatment of Mr. Guthrie is wrong-headed. There’s a message in there somewhere they were trying to get across, but it really got lost in the mix somewhere.

Episode 13: “Rebel Without a Nerve”: This one is just idiotic. To buy this episode, you have to be willing to believe that Jake’s entire personality would change over an accident. The idiotic subplot about Principal Blumford and the world record doesn’t help things. No one got out of this episode looking good.

Episode 16: “The Treasure of PCH”: Hey, you know what would make for an awesome episode? Let’s show how superficial all our characters’ relationships are by making them all act like little assholes over money! While we’re at it, let’s make them idiots as well in not realizing the clues to the treasure are superficially fake! That will make for some great television right there, I tell you what!

Season 2 Recap

One thing I’m consistently amazed at when reviewing Peter Engel shows: the horrible ways the producers try to “fix” them after a lackluster first season. The prime example, of course, is The New Class, but Hang Time was a victim as well. In the case of The New Class, they took a mediocre, boring premise (recycling plots from the original Saved by the Bell with new look-a-like actors) and turned it into a horrible monstrosity for season two. Yes, season two of The New Class remains one of the worst things I’ve ever watched on television that wasn’t cancelled.

I bring it up here because I feel like California Dreams is a victim as well, albeit not as bad as The New Class. Last season was fairly solid. The weak part was the Garrison family. So, they wrote all of the Garrisons but Matt out of the show early in season two and add a new, strong breakout character. So far so good. But what do they do then? Why, show the band going to school, because, if ever there was something teenagers were demanding, it was to see what the Saved by the Bell gang would have been like had they also had an after school band…well, I mean an after school band that shows up in more than three episodes.

This ended up being the template for many of Peter Engel’s shows later on:

  • The College YearsSaved by the Bell at college
  • California DreamsSaved by the Bell with a band
  • Hang TimeSaved by the Bell with a basketball team
  • City GuysSaved by the Bell in the hood
  • USA HighSaved by the Bell in Paris

Yeah, you get the point. Peter Engel was a one trick pony and, outside that formula, doesn’t seem to have been able to figure out what made a show work. I complained last season that we needed more focus on the band in a show about a band. If anything, I think this season showed less focus on the musical aspects of the show, and it’s only going to get worse from here. So, this season, California Dreams, a show I praised so highly in last season’s recap, officially became Saved by the Bell with a band.


And, yet, all is not bad with this season. Jake is a great addition, as I’ll talk about in characterization, and it was interesting to see the focus come off the Garrison family. Yet, this season is such a mixed bag. Jenny’s departure was hastily thrown together, Matt and Tony feel like background characters much of the time, Tiffani is officially around just to be a sex object, and Sam is completely underdeveloped.

It’s like Peter Engel didn’t understand what went right with season one so he just started tinkering with everything while missing opportunities for greatness. To give an example, one thing that made the early seasons of Happy Days great was the interaction between squeaky clean Richie and greaser Fonzie. They had the perfect opportunity to keep Matt as the main character and make him the foil for Jake. Yet, they pushed Matt as far to the background as possible and made most of Jake’s interactions this season with Tiffani and Sly. I suppose Sly could work as a foil for Jake as well, but it just comes out of nowhere why Jake would give a shit about Sly.


It also feels like they had no plan for the season, or else the plan was completely thrown out very early on. Richard and Melody were in several early episodes and there seemed to be a genuine attempt to set up a coming romance between Jake and Jenny. Then Jenny abruptly left and it’s like the writers went into “let’s throw everything at the wall and see what sticks!” mode. The worst for me was the Jake and Tiffani romance as it came the fuck out of nowhere in an episode obviously meant for Jenny and fizzled out just as abruptly. Even the opening credits this season look like a green screen vomited all over the camera after last season featured such an amazing looking beach video.

Overall, it’s a very “meh” season.

So, yeah, characters.


Matt’s character suffered the most this season. Many, many times it felt as if he was a minor character when the show was supposed to be about him. They gave him what he needed the most this season, a balancing character, and then completely wasted it for most of the year. I don’t get it. I really don’t. Were they trying to sabotage his character and pave the way for his exit?

Whatever the reason Brent Gore departed at the end of the season, he leaves behind a Matt that was a skeleton of what he once was. Really, most of the time it felt as if he was around to sing the songs and that was it. Maybe that was all the writers cared about given he was the last remaining Garrison on the show. It’s a real shame because, after having already watched a few season three episodes, I find myself missing Matt more and more, but more on that in the season three recap.

Since his departure from California Dreams, Brent Gore has had a handful of acting roles, most recent in 2016’s I’m Not Ashamed, the borderline offensive Christian film that tried to turn the Columbine High School shooting into a martyrdom tale. He’s mostly been performing music, doing some tours as a musical artist, and, according to the Jimmy Fallon reunion, he’s involved with a non-profit called the Los Angeles Performing Arts Foundation. And, let me tell you, he’s aged amazingly. Matt Garrison is still hot to this day.


Tiffani had an interesting year, inexplicably becoming the female character on the show with the most development and actually moving a bit beyond her stupid blonde stereotype of last season. She even got to be in a relationship with Jake thanks to her good fortune that Jenny departed early in the season. Overall, a great year for Tiffani, right?

Not quite. I think almost every, if not every, plot centered around Tiffani this season was all about a guy wanting to get in her pants, and I find this to be completely off-putting. Tiffani has a trait that’s been barely explored: she’s a surfer. Yet, the writers almost completely ignore this and choose, instead, to focus on how she can most titillate the young male viewers. Had Jenny not left, I hate to think what the plan was for her. To be as useless as Matt and Tony? The writers are desperate for us to see Tiffani as the Kelly Kepowski of California Dreams. That she is not. Kelly had personality. Tiffani is just whatever the writers cooked up for her this week.


Look, I get it: Tony’s not supposed to be a main character. But he went from having two of the best episodes last season focus on him to one of the worst this season. And that episode was the only one that had him as a main character. He’s around for laughs because watch the black guy do jive things and shit, and that’s all. I wanted him to do something this season! What more can I say but Tony was completely wasted this season, and that’s the real shame of the year.


Sly is all over the board this season. Early on, he seems like he’s just around fulfilling the creepy comic relief role that he did last season. As the episodes progress, though, it seems like the writers decided to give him more of a significance on the show. In fact, Sly’s importance seems to be directly proportional to Matt’s decreased role on the show, making me wonder if the two are connected.

In any case, I’m still not a fan of Sly. I feel manipulated every time the writers have him on screen and want me to feel sorry for him after he was just acting like an asshole a few minutes previous. I know he’s supposed to be the Zack Morris of the show, but there’s something I hate about in Sly that I don’t despise in Zack Morris, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s that Zack Morris, most of the time, doesn’t intend to harm his friends, whereas Sly just steamrolls right over them and then feels bad later. I don’t know, but I guess I have three more seasons to figure it out.


So I don’t have a lot of negative to say about Jake. Really, he’s a good introduction to the show, providing some balance in the characters that didn’t exist last season and opening up more possible plots. He’s good in the role he’s in, and I’m not even terribly upset they gave him such significance on the show. I’ve stated some of my complaints previously: that they didn’t pair him with Matt often enough and that his relationship with Tiffani was the fuck out of nowhere, but those are really more to do with Matt and Tiffani, in my mind, than with Jake.

Jake could have been the character that took this mediocre series and turned it into something great, but, as I said above, the writers of this show really suck at figuring out how to integrate new elements. Done right, Jake could have brought more rock and less pop to the show instead of coming off as just as much an easy listening dope as the rest of the band. It is what it is, but it could have been so much smoother.


Jenny doesn’t do a lot this season before her very early departure so there’s not much characterization to talk about that I didn’t mention last season. Of course, there’s the future relationship with Jake they were clearly setting up that just came out in a spat of writer’s diarrhea in her final episode, begging why she was written out when they were clearly planning on keeping her in. I’ve heard different conflicting accounts of this, from Heidi Noelle Lenhart didn’t get along with the rest of the cast to she actually went to study music abroad. Whatever the reason, ironically, Jenny is the only one of the Garrisons to get a proper departure episode. Yeah, even Matt only got a throw away line, and he was the fucking main character of the show!

Heidi Lenhart’s done some sporadic acting throughout the 1990s’ and 2000s’, but probably nothing much you’d remember other than a recurring role during the final season of Beverly Hills, 90210. She seems to have mostly retired from acting to focus on being a mother, telling Jimmy Fallon she’s very happy to be the mother of two daughters.


It’s hard for me to review Sam. I really don’t have much against her except when she goes into one of her shut the hell up moments. But she’s a pretty bland character without much characterization other than being from Hong Kong, and that backstory is so easy to poke holes in for anyone who knows anything at all about the territory.

I guess the positive thing is they didn’t make her a complete Jenny copy, but they need to figure out what they do want to accomplish with her. Really, she was in most of the episodes this season and I struggle to remember anything memorable other than the guy she was imagining in his underwear, and that had less to do with her and more to do with an attractive guy in his underwear. It’ll be interesting to see where the writers go with her in the coming seasons.


Of course, we’ve also got to say goodbye to Richard and Melody. They weren’t around much this season, but they popped up a bit in the early episodes before the writers decided to stop focusing on their family. Scaling them back was a very good step for this show, but it’s a shame they couldn’t have them pop up when it was convenient to the plot. They’re not bad characters. They just had nothing to do.

Michael Cutt still sporadically acts to this day, but his biggest role outside California Dreams might be a brief recurring role on 7th Heaven. Sad as it is to say, California Dreams remains the biggest role he’s ever had.

For Gail Ramsey, California Dreams was her final acting credit. Previously, she had a starring role on General Hospital in the ’70s and ’80s and a recurring role in The New Mike Hammer. She dropped off the face of show business, and interviews since suggest that she became a teacher in a Christian school, which, you know, good for her for finding something that makes her happy.


Overall, I’d say, for me, I don’t hate this season of California Dreams, though there sure is hell a lot less to like about it. I’m keeping my mind open for what comes next, though I’m scared what that will bring. It’s a shame because I feel like more seasons with the original cast minus the extended Garrisons plus Jake could have been something very special. We’ll never know, though. All we know is that they made a very boring season out of what could have been the best one of the series, and that is such a shame.

My Picks

Three Episodes I Loved

Episode 1: “Jake’s Song” Jake’s introduction episode was actually pretty well done and set up what could have been a great comedic relationship between Jake and Matt. Sure, many of the elements of this episode were never followed up on, but it felt like a solid episode, one I’d easily recommend as an example of what’s right this season.

Episode 10: “Vote of Confidence” An episode that provided some much needed characterization and motivation for Jake. It makes complete sense that Jake is the way he is because he felt inferior to his overachieving brother.. If it’s true what some of you have spoiled to me that they forget about much of this later on in the series, it will be a damned shame because it’s a great backstory for Jake.

Episode 13: “Save the Shark I struggled with whether to put this episode on the list or not. After all, I was hard on it, and rightfully so, for its horrible capitalist caricature and weak motivation for tearing down Sharkey’s. However, it does provide what may be the only chance this season for Matt to really shine, and, for that, I can’t hate it too much.

Three Episodes I Hated

Episode 2: “Ciao, Jenny” It shows that this was a hastily written episode to provide a departure for Jenny, and that’s no excuse for this to be such a weak episode. The fact that Jenny nearly gives up going to Italy to be with a guy who just declared his love for her is insulting. It’s just a lazy episode that would be forgettable had it not been for the fact a main character left.

Episode 8: “High Plans Dreamer” Easily the worst episode of the series so far as it is nothing but an absolute time waster. There’s no reason for it to exist other than for the cast to play dress-up. What’s worse, they took a character who was the primary in two of the best episodes last season and made the worst this season about him, and that’s just sad.

Episode 15: “Can’t Buy Me Love” I still feel insulted by this episode and its manipulation to try to get me to feel sorry for Sly after he was just acting shitty to a girl. Sure, she was a jerk, but so was he, and I can’t help but think this episode is an example of everything I don’t like about Sly on this show.

Season 1 Recap


California Dreams, or, at least the first season of it, seems like a bold experiment on behalf of Peter Engel. It’s a lot less derivative from Saved by the Bell than many of his later shows will be and seems to have a solid footing to follow the success of Engel’s most famous show. The music aspect actually works, despite me not liking many of their songs. A group of teenagers trying to get a rock band off the ground is something we can believe because we all knew those kids in high school who were trying to make names for themselves.

The problem I see with the show isn’t the family sitcom format that will be jettisoned next season. After all, I think even the writers realized how pointless the extended members of the Garrison family were and worked to put the band at the forefront as often as possible. The problem is that they don’t really do anything most of the season. When I think budding garage bands, I want to see the creative struggles of young musicians trying to find their way in a hostile creative world. We can have some stuff about their personal lives, but it seems as if that’s the primary focus, with the band aspect being a background gimmick.

As much as I dislike “The First Gig,” we needed more stuff like the primary plot in that episode: the band’s gig disrupting Richard’s planned dream vacation. We need to see that being in a band takes time and patience and has an emotional impact on those involved. The only other episodes where I think that the pressure of being in a band is really featured are “Beat of His Own Dream” and “Double Date.” The rest is just kind of following the band’s personal lives, with unquestioned success for the band being a given.

Yeah, the band thing needed to be more of a focus for the show rather than an afterthought. As a result, we get a lot of unevenness this season with the show acting like it doesn’t quite know where to go. The plots usually end up boring contrivances and the subplots felt so phoned in they’re barely memorable. Even the family sitcom element of it are severely underdeveloped, as Melody and Dennis barely appear over the season and Richard’s role is severely limited. Why even have a family sitcom if you’re not going to have most of the family appear during the season.

Of course, the music does feel like the writers aren’t paying attention to what’s actually popular in the music world. With the Seattle music scene about to explode with grunge, it’s kind of sad they think the California Dreams are a rock band. They are, at best, adult alternative, and, at worst, easy listening. There’s nothing rocking about them, and I laugh every time Matt cites The Beatles as one of his influences, because I think the writers don’t understand what a musical influence is. It would be like if Justin Bieber claimed he were influenced by Kurt Cobain: you’re just picking a random big name the viewers will recognize because you don’t want to have music any more threatening than you’d expect to find on an ’80s compilation infomercial.


For its faults, though, I can’t bring myself to hate this show, not like I do one of Engel’s other infamous shows, The New Class. It feels like this show’s heart is in the right place even if the writing could use some first aid, and, I have to give it to them: this season, they only directly ripped off Saved by the Bell once, whereas every first season episode of The New Class was plagiarized.

I think i understand why this was saved from cancellation after the first season: there is definitely potential present in the show. With some tweaking and focus, I think they actually could have been as classic a show as Saved by the Bell. Of course, I’ve already had some indication that this is not the direction they went (disclaimer: I’ve already reviewed the first episode of season two), but we’ll deal with that as it come. For now, I could see this as a show I would have enjoyed if I hadn’t been so distracted by Power Rangers on Fox Kids.

As a side note, Wikipedia claims the original premise for the show was that the Garrisons moved to California from the Midwest, where Matt and Jenny form a band. If this was the case, it was never established on the show and, in fact, all indications are that at least Matt, Jenny, Sly, and Tiffani has known each other a long time. I don’t buy this as an actual plot of the show whether it was in the producers’ minds or not.

Let’s talk characters.


Like it or not, Matt was obviously intended to be the central character of this show. It’s interesting to compare him to characters like Happy Days‘s Richie Cunningham, 90210‘s Brandon Walsh, or the entire Winslow family from Family Matters, all of whom were originally intended to be the central characters on their respective shows but were quickly overshadowed by more popular breakout characters. Like the rest, Matt is sort of bland, without much personality of his own and depending on the rest of the cast to prop up his dead corpse of a character. You can’t just get a pretty boy who looks good shirtless and expect him to carry the show on those merits alone. They couldn’t even seem to decide for sure whether Matt and Randi Jo were consistently dating throughout the season!

So, the fact that Sly and Jake will become the breakout characters is not surprising to me. Matt needed something else than his goody two shoes act to be an essential character to this show. As I said in another review, bad things happen to Matt inexplicably, but they’re always resolved without consequences by the end of the episode. No teenager is as squeaky clean as Matt. None. He’s more of a prototype for Wally from Leave it to Beaver than anything resembling an actual teen.


I have mixed feelings about Jenny. On one hand, she brings the voice of reason element to the show (except when it’s otherwise convenient to the plot, of course), which is much needed when the other characters are acting like complete jackasses. On the other hand, she has no personality beyond being a strong, assertive woman, and that’s a problem, especially when she’s playing to the whim of the men in her life, as in “This Time.”

Jenny needed to be fleshed out more. I’m not sure I can even name one thing she likes to do beyond playing in a band. Give her some hobbies, interests, something. Give me a reason to like her beyond a pretty face. It’s ironic that, in a show revolving around the Garrisons, the two Garrison teens are the least developed of the band. It’s like Engel and company put all their effort into the other characters rather than focusing on the main ones.


Tiffani is…weird. I don’t know what to think of her. The writers are obviously playing up the dumb blonde stereotype, which annoys the hell out of me because I could have gotten that in numerous other television shows and movies at the time before it became such a cliche it was mostly retired from real Hollywood productions. Unlike Jenny, Tiffani has a gimmick: being a surfer, but this little character contrivance might as well not even exist as we never actually see Tiffani surfing and the hobby barely factors into any episodes, the major exception, of course, being “Romancing the Tube.”

There’s nothing in particular for me to hate about Tiffani. She’s just kind of there, existing in some sort of stupid bubble that won’t go away. Occasionally, it seems as if the writers want to make her the voice of reason when Jenny’s unavailable to fill the role, but she’s really bad at it. Even the major event of the season for her, the return of her estranged mother, is left almost completely unexplored, and I doubt we’ll ever even hear about it again.


My favorite character from this season is Tony by far. And I’m beginning to realize it may be because he’s one of the only actual cast members with an actual personality. He calls Sly by his full first name, “Sylvester,” just to get on his nerves. He stands up to the racist father of a white girl he wants to date. He fights his father to continue being a part of the band. This season, some of the times Tony is on screen are the most interesting parts of the episode, by far.

I do wonder what the series would have been like if they’d started out with Tony as the central character. Considering what we now know happened after this season with the gradual lessening of the role of the Garrisons on the show, could it have worked to have Tony as the main character? An inaccurate plot summary on IMDB for “The First Gig” implied that Tony moved to California from the Midwest and started a band. That actually sounds like an intriguing plot line, and one that I wish they had explored.


I don’t like Sly like most viewers of this show seem to. Unless his character changes dramatically in the coming seasons, he just seems like the Screech of the group: not really needed for the overall plot of the show, but kept around for “comedic” effect. He’s an idiot, not of Screech proportions, but still an idiot, and I’m not quite sure why the rest of the band keep him around when he’s doing stupid things like nearly ruining Matt and Randi Jo’s relationship or spying on Jenny to be her dream man.

The element of his personality that makes him useful is the Zack Morris-esque schemer within, but I feel that could just as well have gone to Tony had they gone a different direction. Really, I feel like Sly has no redeeming traits. He says all the wrong things, does all the wrong things, and generally acts like an ass at all times. I feel like most people remember him because he looks good without a shirt. Hell, even Jimmy Fallon recognized this during the reunion when he had Michael Cade take his shirt off on stage!


And then there’s the extended Garrison family. What can you say about them? Richard’s the stern father. Melody’s the stern but loving mother. Together they became the Garrison bunch. We barely know that Richard is a college professor. I know they said on screen what Melody does, but I can’t remember it for the life of me, and it really doesn’t matter because both Richard and Melody are only around to act as plot devices, moving the story along lest it stall.

Despite being in the opening credits, Richard only appears in eight episodes this season; Melody only appears in seven. Hell, after the first episode, we don’t see Melody again for several episodes. The reason, I’m convinced, is that every one of their appearances are shoehorned in just to have them on the show. Would the show really have been worse off if Richard hadn’t been around to tell Tony that he wouldn’t mind a black guy dating his daughter, or Melody to be the middle-woman between Tiffani and her mom?

Despite the fact that this is the end of Richard and Melody as characters in the opening credits, we’ll have another opportunity to say goodbye to them next season. It is time, though, to say farewell to the most useless character I’ve ever encountered in the Engle-verse. More useless than Max, Milo, Tina, and Mike put together. So, last, and certainly least…


Dennis. Why is Dennis even on this show? I’ll tell you why: for cuteness factor. Nineties sitcoms had a bad habit of adding young child characters just for the “AWW” factor. Dennis is scheming something and outsmarted the other characters? Isn’t that adorable? Dennis wants to look at Tiffani’s breasts? That’s so cute! Dennis comes in and spouts random lines that contribute nothing to the episode? Give him a fucking Daytime Emmy folks!

Really, Dennis is a ten year-old boy, and that’s all you need to know about him to understand his character. He has no character development throughout the season and even in the episode with his name in the title, he feels superfluous. The only bit of characterization we get this season, that he apparently doesn’t get along with Matt, comes the fuck out of nowhere and isn’t reflected at all the rest of the season. Dennis is a walking, talking contrivance, and he will never be seen again after this season. I don’t know if anyone will mention his existence at all next season, but, if the writers choose to pull a Chuck Cunningham on him and forget he ever existed, this is one instance where I won’t blame the writers for bad writing. He’s not even competently acted, so he just comes off as a horrible child character in the vein of Oliver from The Brady Bunch.

Ryan O’Neill was in a few other things throughout the nineties, most notably a couple guest spots on Northern Exposure as well as some long forgotten family films. He’s sporadically appeared in some things throughout the 2000’s, including a 2011 film called New Jerusalem (starring indie rock darling Will Oldham aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), but he’s never had much of an acting career. He also appeared in the music video for “Childhood,” Michael Jackson’s long-forgotten attempt to create a them for Free Willy 2 that would be as well-remembered as the one he performed for the original Free Willy. It’s pretty bad. As for what he’s doing today, your guess is as good as mine. He’s kind of dropped off the face of the planet, probably living a relatively normal life, with the caveat that he has an interesting bit of trivia about himself to talk about on social occasions.


For all its faults, I’m glad this show exists. It’s proof that the Engel cast of writers can develop something half decent when they put their minds to it. Unlike most of what they would later develop, this seems like it has potential, and it’s nice to know it stuck around a while. Whether it maintains quality, improves, or goes the way of The New Class and Hang Time is still to be seen. But, for now, I am glad to have watched the first season of this show, even if it meant seeing Dennis’s insufferable face all season.

My Picks

If you’re familiar with my Saved by the Bell reviews, you’ll know that, in each recap, I pick the best and worst episodes for that season. Since all five seasons of this show are relatively short, I’m picking three I like and three I hate every recap. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments below!

Three Episodes I Loved:

Episode 3: “Beat of His Own Dream”: As I said in the recap, Tony’s episodes tend to be some of the best of the season. This one is no exception, as Tony stands up to his father to stay in the band. Tony’s father acts like an ass, but it’s kind of needed for the episode to progress. My only criticism is that the plot is too easily resolved, and Dennis’s creepy subplot of wanting to fuck Tiffani did not help the episode.

Episode 7: “Guess Who’s Coming to Brunch”: Hands down, the best episode of the season, and another Tony-centric episode, “Guess Who’s Coming to Brunch just proves that the Engel-verse can, indeed, do a half decent very special episode when they have to. IIt doesn’t have a happy ending and really feels like something that could happen to someone in real life, unlike, say, “Jessie’s Song” from Saved by the Bell or The New Class’s anti-smoking or anti-herbal supplements episodes.

Episode 11: “This Time”: I struggled with whether to put this one on the list but, what it comes down to, is that it’s one of the few opportunities for Jenny to truly shine as a three-dimensional character. Her fight with Matt seems genuine. I only wish they’d explored more what was obviously a fear of being alone as that’s the only reason someone would put up with the bull shit of this episode.

Three Episodes I Hated:

Episode 4: “Double Date”: Proof positive that Sly should be fired as the band’s manager, he convinces Tony to do something that should have gotten him fired and books the band without checking the rest of the band’s availability. If I was the audience at either Sharkey’s or the wedding, I would have been severely pissed off and wanted my money back as they really shouldn’t have satisfied either audience, except in contrivance land.

Episode 8: “It’s a Guy Thing”: An entire episode about Jenny and Tiffani teaching Sly and Tony how to treat girls. How utterly boring.  Frankly, if I tried something like this on friends in real life, even if they really were sexist pigs, I probably wouldn’t have a friend anymore. What kind of teenagers really act like this? And the subplot about the Garrison men fixing things was just pointless.

Episode 10: “Romancing the Tube”: I hope I conveyed in my review for this episode how grating on my nerves it is. It reads like something my grandmother, who never surfed in her life, would have written about surfing. And the idea that Sly and Tiffani should have some sort of commitment ceremony after the short time they were dating is just idiotic (they’re supposed to be in high school for fuck’s sake!), but not as idiotic as the ceremony itself. And the subplot with Melody hiring Matt, Jenny, and Tony to paint the bedrooms is just never resolved and might as well not have been in the episode.