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.
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: Old: After 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 Aspen: It 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!