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American Dreams - Season 1 - Extended Music Edition Review




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Rating
Video:   8/10
Audio:   9/10
Extras:   5/10

Great Show!
by Gord Lacey (All reviews)
9/06/2004

Being a dancer on American Bandstand was like winning the lottery for teenagers in Philadelphia. Through a bit of luck, Meg Pryor (Brittany Snow) and her friend Roxanne Bojarksi (Vanessa Lengies) find themselves dancing on the show, and eventually land parts as regular dancers. Their involvement in Bandstand provides a tie-in, and one of the hooks of American Dreams. The show features current artists performing hit songs from the 60s as part of American Bandstand, and the results are very good. Dreams uses quite a bit of footage from Bandstand, and the old footage is integrated extremely well with the new show, though the musical guests and the timeline for the show don't always match up.

Meg's father, Jack (Tom Verica), owns a TV store and provides for his four kids and his wife, Helen (Gail O'Grady), a homemaker. The oldest of the four is JJ (Will Estes), a football star who hopes to get a scholarship to Notre Dame so he can attend college. Patty (Sarah Ramos) is a few years younger than Meg, and she annoys everyone in the household with her spelling, grammar, and knowledge of what everyone else is up to; she's the worst little sister you can imagine, and then triple it. Will (Ethan Dampf) is the baby of the family, and he's coddled because of his handicap. He wasted treated for Polio soon enough, and now he has to wear a leg brace. Helen works hard to keep the family together, but she wonders if there's something missing from her life.

Other characters are introduced in the first few episodes of season one; Henry (Jonathan Adams), Jack's employee at the TV store; Henry's son, Sam (Arlen Escarpeta); Henry's nephew, Nathan (Keith Robinson) and JJ's girlfriend, Beth (Rachel Boston). Various other characters show up, but the most notable is Joseph Lawrence who plays Bandstand producer Micheal Brooks. You may remember Lawrence as Joey Russo on NBC's Blossom.

We view the 60s through the Pryor family, and can see how the events impacted their lives. The pilot closes with news of President Kennedy's assassination, and we watch as the family struggles to cope with the uncertainty before them. Inquisitive Will wants to know if anyone knows why he was shot, and once he's told the reason he proudly explains to others. The show weaves prominent events of the 60s into the storylines, but many of them are mentioned in passing and entire episodes aren't based around them.

I'd like to think that I keep up on shows that are on the air, but every once and awhile something gets past me. American Dreams was one of the shows that slipped through the cracks, and I'm a bit embarrassed by it. I hadn't heard of the show before this set was announced, and then I was surprised to hear that it was going into its third season, and that it has won 2 Emmy awards. I can honestly say that no one I know watches this show, and it's a shame because it's very good. Once I started watching the show I did little else until it was done, only leaving the house to get a new DVD player (whoops, wore mine out), and to buy food.

I was impressed by how well the show works, from the integration of existing material into the show, to the production of the episodes. Old footage from Bandstand is used in every episode, and it works really well. There are usually shots of a TV monitor in the foreground, and a blurred Dick Clark in the background, so it appears as though we're behind-the-scenes of American Bandstand. It's very slick, and doesn't come across as a silly stunt. The transitions between scenes and storylines were done beautifully; television footage, or a song on the radio, would be used to blend two unconnected events together in a wonderful manor.

The Packaging:
Universal has delivered another unique package for one of their sets, and I like it! It reminds me of the first season of Highlander; they took 2 digipacks, one holding 4 discs, and the other with 3, and placed it in a half-sized slip cover. It gives it a unique case that still fits nicely on a shelf.

We get all 25 episodes from season one in this 7 disc set, and many of the episodes include extended musical segments.

Video

American Dreams is presented in full frame (1.33:1), though it also aired in HiDef on NBC, so a 16:9 version exist somewhere. This is one of the few shows Universal has released where a widescreen version should exist, so I don't know whether it was a choice made by the show's producers to release this in full frame or not because there's no track record to go by.

The video transfer is very well done; I couldn't spot a speck of dust anywhere in the episodes, and grain is kept to a minimum, only showing up in a handful of scenes. The colors are bright, and the details in dark scenes are decent.

I must say that I'm growing increasingly frustrated with certain aspects of Universal's TV sets. Their earlier sets contained a Universal logo that would play the first time an episode was selected on a DVD, either by playing a single episode, or by selecting "play all." These newer sets contain a logo as part of the episode, so it has to be fast-forwarded, or watched, without an easy way to skip it. They've also stopped placing a chapter after the opening of the episode so you have to grab for the remote and fiddle with it. I started to feel as though I had recorded this off TV because I was always grabbing for the remote to fast-forward and then rewind if I went to far. I don't know why they made these changes, but I don't like them at all.

Audio

We're treated to a pretty rockin' Dolby Digital 5.1 track for this release. I've found that few dramas make use of a 5.1 track unless they are sci-fi shows, or the odd cop show, but American Dreams sounds great in 5.1 because of all the music in the show. That's right, every musical performance is in glorious 5.1 audio, and they sound excellent, though the rear speakers are under-utilized for the rest of the time. I don't know how many times I wanted to jump off the couch and start dancing to the tunes they were playing, and the theme song made me want to clap along. I only have one complaint; sometimes the music overpowers the dialog, especially in the first few minutes of the pilot. The set includes English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Extras - How we rate extras

Time Capsule
Each episode includes "Time Capsules" - 2 screens with bits of historical information about events in the 60s.

Back to Bandstand Highlights (47:23)
Video pieces from American Bandstand, many of which come from the real episodes that appear on the episode. This is television history, and a great addition to the set.
EP 1 - 4:01, EP 2 - 1:25, EP 3 - 1:50, EP 4 - 1:17, EP 5 - 3:02, EP 6 - 2:32, EP 7 - 1:01, EP 8 - 0:37, EP 9 - 2:51, EP 10 - 1:00, EP 11 - 1:09, EP 12 - 1:08, EP 13 - 1:16, EP 14 - 1:17, EP 15 - 2:54, EP 16 - 0:44, EP 17 - 1:41, EP 18 - 1:54, EP 19 - 6:16, EP 20 - 2:54, EP 21 - 1:30, EP 22 - 0:40, EP 23 - 1:35, EP 24 - 0:55, EP 25 - 1:54.

Commentary Tracks
There are 3 commentary tracks on the Pilot, and the season finale. These are very good, and worth listening to. I found Dick Clark's commentaries especially entertaining because the show revists a lot of the events he was directly involved in.
-Dick Clark (executive producer) and Jonathan Prince (executive producer/creator)
-Rachel Boston, Ethan Dampf, Will Estes, Gail O'Grady, Sarah Ramos and Tom Verica
-Vanessa Lengies and Brittany Snow

My Boyfriend's Back Music Video by Stacie Orrico, Brittany Snow and Vanessa Lengies (2:57)
Pretty self-explanatory; it's a music video.

NBC News Time Capsule with Brian Williams (30:35)
NBC News anchor, Brian Williams, hosts this look back at the 60s. The audio gets messed up part way through, and Williams' voice can only be heard from the left speaker. This is a very entertaining featurette.

Summary

I'm glad someone recommended this to me, or I may have missed out on one of the coolest new shows that I've seen in awhile. I'm not sure what it was that sucked me in, but I was hooked from the second episode (pilots don't usually hook me - it usually takes a few episodes). The show just comes together so well; from the integration of the old footage, to the performances from the actors, especially the younger kids.

I'd have to say that this show caught me off guard, and now I'm hooked. And to think I hadn't heard of this show before the announcement of the set! This is a show that will appeal to almost anyone, from tweens to seniors and I highly recommend it. It's almost a newer Wonder Years.


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