American Dreams

2002 | United States

Review - Michael Spadoni

This unique drama explored life and events in the early and mid-1960's through the eyes of a fictional Philadelphia family.

The Pryors were devoted Catholics; father Jack (Tom Verica) owned a television and radio store and wife Helen (Gail O'Grady) was a stay-at-home mom. Their oldest son JJ (Will Estes), was a high school football player; youngest daughter Patty (Sarah Ramos), an intelligent but sometimes annoying child; and young son Will (Ethan Dampf) suffered from polio, a source of guilt for Jack and Helen, who refused to let him have the newly-developed Salk vaccine that could have prevented his illness.

The show's central figure was the Pryor's second-oldest child, 15-year-old Meg (Brittany Snow), a typical teen who hung around with her best friend Roxanne Bojarski (Vanessa Lengies), who always seemed to get into trouble. Also in the show's core cast were Henry Walker (Jonathan Adams), a black employee in Jack's store; his son Sam (Arlen Escarpeta) and JJ's girlfriend Beth Mason (Rachel Boston).

American Dreams

When the show began, the time was November 1963-and both Meg and Roxanne were picked to dance on the popular series ‘American Bandstand,’ which was based in Philadelphia during that period. ("Bandstand" host Dick Clark was one of the producers of American Dreams.) The setting-featuring black-and-white clips from the original show airing on studio monitors--allowed a number of contemporary stars to portray musical acts of the period , such as Usher playing soul singer Marvin Gaye; Duncan Shiek appearing as Bobby Darin and Ashanti as Dionne Warwick. Viewers watched as the Pryors went through major changes-some personal, some related to the issues of the day such as civil rights, the Vietnam war, the generation gap between young and old, women's liberation and the new sexual freedom. 

The characters were well-rounded and the show's writing was a cut or two above average, even though critics questioned its accuracy on historic and cultural events during the show's time line (1963 to 1966).

American Dreams was never a front-line hit, but managed to run for three seasons. Still, the nostalgia hook and the credible characters helped the show gain a loyal if modest audience by US broadcast standards.

Published on October 18th, 2020. Written by Michael Spadoni for Television Heaven.