Monday, July 29, 2013

What's Next On My List? American Dreams

This show is one of my sister's favorites so we had a marathon a year back. Since I was planning on writing about my own 'American dream', I thought I would play tribute to this great show. I know I just said over a week ago that I don't want to do many TV shows and that there will be a list soon on shows that I would like to see one more season of, but this won't be on the list so I want to talk about it separately.

The show is a period piece from the 60's. We follow the everyday life of a family of six: Jack Pryor and Helen are the parents of JJ, a football star and later on a marine; Megan, a high school student who gets a job as a dancer on American Bandstand; Patty, a young know-it-all and Will, the youngest who he suffers from polio. Mr. Pryor owns a TV store and his assistant and later on partner is an African-American man named Henry, who has a son named Sam, a daughter Angela and he takes in his nephew Nathan who causes them a lot of problems. Although the Pryor family has no prejudice toward skin color, the people around them don't seem to be so open-minded yet.
And after Helen wishes to go to college and Megan gets herself a job on television, Jack's expectations of their everyday life seem to have been crushed. JJ gets a football scholarship, but after injuring his leg, he decides to enlist into the marines so after coming home he can get into a better college. This means leaving behind his long time girlfriend Beth, who opposes the idea of a war. Beth, after their break-up, finds out that she is expecting. When JJ finally gets back home, he and Beth restart their relationship. In the meanwhile there are two more important characters that cannot go unmentioned.One is Roxanne, she is Meg's best friend and she has a bad relationship with her family, so she spends all of her time with the Pryors. The other is Pete, Jack's younger brother, who too is somewhat lost in the world and being part of the family is the only thing that gives him stability. We follow the adventures of these two families for three seasons.

What really defines this series was the period. It is set in the 60's in Philadelphia. President Kennedy's assassination is featured in the first season as well as some other historical elements, such as sending a man to the Moon and Martin Luther King's speech. One of the defining elements, however, was featuring a show called American Bandstand that was hosted by Dick Clark. The latter was a producer of the show, and therefore they re-used old footage and he himself lent his voice for various scenes. In the show we only see him on focus on old tapes, this way they didn't have to recast him, which I think gave an awesome touch to the show! It was really these small particulars that made it very enjoyable and had a sense of reality to it. I really do believe that this family existed and that they had all the troubles and adventures that we have seen on the screen. Most importantly it was down to earth - that is something I have been craving for in other series. I get that excitement gets more audience, but the real problems of a real family I think are far more interesting - in other words, you do get the sense that something like that can happen to you too.
In the show, the parents are the main characters, but overall it is JJ (Jack Junior) and Megan who get most of the stories. JJ plays football and he gets himself a scholarship, but due to a knee injury he leaves college and decides to enroll into the marines. In a couple of months he becomes well known and shows to be a good leader - for this reason they send him from camp to Vietnam. Of course the family isn't pleased, his father Jack, an ex-soldier is of course proud, but they fear for his life. JJ goes missing and ends up in a hospital two times, but the second time at least he finally goes home. That was the Christmas episode of the third season. He is already presumed dead when a phone call arrives that he managed to get to a friendly camp from the middle of nowhere. At the time his girlfriend Beth - who remained pregnant after their last encounter where they decided to break up - has moved in with the Pryors as she wished to raise her baby while her family wanted her to have an abortion. When JJ gets back home, he and Beth start again and they are finally happy. He really is his parents' pride and joy, even though sometimes he disappoints them just as much as his other siblings do.

Meg on the other hand is kind of a rebel. She and her dad almost never agree and that brings about plenty of tension at the dinner table. Jack really wants a traditional family, but this clearly doesn't work. Helen wants to go to college first and then she gets a job, while Megan wants to be on television. At the end of each episode, Jack always gives in and allows everyone to do as they please. However, Meg starts to protest against the war and he cannot stand for that. From that point on, anything she does seems to irritate him. She attends protest, proclaims her opinion openly and simply disrespects her parents. Her biggest mistake, however is falling in love with the boy next door - Chris, who gets drafted and at the end of the third season they elope together, as she fears never seeing him again. She actually is a complex character, as she is far more smarter than your average teenage girl - while she tries to be foolish for the sake of acting her age. Not to mention that the adults around her never really think of her as a grown up and that causes even more tension.
The series also puts emphasis on how the 60's evolved into the 70's - not only with make-up and wardrobe - but the people's openness, race issues and music none the less.
Patty and Will - being the youngest - don't really have that huge character arc from the first to the third season. Patty is the ultimate bookworm who lives for praise. She actually tries to evolve from her shell, but in the end always finds more comfort in her own surroundings. Will's biggest change is getting an operation to cure him from his polio, so he can finally walk without supporting braces. One thing all the characters have in common, maybe for the exception of JJ and Meg is that in the end it doesn't matter how many new things they try out - they all fill more comfortable in their own little world. And that is something that I can definitely relate to. Same goes for Henry's family. His son Sam, who is a dreamer really as he himself doesn't see color. He has a hard life because others do and that haunts him continuously, but he sees people like the Pryors who have no prejudice toward them and it makes them hopeful. His cousin Nathan on the other hand is the typical character that you want to hit in the face with a frying pan! He is just annoying and his character kept contradicting himself! The worse thing is that people like him really do exist and that irritated the hell out of me! Their father Henry, however, is a sweetheart. He was one of my favorites.

And speaking of favorites, the best character of all cannot go unmentioned: Roxanne. She is of course Meg's best friend. She is the funniest character! Not only that, she is the kind of best friend that we all want: She protects Megan, she helps her, supports her work and even if sometimes doesn't share her believes - she puts it aside and listens because that is what great friends do! And Meg returns it. That is what is great, their friendship is not one sided. Anytime Roxanne is in trouble - which is quite often - Meg always lends her a hand and treats her like a sister. Roxanne also moves in with them for a while, before moving in with her boyfriend Luke. She is the kind who doesn't fall in love very often, but when she does, she gives her heart to the fullest. On that note she and Meg are the same, as in the end Meg only really loves one person. Either way, Vanessa Lengies was my overall favorite - I actually started to watch Glee because of her :) ... they could really give her character a bigger role... Actually the overall cast of the series is magnificent! I have found that one cannot go wrong with Brittany Snow :) She is a real angel.

I mentioned before that I don't want another season to this show. The last episode - although it had a small cliffhanger feeling - still tied together nicely all of the elements. JJ dreams of being an astronaut, but he realizes that being simply part of the process is enough for him, so he gets himself a job with the researches for Apollo. Beth decides on wanting to go back to college when they can stand on their feet again, money-wise. Roxanne and Meg graduate from high school, the former decides to go to beauty school as she has a talent for hair. Meg, even though her family doesn't understand why she must leave with Chris (her father in particular thinks that he should serve instead of running like a coward), she does indeed after saying goodbye to Roxanne. I can see how these story lines could've continued, but it was still great for an ending.

Watch it? Definitely. This series will melt your heart. It is only three season, really a piece of cake! Each and every episode has a valuable lesson and since there are so many characters, you are bound to find somebody to whom you can relate. If you have grown tired of bad war movies - this one handles it with finesse. And if you are bored with chick flicks were parents for some reason disappear and teach nothing to their children - then you won't be disappointed by the sweet family bond that holds these two families together. It is a definite winner!

Until the next item on my list!
_ _ _ _ _ _ 

Jack Pryor - Tom Verica
Helen Pryor - Gail O'Grady
JJ Pryor - Will Estes
Meg Pryor - Brittany Snow
Patty Pryor - Sarah Ramos
Will Pryor - Ethan Dampf
Roxanne Bojarski - Vanessa Lengies
Beth Mason - Rachel Boston
Henry Walker - Jonathan Adams
Sam Walker - Arlen Escarpeta
Nathan - Keith Robinson

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