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Universal Studios Home Video presents
American Dreams: Season One (Extended Music Edition) (2002)

"We wanna know the face of freedom
We wanna make a place where we can learn to love
Build a world that we can be proud of
This is my generation."

- (from the show's theme song)

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: September 14, 2004

Stars: Brittany Snow, Tom Verica, Gail O’ Grady, Will Estes, Sarah Ramos, Ethan Dampf, Vanessa Lengies, Arlen Escarpeta
Other Stars: Virgina Masden, Jesse Hutch, Rachel Boston, Jonathan Adams, Arlen Escarpeta, Keith Robinson, Joseph Lawrence, Michelle Branch, Nick Carter, Sara Mann, Kelly Rowland, Clifton Davis, Ashanti, Keb’ Mo’, Vanessa Carlton, Art Garfunkel, India.Aire, Wayne Brady, Duncan Sheik, LeAnn Rimes, Third Eye Blind, The Beach Boys, Little Richard, Paul Revere and The Raiders
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language, adult situations)
Run Time: 18h:14m:00s
Release Date: September 07, 2004
UPC: 025192573729
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AAA+ B

DVD Review

Recently, while reading an article on the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' arrival in America, the author noted that this particular commemoration could be a last hurrah of sorts, being that in 10 years time, most of the original first generation journalists and media members will have passed on which will in turn affect coverage of a watershed event in succeeding decades. Well, I have a problem with that line of thinking…for the 1960s was a period full of enormous change and progression. Not only are we still feeling the ramifications of life altering events from that period, many folks raised in the era of peace and love are still trying to make some of those hopes and dreams from the likes of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King a reality in our lifetime.

Granted, the nostalgia of the last three decades continue to duke it out in pop culture's ring of favoritism, but thanks to the enduring quality of the sounds that served as a soundtrack to our lives, the 60s still manages to find its way into high profile entertainment projects such as American Dreams, the critically acclaimed, award winning NBC series.

Since its premiere in the fall of 2002, Dick Clark's hour-long dramedy has established itself as one of television's harbingers of quality and although great notices haven't translated into stellar ratings, its loyal viewership has helped keep it in the renewal category for the past two spring semesters. Taking a cue from the equally acclaimed series Alias and 24 that weren't exactly Nielsen barnburners themselves in their freshman semesters, Universal has released American Dreams: Season One (Extended Music Edition), collecting the series first 25 episodes just in time to help promote the program's forthcoming third season.

Set in the city of Philadelphia in the mid-1960s, Dreams' focal point is the Pryor family, headed by Helen (Gail O'Grady) and Jack (Tom Verica), parents to four great kids: Patty (Sarah Ramos), Will (Ethan Dampf), J.J. (Will Estes), and Meg (Brittany Snow). At the time we first encounter the brood, the end of November 1963 is quickly approaching—elder son J.J. is prepping for the arrival of collegiate scouts to witness his athletic abilities on the football field, resident whiz Patty is a walking Webster's dictionary eagerly anticipating her school's spelling bee, Meg and her outspoken close friend Roxanne (Vanessa Lengies) are wallowing in national fame as resident dancers on American Bandstand, the region's most recent claim to fame and a daytime television habit for millions of their peers. And little Will, well, he's bravely holding steady despite the lingering effects of polio on his young body.

Like millions of families across the land, the Pryor's reasonably tranquil life is shattered by three shots that ring out in Dallas, Texas on the afternoon of November 22, 1963. Within hours of President John F. Kennedy's passing, the innocence of the 1950s that had extended into the current decade quickly came to an end. But even before the onset of racial tensions, the simmering of Vietnam and the arrival of four guys from England, certain aspects of change were beginning to make their presence felt in their household: Helen's friendship with local feminist and fellow Book Club member (Virginia Masden), J.J. thinking about forsaking his football career in exchange for something more meaningful, and Meg's quest for her own artistic hopes and dreams via her Bandstand connections.

Thanks to an incredibly accurate feel for the period, terrific soundtrack, good scripting and excellent performances (particularly by Snow and Lengies, whose characters' close ties drive the show), American Dreams combines the lighthearted aspects of The Wonder Years with the finesse of the family drama into an enormously appealing hour of television that deserves a bigger following. Adding to its effectiveness in this "Extended Musical Edition" DVD is the fleshing-out of guest performances by well-known and respected modern-day recording stars portraying some of the most influential artists of our time including Michelle Branch as Lesley Gore and LeeAnn Rimes in a dead-on turn as Connie Francis. And, in what ranks as the set's most thrilling sequence, soul superstar Usher effortlessly capturing the smooth sexual cool of Motown's legendary Marvin Gaye during a magnificent rendition of Can I Get a Witness, which is brilliantly blended with a storyline focusing on racial tensions at J.J.'s high school as gifted young black athlete, Sam Walker (Arlen Escarpeta), is forced to endure humiliating locker room treatment at the hands of his narrow minded teammates.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Lordy, I love well-produced recent television on DVD, and American Dreams is a stellar example of how the format compliments technical upswings in broadcasting. Luminous colors, razor-edged sharpness, spot-on black levels. Absolutely superb—and you can dance to it.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Unlike most dramas of its type, Dreams comes with a fairly active 5.1 track. Mostly understated with slight non-dialogue activity from the front and rears during the talky scenes, does it EVER come alive during the musical sequences with just the right balance of stereo imaging from the front three speakers and smooth echo/slight delay refinery in the back. Warm low end is also impressive and the clarity to the vocals in the center is wonderful.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 100 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Law and Order, Magnum P.I.: The Complete First Season
6 Feature/Episode commentaries by Executive Producer Dick Clark, Producer Jonathan Prince, American Dreams Cast Members Rachel Boston, Ethan Dampf, Will Estes, Gail O’Grady, Tom Verdi, Brittany Snow and Vanessa Lengies on Pilot Episode and City on Fire
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
7 Discs
7-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Timeline Documentary with NBC News' Brian Williams
  2. Back to Bandstand: Archival Interviews (including The Beach Boys, Lesley Gore and Marvin Gaye)
  3. My Boyfriend's Back: Music Video (featuring cast members Brittany Snow and Vanessa Lengies)
  4. Episode Time Capsules
Extras Review: While not exactly roof raising, the Dreams box does contain a fairly decent amount of bonus features. For me, the high points occur during rare interviews taken from the American Bandstand vaults with the real-life artists recreated on the show courtesy of those Dick Clark classic between song chit-chats that became a trademark of the legendary musical program, which display the host's wonderful interviewing abilities. My only misgiving is that the original, unedited two-song lip synch sets weren't included, but then, the list price of this collection probably would have reached the $200 dollar mark (yet, I'm still hopeful that Clearasil's best pitchman will eventually get around to giving classic music lovers a killer Bandstand compilation the show's legacy truly deserves).

There are six commentaries with three a piece devoted to the series' pilot episode and City on Fire, the show's first season finale. Clark and producer Jonathan Price handle the artistic aspects of the program with interludes on casting, shooting and most engagingly, memories of Bandstand's Philadelphia days. It's one big happy TV family on the track gathering many of Dreams' core cast members, with O'Grady and Verdi handling the lion's share of comments, including the Emmy-nominated actress' euphoria at landing the role of Helen and Verdi's thoughts on just how tricky it is to shoot the program's weekly dinner table scenes without stepping on one other's lines. Finally, main draws Snow and Lengies dish the same kind of chemistry as their characters with many behind-the-scenes memories of shooting the pilot in Canada, verbal tips of the hat to fellow cast members, and how much fun they have cutting the rug during the dance sequences. Not the most revelatory commentaries you'll ever listen to, but the comradery, interplay, and natural warmth that emerges is engaging.

For the more historically inclined, NBC News anchor Brian Williams takes us on a 30-minute Timeline that gathers dozens of clips from the network's vaults that summarizes all the news, sports, and pop culture headlines that inspired many of Dreams' first season storylines. Also, each episode contains text-based Time Capsule factoids relevant to the time period in which the shows are set. Finally, a slight but fun music video pairing pop singer Stacie Orrico with Lengies and Snow taking a crack at The Angel's early-1960s girl group classic, My Boyfriend's Back, completes the extras.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

One of prime time's finest but sadly underviewed dramas aims for the DVD crowd. For those who grew up in the 1960s or others who want an entertaining history lesson concentrating on that period, American Dreams makes the grade magnificently. Highly recommended, or, in this case, how about one of them trademark Dick Clark salutes?

 


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