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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday Morning - California Dreams

There are a few people out there who seem to blame live-action shows for killing off all Saturday morning cartoons.  I have to admit that there is a little truth to that.  In 1993, when the TNBC programming block debuted, it signalled the end of most animated programming on NBC.  The other two channels at the time still aired regular cartoon programming, but this move by NBC was a bit unprecedented.

If I remember correctly from my experiences watching Saturday morning television back in those days, the schedule worked like this back in '93.  The first part of the NBC schedule was devoted to local news programming and informercials.  In short, a real snooze-fest.

It wasn't until ten o'clock in the morning that the shows for kids (or teenagers, as the new programming was designed for them, as the T in TNBC stood for Teen) began to air.  If I remember correctly, Name Your Adventure came on first, at 10:00pm.  Then Saved By The Bell:  The New Class.  There was another forgettable show called Running The Halls shortly after that.

Then at 11:30, a show came on that I'll readily admit to watching and enjoying.  The show had debuted one year earlier, in September 1992.  It was a simple premise of a show.  A group of high school kids start up a garage band in hopes of making it big while cramming through algebra and biology classes.  Think a live-action version of the Archies, or the Brady kids in the early '90's.

Of course, you had to have your basic slapstick comedy and lame jokes, because like every Peter Engel produced show, it had to resemble Saved By The Bell at every nook, cranny, and crack.

What was different about this show was that in the vast majority of songs that the band performed, most of the actors and actresses sang their own songs.  They lipsynched on the program, of course, but those voices you hear were in fact the voices of the real actors who acted in the show.  That's mighty impressive.

So, what exactly was the name of this band?  It also happens to be the name of the show!

The name of the show was 'California Dreams'.  The original run of the program was from September 12, 1992 - December 14, 1996.  Not a bad run, indeed. 

Above, you can see the original line-up of the California Dreams band when it debuted in 1992.  From left to right, you can see drummer Tony Wicks, bass player Tiffani Smith, and the brother/sister duo of Matt and Jenny Garrison, who did vocals/guitars and vocals/keyboards respectively.  Unseen in this photo is the band's teenage manager, Sylvester 'Sly' Winkle.

Over the next four years, there would be some cast changes that changed the look and sound of the band.  Two original members would leave the band, and three more would come in to offer up their own flavours to the band.  As the band grew in popularity by playing at school dances and the teen hangout Sharkey's, they would develop a new set of fans, including one who was so into the band that she never really left.

It's interesting to note that when the sitcom first premiered in 1992 that it originally wasn't designed as a teen sitcom.  It was more like a family sitcom revolving around the Garrison family, with the band storyline being in the background.

As a result, during the first season, you had Matt and Jenny's parents and younger brother popping in throughout the serial, while the band seemed to play sporadically.  Still, they had some moments where they really shined.  Here's a video clip of the first incarnation of the California Dreams with Jenny on vocals.

Now, as the show progressed, the Garrison family began to be shown less and less (save for Matt and Jenny) because the network executives didn't feel that the original format worked.  The second season still showed Matt and Jenny's family sporadically, but the show focused more on the adventures of the band, and less on the family sitcom aspect.  It seemed to work out well for the show, as it lasted an additional three years.

So, who were these band members, and what did they contribute to the band?  Well, I'll tell you right here, as well as telling you some stories about some people I knew who were just like them...heck, there's actually one character who I can personally identify with here.

So, let's start with the original line-up and work our way down.

Matthew "Matt" Garrison
played by Brent Gore (1992-1994)

Matt was the lead singer of the California Dreams, and is often credited with coming up with the idea to create the band.  He was more often than not the moral compass of the band's earlier seasons, making sure that the band didn't get taken in by Sly's schemes.  He was a loyal friend to everyone near him, and he made sure that people could count on him.  Sure, he didn't exactly think things through, and more often than not, his good intentions could blow up in his face.  But, there is one moment in which his natural ability to lead worked to his advantage.  For one, he discovered that the new tough guy, Jake Sommers, had a natural gift to write songs, and he was responsible for helping the rest of the band see that he wasn't as tough as people thought he was.  In fact, it was Matt who insisted that Jake join the band in the first place.  Therefore, it only seemed fitting that when the Garrison family moved away in 1994, that Jake would take over the duties as the band leader.  Below is a clip of Matt performing.

Jennifer "Jenny" Garrison
played by Heidi Noelle Lenhart (1992-1993)

As Matt's sister, Jenny also happened to share a love of music.  Whereas Matt chose to perfect his musical talent on guitars, Jenny took piano lessons, and ended up being the keyboardist of the band.  Her best friend was Tiffani Smith, and they were inseparable, aside from one moment where they fought over a boy they both liked.  Although Jenny seemed to share the same moral compass as Matt in most cases, she was a bit more of a schemer than her brother, often playing tricks on band manager Sly.  Early in the second season, she started up a relationship with Jake Sommers, but when she was accepted into a prestigious music school in Italy, she left the show for good.

Tiffani Smith
played by Kelly Packard (1992-1996)

If there was a girl who epitomized the stereotypical sun-kissed blonde California girl, Tiffani Smith would be it.  Blonde, beautiful, athletic, and personable, she was the kind of girl that all men wanted to date, and all women wanted to be like.  She really adored where she lived.  She surfed every day, played beach volleyball, and in between all that, still held down her commitment to the band as bass player and backing vocalist.  Tiffani Smith is probably best linked to Jake Sommers, who she shared an on-again, off-again relationship with after Jenny moved away.  Still, Tiffani's life had its ups and downs.  It's hard to forget the fact that she grew up in a household raised by a single father, as her mother left the family to pursue her career.  And, who could forget the time when Tiffani got hooked on steroids?

While it was a rather down moment for Tiffani, it did educate us on the dangers of steroid use.  More importantly, it showed us that even the people who do seem to have it all can have hardships just like anyone else.  But as Tiffani later discovered, she could overcome those hardships with the help of her friends and bandmates.  I know that I can relate to Tiffani in that regard, because I could count on co-workers and extended friends to help me through my health scares, mini-depressive phases, and other problems that I may have gone through.  They can happen to us all.

 Antoine "Tony" Wicks
played by William James Jones (1992-1996)

I'll state the obvious here.  Tony Wicks is probably the most developed character in the whole series.  Tony has been through more deep storylines than the other members of the band combined.  In season one, he dated a girl whose family was prejudiced against black people, and while he fought to get them to see him for who he was, the relationship didn't pan out.  He eventually did find love with exchange student Samantha Woo.  He was also a part of a storyline that saw an old friend of his nearly die in a bout of gang violence, and it took the other members of the band to get Tony to see that the 'eye for an eye' approach was not the way to solve the problem.  Tony was a deep character, and he had probably more emotional range than anyone else in the band.

Sylvester "Sly" Winkle
played by Michael Cade (1992-1996)

Cunning.  Selfish.  Money-hungry.  Ignorant.  All adjectives used to describe Sylvester 'Sly' Winkle by his bandmates, his classmates, and even the Garrison family.  So, why is it that I can see so much of myself in this character?

Because Sly also has one character that is very seldom seen in this show.  Vulnerability.

On the surface, Sly is boisterous, loud, and will stop at nothing to get what he wants when he wants it.  But at the same time, he is also very aware of people's feelings, and if he discovers that he hurt someone's feelings, or has overstepped his boundaries, he's the first one to try and make it right.

For instance, there was a heavy-set girl in his class who he picked on until he discovered that she was having a birthday party and had a sizeable amount of money to hire a band.  Money signs popped up in Sly's eyes, and he began to pretend to be her secret admirer so that it would make her decision to hire the California Dreams a little easier.  But when she overheard Sly talking about how he really didn't care for her, she was deeply hurt.  While it took some encouragement from the band for him to step up, Sly knew that he really did treat her like a jerk, and went out of his way to throw her a birthday party she'd always remember.

Underneath those tacky blazers and snake charmer exterior lay a heart in there.  It just took special cases for him to show it.  He was hurt when a popular girl who bought him as a slave during slave week at school humiliated him, but with encouragement from Jake, stood up to her.  He joined up at a school teen line to meet girls but really ended up helping a depressed teen when he was the only one there.  And it's hard to forget his love affair with a blind girl named Allison (played by Nikki Cox).  Although Sly had misgivings about dating someone with a disability, Allison really did bring out the best in Sly.

And, that right there is where Sly and I are cut from the same cloth.  We were both vulnerable people who hid behind false personas, and ended up turning people off because of it.  It was only when we found friends who would stand by us and support us that we started to look inside ourselves to realize that we weren't nearly as bad as we let on. 

Of course, I don't think I was ever so self-centered and money hungry as Sly, but meh...

Jake Sommers
played by Jay Anthony Franke (1993-1996)

Jake Sommers was the first of the new characters to join California Dreams.  Initially portrayed as a motorcycle riding, leather jacket clad thug who could get any woman he wants, it initially didn't seem like Jake had a talent.  Jake could not only read and write music, but he could pen lyrics that were deep and soulful...a far cry from the image he portrayed on the show.  With Matt Garrison's help, he joined the band, and when Matt left, Jake took over as the lead singer. 

Jake was also involved in a little bit of a love triangle of sorts, having relationships with both Tiffani and Lorena Costa.  In the end, Jake and Tiffani ended up together until the end of the series.

Jake also had some decent storylines of his own.  He was afraid of riding a motorcycle after crashing his bike through Sharkey's, but managed to overcome it.  We also saw Jake take up smoking to be just like his uncle, and saw his devastation when he learned his uncle had terminal cancer as a result of cigarette smoking.

Jake Sommers was one of those characters who seemed like one thing, but ended up being someone completely different.  The ultimate example of not judging a book by its cover.

Samantha "Sam" Woo
played by Jennie Kwan (1993-1996)

Samantha Woo was initially brought in during season two, after Heidi Noelle Lenhart left the serial.  She was brought in as an exchange student from Hong Kong, who chatted a mile a minute and was fascinated by American culture.  She stayed in Jenny's old room during season two.  When the Garrisons left at the beginning of season three, Samantha moved in with Lorena Costa's family.  Samantha was a good girl, and enjoyed a strong relationship with her boyfriend, Tony Wicks.  Still, Samantha's obsession with American culture often got her into trouble.  From maxing out a credit card to attempting to captialize on a product her grandmother invented, Sam often had to learn the hard way.  There were times though where the band helped her out, particularly with one episode where Sam was unable to fly to Hong Kong for the Chinese New Year ceremonies.  The band not only transformed Sharkey's into a Chinese New Year celebration, but Matt managed to help Sam's parents fly to California so she could spend the New Year with them.

Lorena Costa
played by Diana Uribe (1994-1996)

Lorena Costa couldn't play an instrument.  She certainly couldn't sing to save her life.

But, she did have the money (rather her parents had the money) to build the band a studio where they could rehearse for gigs.  The only tradeoff was that she often appeared as the band's number one groupie at every show.  Given Lorena's fiery personality, this varied from excellent to 'what have we gotten ourselves into'.  Lorena was initially portrayed as a spoiled rich girl, but over the course of her relationship with Jake, and later Sly, she matured quite a bit.

Mark Winkle
played by Aaron Jackson (1994-1996)

Finally, we have Mark Winkle, the last of the new band members, taking over co-lead singer duties with Jake after Matt's departure.  If that last name sounds familiar, it's because Mark happens to be Sly's cousin.  When Mark was brought on the show, the band discovered that he was a music prodigy, learning to play the piano at an early age.  The band wanted him to join them, but Mark initially refused when he discovered that Sly was the manager.  Mark never forgave Sly for ruining a performance he was playing at in New York's Carnegie Hall, and he didn't want to join a band that had Sly as a manager.  It took time, but Mark learned to forgive Sly, and found a spot in the band that lasted until the band split up after graduation.

So there you have it.  Nine people who were part of one of the coolest garage bands in California, all bringing their own personalities and musical talents to create some beautiful music.

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