Appreciation: NBC’s American Dreams – Ahead of Its Time

In 2002, NBC premiered a new series that was ahead of its time. A case can easily be made that American Dreams was a precursor for the critically acclaimed Friday Night Lights (also on the peacock). American Dreams was also one of the first series in the last decade to seamlessly integrate music into the show and the storyline.

American Dreams was a family drama set in the 1960s centered on the Pryor Family of Philadelphia. At the heart of it was Meg Pryor (Brittany Snow), a teenage girl who’s dream of dancing on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand eventually came true. It was through her we not only meet her family consisting of her parents, older brother and younger brother and sister, but also being introduced (or for many, reintroduced) to America in the 1960s.

In some ways a much simpler time, in others more complicated, American Dreams‘s 1960s backdrop provided a nostalgic, yet fresh take on the family drama. Touching on social issues of the time from the Vietnam War and women’s rights to racial discrimination and technological advancement; American Dreams was as much a history lesson as it was an intriguing family drama.

Like Friday Night Lights a few years later (or maybe the other way around), American Dreams would focus on an imperfect, yet loving family. That families aren’t always happy, yet they’ll get through any hurdles together. Families that get through both hurdles in their personal lives and in their greater community.

There was a sincerity and honesty that developed over the course of American Dreams‘ three seasons. An honest, down to earth picture of a family and of life more than 40 years ago.

Also at the heart of the series was its music. The seamless integration of music on the series tops anything seen on the Glees or High School Musicals that would come years later. Whether it be contemporary artists playing the original singers of the 1960s, performing on Bandstand to the music of the 60s being the emotional backdrop of most of the episodes, American Dreams was one of the first broadcast television series in a long time to wonderfully use music to add more to the story than being mere background static.

After its first season, TV Land named the series a “Future Classic.” There aren’t any DVD sets for seasons 2 and 3 (which is a shame since some of the series’ most incredible episodes are from those two later seasons), it is always a great experience popping in a season 1 DVD and see just why TV Land considered it as such.

The recent passing of Dick Clark brought about memories and acknowledgement of his contributions to entertainment and especially television. As one of the executive producers of American Dreams, Dick Clark helped provide that little bit of authenticity to the iconic Bandstand and was the perfect figure to represent one aspect of culture at the time.

As much as Friday Night Lights brought small town America and family values to the rest of the country and Glee and High School Musical brought music back into narrative television, American Dreams did it all half a decade before. It may not have been one of the biggest shows at the time it was on the air, but looking back, it is easy to see how much it deserved to be recognized as a nostalgic classic that was ahead of its time.

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