California Dreams is an American teen sitcom that aired on NBC from September 12, 1992 to December 14, 1996, as part of the network's Saturday morning block, TNBC. Created by writers Brett Dewey and Ronald B. Solomon, and executive produced by Peter Engel, all known for their work on Saved by the Bell, the series centers on the friendships of a group of teenagers (shifting toward a multi-ethnic makeup beginning with the show's second season) who form the fictional titular band.
The show, whose plots combined real-life issues with zany adventures, centered on the lives of the California Dreams, a group originally consisting of four members – expanding to five in the second season – dealing with their attempts to make it big as musicians, as well as learning lessons about life and friendship. Several episodes of the series covered a range of topics such as fear, drug use (specifically, the use of steroids for a competitive edge), racism, falling for scams, letting greed overtake friendship, dealing with a parent dating after divorce, forgiving others for past wrongs, and other general teen social issues.
California Dreams originally was intended to be a family sitcom, mainly centering on the Garrison family, who moved to Southern California from Iowa at an undisclosed point prior to the timeline of the series. In the first season, the show's main characters were Matt Garrison (Brent Gore), the band's leader, and his younger sister Jenny (Heidi Noelle Lenhart), who is the pianist/vocalist of the group. The remainder of the Garrison family included father Richard (Michael Cutt), mother Melody (Gail Ramsey), and their youngest son, Dennis (Ryan O'Neill).
The other main characters were bass player Tiffani Smith (Kelly Packard), drummer Tony Wicks (William James Jones), and the band's teen manager, Sylvester "Sly" Winkle (Michael Cade) – all three of which were the only characters who appeared on the show throughout its entire five-season run.
Because NBC executives did not like the show's original format, Engel, Dewey, and Solomon refocused the show's plotline from balancing stories involving both the band and the Garrison family, to just the teens who formed the California Dreams band for its second season. Cutt was downgraded to a recurring cast member, O'Neill was written out entirely before the season began, and Lenhart and Ramsey were both written out after the season's third episode "Ciao, Jenny", with Lenhart's character Jenny being the first main character to leave the show (the character lands a spot at a music conservatory in Italy).
In the season's premiere episode "Jake's Song", Jake Sommers (Jay Anthony Franke) was introduced as the California Dreams' fifth member, acting as the band's second guitarist. Four episodes later in "Wooing Woo", Samantha "Sam" Woo (Jennie Kwan), a foreign exchange student from Hong Kong whom the Garrisons take into their home (staying in Jenny's former bedroom), was added as a main character. When Sam auditions for the band, their approval of her performance results in her taking Jenny's place as the band's vocalist.
Brent Gore became more and more frustrated by his diminished role on the show during the second season. Disenchanted by the new direction of his character, he decided to depart the series after Season 2 concluded. By Season 3, the sitcom's original premise was dropped completely when Matt was written out of the show (in the third-season premiere "The Unforgiven", it is briefly referenced that the Garrison family moved away). In Matt's place, the band hired Mark Winkle (Aaron Jackson), Sly's shy cousin from New York, who is the opposite in personality (depicted as nice but naive, compared to Sly's depiction, which is similar to that of the stereotypical manipulative-driven depictions of Hollywood managers). Also added as a series regular was Lorena Costa (Diana Uribe), the privileged daughter from a wealthy family who takes Sam into their home after the Garrisons' departure. Sommers took over as leader and main songwriter of the band from Garrison.
The series finale, "The Last Gig", found the band on the verge of embarking on new crossroads in life. Set months after the characters graduated from the fictional Pacific Coast High School in "Graduation" (which aired three episodes earlier), the episode deals with the band preparing to attend school separately the following week (with Tiffani planning to attend the University of Hawaii to study marine biology, Sam moving to England to study physics at Oxford University, Tony going to study acting at an undisclosed location, Mark planning to move back home to New York to study at Juilliard, and Sly and Lorena both attending Pacific University). While the other members look forward to start their new lives, Jake attempts to keep the band together. When a music producer offers Jake a record contract, he initially refuses, since the rest of the band was not given one as well. Tiffani convinces Jake that she and the other band members have moved past the Dreams and want to discover new things, convincing Jake to take the offer. The episode ends with the California Dreams playing their final gig, before giving their tearful goodbyes to one another.
- Brent Gore as Matt Garrison (1992–1994) – The eldest Garrison sibling and the group's original guitarist.
- Heidi Noelle Lenhart as Jenny Garrison (1992–1993) – Matt's younger sister, who served as the original rhythm keyboardist of the group. She departed from the series in the season two episode "Ciao, Jenny" to attend a musical conservatory in Italy; Jenny had initially served as Jake's love interest upon his introduction in "Jake's Song."
- Michael Cutt as Richard Garrison (1992–1993, regular; 1993–1994, recurring) – The father of Matt and Jenny.
- Gail Ramsey as Melody Garrison (1992–1993, regular; 1993, guest star) – The mother of Matt and Jenny.
- Ryan O'Neill as Dennis Garrison (1992–1993) – Matt and Jenny's younger brother.
- Kelly Packard as Tiffani Anne Smith – The band's bass player, who also serves as an occasional vocalist (both lead and backup). She surfs in her spare time; she taught Sly to surf in "Romancing the Tube." Many episodes depict Tiffani, while not completely perfect, as a stabilizing force for the group, often seeing the good in people and being more understanding of others' faults (she is the only band member who chose not to vote to oust Sly as their manager in "Father Knows Best", when Sly gambles their money and their band equipment while trying to deal with his absentee father). She has an on-again/off-again relationship with Jake during the series, first for most of season two (beginning with "Surfboards and Cycles" and ending with their breakup in "Indecent Promposal") and again starting in season four (in "Two Two Much").
- William James Jones as Antoine Bethesda "Tony" Wicks – The band's drummer, who originally hailed from Los Angeles' South Central neighborhood. After the two are haphazardly set up on a date by an online chat room in "Blind Dates", Sam and Tony become a couple and stay together for much of the remainder of the show's run.
- Michael Cade as Sylvester Leslie "Sly" Winkle – The band's manager, who utters the catch phrase "ba-boom!" (either when he gets an idea, in elation or simply at random) in most episodes, and routinely concocts schemes to make easy money one way or another. Many episodes also involve Sly's numerous attempts to get girls, having attempted to win the affections of Jenny (in season one), Sam (in season two) and Lorena (from season three onward) through manipulative means. As examples, in "Dream Man", he tries to remake himself into Jenny's idea of the perfect guy by spying on a conversation with her friends during a sleepover; in "Follow Your Dreams", Sly copies the results of Lorena's career aptitude test to make him a fashion designer, the same career that the test states Lorena is suited for. Sly also dates Tiffani in season one's "Romancing the Tube", while the two become closer after she tries to teach him how to surf. After failing at his earlier attempts to attract Lorena, he falls in love with her after having a series of dreams about her in season four's "Dancing Isn't Everything", only for Lorena to not return his affections then. This changes in season five's "Love Letters", at which point Sly begins to be depicted as much less obnoxious and somewhat more charming than how the character was previously portrayed. The season five episodes "Mop 'n Pop" and "Father Knows Bets" aid in this shift in depiction. Both episodes acknowledge that he has a strained relationship with his businessman father, whose duties as a corporate executive make him unable to spend time with his son. This manifest into Sly's gambling addiction, seen in the latter episode.
- Jay Anthony Franke as Jacob Samuel "Jake" Sommers (1993–1996; singing voice performed by Barry Coffing) – The lead guitarist and "bad boy" of the group, who is regularly seen wearing a leather jacket and learned how to fix motorcycles from his uncle Frank (seen in season three's "Harley and the Marlboro Man", played by Eddie Mekka). When first introduced in the season two premiere "Jake's Song", he is depicted as tough and intimidating, although that episode and a few others reveal that he has a sensitive soul (particularly in regard to the lyrics he wrote in "Jake's Song" that helped him land a place in the band). He served as the love interest of Jenny in the first episodes of season two, maintaining a mildly flirtatious relationship, although the two never became an official couple as a result of Jenny's departure in "Ciao, Jenny". Several episodes later in "Surfboards and Cycles", Jake and Tiffani begin dating, when he helps her learn how to fix motorcycles after taking an auto shop class. In the second-season finale "Indecent Promposal", Jake declines an invitation to attend the prom with Tiffani; after a misunderstanding that results in a kiss between Tiffani and her replacement date, Jake and Tiffani break up. Jake then begins dating Lorena in season three's "Budget Cuts", before breaking up in the fourth-season premiere "Two Too Much", at which point Jake discovers that Tiffani still had feelings for him, and decides to get back together with her.
- Jennie Kwan as Samantha Woo Deswanchoo (1993–1996) – Becomes the group's lead singer following her introduction in "Wooing Woo", in which the Hong Kong native moves to America as a foreign exchange student with the Garrisons serving as her initial host family; she subsequently moves in with the family of Lorena Costa in "The Unforgiven". She eventually becomes Tony's girlfriend after the two are unknowingly set up on a date by an online chat room in "Blind Dates".
- Aaron Jackson as Mark Edward Winkle (1994–96; singing voice performed by Zachary Throne) – The keyboardist of the group and Sly's cousin, who differs from Sly in that Mark is depicted as less of a schemer and manipulator, and exhibits more of a naivete. In his introductory episode "The Unforgiven", it was revealed that he had been suffering from stage fright since an incident in which Sly yelled "hi-ho, Silver!" and galloped around the stage while Mark played the William Tell Overture (which also served as the theme to The Lone Ranger) during a performance at Carnegie Hall at age 11, which Sly made amends for at the end of the episode.
- Diana Uribe as Lorena Marina Costa (1994–1996) – The daughter of a wealthy land developer, who serves as an occasional benefactor for the group, although also serves as a groupie, a title that results in her deciding to take a more active participation in the band beginning in "Yoko Oh No!" (when she auditions for a spot as a vocalist, only for the band to discover her lackluster singing ability) and later vies to be the band's co-manager. Beginning with season three's "Budget Cuts", she becomes the girlfriend of Jake. The relationship lasts until season four's "Two Two Much" due to their inability to find anything in common. Sly, who had made several failed attempts at attract her in season three, renewed his attention towards Lorena. The two become a couple in season five's "Love Letters" and remain together for the rest of the series. Several episodes feature Lorena referring to herself in the third person by her full name, usually whenever she is faced with some sort of challenge or has an idea when deceived.
- Brittney Powell as Randi Jo (1992–1993)
- Denise Dowse as Vice Principal McBride (1993–1994)
- Burke Bryant as Keith Del (1996)
- Earl Boen as Principal Wolfman Blumford (1994-1996)
California Dreams was not well received critically. Rebecca Ascher-Walsh of Entertainment Weekly gave the series a grade of "F", and stated that "California Dreams can be accused of a lot of things, but originality isn’t one of them", and added that "California Dreams producer Franco E. Bario (who is also behind Saved by the Bell) may have good intentions, but it’s hard to imagine what they were." Los Angeles Times reviewer Lynne Heffley considered the show nothing more than "a "Saved by the Bell" clone set in an upscale beach town".
Shout! Factory released the first four seasons of California Dreams on DVD in Region 1 between 2009-2011. Seasons 3 and 4 were released as Shout! Factory Exclusives titles, available exclusively through their online store. As of 2016, Seasons 1-4 and The Best of... DVDs can be purchased on Amazon. It is unknown if season 5 will be released.
♦ - Shout! Factory Exclusives title, sold exclusively through Shout's online store
California Dreams had a self-titled studio album on CD and cassette. The songs on the soundtrack are as follows:
The single "This Time" can also be found on CD format but is very rare to find. There was also a California Dreams Anthology album made but only for the cast members but these have been found on sites such as eBay and Amazon.
Awards and nominations
Reruns of California Dreams briefly aired on TBS in the late 1990s.