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The Revolution Will Be Televised... Again and Again

Originally, the Powers That Be here at TeeVee tapped me to review American Dreams, the new NBC drama that takes you back to the heady days of November 1963 when the only thing you had to worry about was convincing your square old man to let you appear on American Bandstand and the Oswald prison transfer. But Rywalt, he begged and pleaded and said pretty-please and pretty much fell all over himself to convince the bosses that he should write the review instead. Maybe he saw something in American Dreams that truly moved him. Maybe he just wanted an opportunity to make fun of his wife's Philadelphia accent in writing. I really don't spend a lot of time analyzing what strange dynamic drives Rywalt to do whatever it is he does around here. Truth be told, when he and I are in the lunchroom together, I try to avoid making eye contact.

So Rywalt wanted to write the review. And because I am magnanimous, because I'm a team player, because I believe in giving everyone a chance to share in the greater glory of TeeVee, I went ahead and let him.

Because I am also lazy.

So the pilot episode of American Dreams sat there on my TiVo, unseen and not in the least bit missed until this weekend, when it came down to the forsaken pilot and a backlogged stack of new sitcoms. And let me tell you, if more people had to choose between watching American Dreams and three or four consecutive episodes of Hidden Hills and In-Laws, ratings for American Dreams would rival those of the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for NBC, it happens to broadcast all three shows, so its ability to counter-program against those two terrible sitcoms is sadly hamstrung.

Having spent a teeth-grinding hour watching American Dreams then, I can heartily endorse Rywalt's pan of the show. Every last bit -- the muddled direction, the by-the-numbers storyline, the uninspiring performances -- earns a big ol' "Preach On!" or a "Hear, Hear" or even an "I'll Drink to That, Old Man" from me. Except the fixation on the Philly accents. That's Rywalt's thing. I don't get why -- I'm not his goddamned biographer.

The point is, there are many reasons to gesticulate disdainfully at American Dreams and laugh at it, not with it. First off, there's the performance of Brittany Snow, who is doubtlessly a very nice girl with a kind word for everyone and a particularly sunny disposition around pets and old people, but who, as the American Bandstand-worshipping teenybopper Meg Pryor, irritates me beyond measure for reasons that are probably more my fault than hers. Then there's the ridiculously reverential shots of Dick Clark, filmed entirely from behind like the President in a 1930s movie -- I like a good deus ex machina as much as the next guy, but Dick freakin' Clark? There's the collection of just-add-water characters, right on down to the loose-with-boys best friend and the cutesy-pie little brother in leg braces. Most gallingly, there are scenes like the one in the pilot between Meg and a Bandstand producer -- played by Joey Lawrence, shorn of his silky tresses and going by the name "Joseph" now -- in which the young, peppy, unbelievably irritating girl confesses -- without a hint of irony, mind you -- that appearing on television is the most important thing she will ever do. And finally, there's the sledgehammer-subtle dialogue which drives home the point, again and again, that the trials and tribulations the Pryor family endures are the same things that happened to America during the hazy, crazy Sixties.

"Maybe I don't want to do what Dad tells me to do anymore," says the oldest Pryor boy in the series premiere when he decides to quit the high school football team and give up his chance for a college scholarship. Which is just the sort of attitude that will serve him well around about season three when LBJ will be fixin' to send him off to the 'Nam.

All of that would merely make American Dreams laughable. What makes the show detestable is that, once again, the Baby Boomers are holding our nation hostage by producing and broadcasting a TV program that declares for the umpteenth time how memorable the 1960s were and how remarkable the people who came of age during it.

For the past several decades, Baby Boomers have ruled over the pop culture landscape with an iron fist, forcing a weary nation to participate in an orgy of navel gazing as the songs of Chubby Checker, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Herman's Hermits echo unceasingly. You can't go to a cineplex without being forced to endure a movie about a group of kids coming of age in the mid-'60s, learning about life and love and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the soundtrack of Motown's greatest hits. You can't turn on the TV without watching some aging hipster sporting a ponytail that doesn't mask his receding hairline and a gut that suggests he's spent the last 40 years drinking something else besides herbal tea talking wistfully about his road trip to Altamont. And while you have to search long and hard on the radio dial to find the likes of Sinatra, Miles Davis or anything from the Baroque period, it's well nigh impossible to scan through stations at random without stumbling across Shotgun Mike and the A.M. Good-Time Patrol playing a block of Martha Reeves and the Vandelas followed by a double-shot of the Lovin' Spoonful on Oldies 98 FM. Roll over, Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky he should have been born after World War II.

The message of the Baby Boomers, offered up loudly and repeatedly, is this: We are The Greatest Generation, no matter what that boob Tom Brokaw says. And the rest of you must bask in the glow of our sanitized, nostalgia-tinged memories, whether you like it or not.

To which, we say, put a sock in it, hippie, and get on the ice floe. Your days of providing useful contributions to this society are clearly at an end.

Only the self-congratulatory narcissism particular to a generation that's provided the subject matter for most of Oliver Stone's canon could produce the notion that stuff happening nearly four decades ago would be just as relevant today as it was in ancient times. Television audiences in the 1950s were treated to I Remember Mama, which espoused the virtues of turn-of-the-century living. The 1970s gave us a boomlet of 1950s-themed programming that lasted about as long as Anson Williams' pop music career. But TV producers -- not exactly the most innovative subset of mankind walking the planet today -- keep mining the 1960s for source material, until even the most tolerant of souls is longing for Peacedog and Moonchild to just cram it.

(With two '80s flashback shows -- Do Over and the mercifully canceled That Was Then -- following on the heals of last season's disastrous That '80s Show, we could be experiencing the first wave of 1980s-themed nostalgia shows. And if there is a merciful God, this trend will die out long before I turn on the TV in a couple years to watch the story of a young girl growing up in the 1980s who longs to become a Solid Gold dancer in a program that films Marilyn McCoo entirely and reverentially from behind, like the President in a 1930s movie.)

Because this Sixties worship -- it's tiresome. It was tiresome when we watched Fred Savage grapple with the twin horrors of the RFK assassination and his inability to get to second base with Winnie Cooper. It was tiresome when NBC's excruciating The '60s miniseries turned the entire decade into an extended Time-Life record collection commercial. It's tiresome now as we're forced to endure American Dreams and, soon, Oliver Beene, which hopes to milk laughs out of the yukfest that was the Cuban Missile Crisis. And it will continue to be tiresome as Brittany Snow and her pals dance, dance, dance their way through the Watts riots, the anti-war movement and Nixon's first term in office.

In the meantime, America will watch as the Baby Boomers yammer on, through their TV series surrogates, about how memorable their life and times have been, how lasting their legacy, and how much better their music is than anything you or I ever listened to. It's a little bit ironic, considering that this is the generation that greeted their parents' oft-told stories of growing up -- how tough they had it during the Great Depression, how they had to MacGyver up everything from living quarters to toiletries -- with eye-rolling contempt. Well, the Baby Boomers have become their parents, prattling on and on while everyone within earshot wishes they would just shut the hell up. And I can't think of a more fitting punishment.

Though watching American Dreams has to be a close second.


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