Dream On: First Two Seasons
While sit-coms have been a long time main stay of the broadcast television networks it took a little time for cable networks to realize that this format could be moved into different directions with the freer standards permitted on their format. While we have come used to such cable series as the Sopranos, Sex in the City and Dead Like Me, one of the first regular series on cable was back in 1990, Dream On. The ground that nurtured this series was in deed a fertile one. Noted director John Landis was asked by Universal to create a series that could make use of the plethora of films and television anthology series they owned from the fifties. Landis sought out the help of two young writers, Marta Kauffman and David Crane and Dream On was born. Kauffman and Crane would go on to hit television pay dirt and assure themselves a place in TV history with a little sit-com, Friends. The premise for Dream On was simple; it looked at the life of book editor Martin Tupper (Brian Benben), recently divorced but still extremely close to his ex-wife Judith (Wendie Malick) and their son Jeremy (Chris Demetral). Also in his life is his best friend Eddie (Jeffrey Joseph) a talk show host and his acerbic secretary Toby (Denny Dillon). Together this cast formed a background for some of the funniest situations on cable. Punctuating the story lines are the thoughts and imagination of Martin displayed as old black and white television clips. The rational for this form of imagination is nicely explained in the opening, we see a baby plopped down in front of the television while his mother does housework, the same child a little older in front of the same old black and white set while his baby sitter makes out. Like most of us television formed the basis of how we think and process the world around us. Martinís black and white fantasies just help us visualize it.
In order to make a show like this work we have to have two simultaneous set of feelings towards the lead character; we have to identify with him and have some sense of superiority. Benben plays Martin to the hilt as the everyday guy just trying to figure out life now that his wife and he have divorced. His attempts to get back into dating are often helped by his best friend Eddie, a well known lothario. Martin is just doing his best but his lust often results in some really bad decisions. Itís this last aspect of Martinís personality is how we can feel superior to him, we can say to ourselves that we would never fall so hard and wrong for a pretty and willing girl. Of course, human history does demonstrate that this is generally a flight of our own imaginations. In his heart Martin is a good man, always wanting to do the right thing but all too often distracted by hormonal urges. Try as me might Martin is never able to be as good as the fiancť of his ex-wife, Doctor Richard Stone. Here is a man that is saint among men, giving his time to numerous charities, a brilliant surgeon and was even asked to sing the National anthem at a major league game. Now how could man mortal man such as Martin compete with that!
The use of the old film clips is nothing less than brilliant here. The range from the corny rocket starting to launch as Martin engages a young woman romantically only to see the rocket crash to earth as his advances are denied. In one of my favorite clip uses we see Martin in the throws of passion with his girl du jour while the clip is of character actor Burgess Meredith is seen talking a pilot into a landing over a microphone. The action and dialogue in the show so perfectly match the clips that they are almost seamless in their insertion. Of course, the writers definitely tailored the series around the content of the clips but in any case the end result is hilarious. Because of this integration the clips never appear as a gimmick, they always fit and help us gain insight into the bewildered mind of Martin Tupper.
The series was originally shown on HBO but was later syndicated on Fox, of course heavily edited to tone down the sexual content and remove the brief nudity that peppers every episode. While many cable shows now employ gratuitous nudity this series pushes the envelope (during its day) without being offensive. The use of nudity is more often extremely funny rather than any attempt to be erotic. There is a natural flow to this series, the plots may make a stab at social issues such as AIDS testing and condom use but it remains lighthearted and entertaining. Now it seems that most cable series have to always go too far, with Dream on they go up to the limit of taste and no further.
What has become typical of Universal season releases this presentation is excellent. Universal has begun to release television series in two season sets, something very considerate of fans that donít want to wait months to years between seasons for their favorite shows. They did this with Sliders and now they do it again here. All 28 episodes are presented here each with full screen video and Dolby stereo audio. Both are very clear although there was some specks present in a few episodes, not too bad for a series that is fourteen years old. The audio is almost exclusively from the center channel. The one thing I had an issue with this box set is the episodes are shown out of their original order. It seemed they wanted to ensure a three episode arc where Martin becomes involved with his neighbor together but I would rather they keep to the correct episode order. Then again, Iím a bit of a purist in matters like this.
With so much mindless drivel on television today it is reassuring that Universal is devoting so much of their resources to bringing some worthwhile, classic TV to DVD. Dream On is rarely repeated so many out there may be unaware of this humorous look at one manís life. Do yourself a favor and invest in this series, you will be happy you did.