I remember seeing the previews for "American Dreams" and instantly being intrigued; I've always been a fan of shows about historical events, and the setting just seemed interesting to me. I'd never seen a TV show that focused on the 1960s and the turmoil that people went through at the time.
The show delivered wonderfully. Focusing on the Pryor family, it began with the assassination of President Kennedy and showed the reactions of everyone in the family--from the WWII vet father, Jack, to the youngest child, Will. Confusion, fear, anger, the family went through it all. The characters were fleshed out and took on meaning within just a few episodes--Helen was a caring mother conflicted by the troubles in the world, JJ the star football player, Meg the girl who starred in American Bandstand and talked boys with her best friend Roxanne, smart Patty and adorable Will. They may sound one-dimensional, but as the show went on, they really came to life.
My favorite storyline from the show was JJ joining the USMC and his deployment to Vietnam, it certainly wasn't original, as almost everyone guessed that would happen when the show first came on the air, but it was still effective. One of the scenes that still sticks out in my mind is when JJ leaves for Vietnam early in the morning, his mother is out getting milk and when she comes inside he's in uniform, ready to go. There's a thick feeling of awkwardness, and I got a feeling of nausea, just like I did the day I left for a deployment back in 2005 (getting up early in the morning still makes me ill, just like I felt the day I left). The reactions from JJ's family were realistic, and the episode where it's discovered that JJ is MIA and most likely not coming home is heartbreaking. The show also dealt with JJ's return home very well, without butchering his character, but still showing us a deeply troubled young man.
As in any show, it did have it's downs: I never liked the character of Beth, and thought she was incredibly unsupportive and inconsiderate to JJ while he was gone. It also got a bit too preachy when it came to the Civil Rights movement sometimes, while most of the time it handled it nicely. And I wasn't a fan of the bandstand theme, just seemed too "out there" for me, as MOST 15-year-old girls in the '60s didn't dance on national TV.
Overall, this show was a gem amongst many, unoriginal, dull shows (Law & Order, CSI, Crossing Jordan, etc.), and NBC shouldn't have cancelled it so early. It's a shame that the entire three seasons haven't been released on DVD, I would sure buy them!