What is TV's best new show?
With the fall TV season still a month or two away, what better time to reflect on last year's most successful new shows (catch them in reruns now!)? For starters, John Ritter makes ''8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter'' worth watching -- well, let’s scale that back and say "endurable." Ditto Amanda Bynes in ''What I Like About You.'' ''CSI: Miami'' is, I’m afraid, proving to be just a more humid version of the cool, crisp original, ''C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation.'' And ''Everwood'' -- terrifically acted and heartwarming in a way I don’t intend as a condescending term -- is good, comforting TV. But, for my money, ''American Dreams'' is the best new show of the year.
This NBC series could have been gimmicky and cornball: a tv show set in '60s Philadelphia, when Dick Clark was broadcasting ''American Bandstand'' from there, and centering on one of the show’s regular dancers.
But starting with Brittany Snow’s beguiling star turn as the anxious, enegetic teen Meg Pryor, ''Dreams'' portrays a family affected by tumultuous times, in episodes ranging from the British Invasion of pop music to the rise of black-power militancy. If Tom Verica and ''NYPD Blue'''s Gail O’Grady do the subtlest acting as Meg’s hard-working, culture-shocked parents, Snow does a remarkable job of conveying youthful wonder and adolescent rebelliousness (yes, doing the Watusi on Bandstand amounted to willful disobedience in some households at that time).
And while the Pryor clan is as white as, well, snow, ''Dreams'' deserves credit for taking a potentially stereotypical role -- Jonathan Adams as a black man who works at Verica’s appliance store -- and making him a complicated individual. His middle-class aspirations clash with the social restraints he faces, the very restraints that the black-militant movements are determined to destroy.
Ultimately, ''American Dreams'' concluded its freshman season with both fun (Meg has a nifty hipster boyfriend) and danger (a protest meeting devolved into a looting riot) and managed to make both elements work as compelling drama. The show has proved to be far more ambitious than its initial premise seemed, and it’s poised to become a Sunday-night fixture the whole family can get involved in -- discuss, debate, enjoy.