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TV Drama Dances To New Beat

by David Finnigan

November 13, 2003 | 7:00 pm

NBC's Sunday night drama, "American Dreams," finds the generally non-Jewish saga's second season storylines, about an Irish Catholic family in 1960s Philadelphia, becoming a bit more Jewish.

"We have people praying on TV," said "Dreams" executive producer Jonathan Prince, the prototypical nice Jewish boy from Beverly Hills who co-created the series about the Pryors, a middle-class white family, and the Walkers, a poorer African American family.

Three new "Dreams" characters depict three distinct Jewish American images: the half-Jewish college student, Andrew Mandel; a politically conscious Jewish American soldier named Silver; and an Orthodox medical school student, David, who wears a yarmulke and enjoys cigarettes -- he prays for the Pryors' youngest son when he undergoes life-altering surgery in the Nov. 16 episode.

In one scene, Catholic mom Helen Pryor (Gail O'Grady) prays in a hospital chapel, with the "Dreams" camera then showing David (David Norona) also praying.

"Helen is on her knees crossing herself while a Jewish fellow is davening," Prince told The Journal.

Prince said he specifically avoided typical male Jewish casting for the medical student -- "glasses, curly hair" -- and instead, "I went Sephardic and not Ashkenazic" while also depicting David's imperfect, very human Judaism. "We're saying, with the kippah, a religious man, a flawed, religious man who smokes."

For assimilated student Andrew Mandel (Samuel Page), there has been no mention of his Jewish heritage as Prince for now focuses on the character's prep school-handsome features and political leanings that portend a budding, Tom Hayden-like college radical whose Jewishness is overshadowed on TV by his romance with the Pryors' high school-age daughter, Meg (Brittany Snow).

"I'm making him a totally assimilated Jew," Prince said.

Later this season, the show's oldest Pryor son, J.J., meets Silver, a Jewish lance corporal in J.J.'s Marine Corps unit in Vietnam. Prince said he wrote Silver as patriotic and raised by leftist Jewish parents -- "Rosenberg socialists."

In upcoming episodes, he said, Silver reads week-old, mailed copies of The New York Times to learn about the war: "It is through Silver that J.J. learns the politics of Vietnam." For more on "American Dreams," visit nbc.com .

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