• April 2, 2004 | 11:30 a.m. PT
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• This link has been getting a lot of attention lately, and deservedly so: A woman named Elena rode her motorcycle to the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear site. Her English is sometimes broken, but both her photos and text shoot for the heart. Excerpt: "These fire-engines are some of the most radioactive objects in all of Chernobyl. The firemen were the first on the scene, and they thought it was an ordinary fire. No one told them, nor the soldiers nor helicopter pilots what they were really dealing with. The fire-engines never returned in their garages, and the firemen never returned to their homes. They all died within a few hours."
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• March 31, 2004 | 6:00 a.m. PT
It's not one of the TV season finales that will get all the attention -- no one wins a million dollars or gets a recording contract. But this Sunday, I'll be tuned in to the "American Dreams" season finale.
"American Dreams" is the NBC family drama set in 1960s Philadelphia. It's got a gimmick -- Dick Clark is involved, so his show, "American Bandstand," is a part of every episode. Modern day musicians guest-star on the show playing acts that appear on "Bandstand," which leads to juicy casting coups like Usher playing Marvin Gaye.
But that's just frosting on the cake. For me, the heart of this show is how well the show's main family, the Pryors, reflect what so many American families were going through in the 1960s.
Father Jack is a good man unsure at how the nation seems to be shifting under his feet. Mother Helen has slid slowly from life as a housewife into that of a student and then as an employee at a travel agency. Son JJ fights in Vietnam, unaware that his hometown girlfriend is keeping a secret that's about to change his life. And the show's other main family, the Walkers, are African-American, helping the Pryors understand the racial issues that were so central to the decade and to the nation.
The show's official site is a fun one, too, with an advice column from Pryor daughter Meg, reproductions of JJ's letters from Vietnam, and a whole section of school projects for middle- and high-school classes.
While "American Dreams" covers major events, such as John F. Kennedy's assassination, remarkably well, the show is at its best when an episode's main struggles are interior, as when Helen struggled with how to tell her husband she didn't want any more children. "American Dreams" is a quiet show, not unlike "The Waltons" was, but without that show's smothering naivete. If you haven't yet fallen under its gentle spell, check it out Sunday, and then in reruns until next season.
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