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Series / The Beach Boys: An American Family

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The Beach Boys: An American Family is a 2000 two-part made-for-TV miniseries directed by Jeff Bleckner that covers the career of The Beach Boys from 1960 to 1974. The first part covers their beginnings as a vocal group featuring the three Wilson brothers and their cousin, then their rise to fame as an actual band. Leading the way as manager and producer is the abusive and abrasive family patriarch Murry Wilson, who gets unanimously, and unceremoniously fired by the band toward the end of the episode. The second part covers their transition from songs about surfing and cars into more serious, experimental works such as Pet Sounds and the Smile sessions, while also focusing on band leader Brian Wilson's descent into drugs and mental illness and drummer Dennis Wilson's infamous ties with Charles Manson and his Family.

The series stars Fred Weller (Brian Wilson), Kevin Dunn (Murry Wilson), Matt Letscher (Mike Love), Nick Stabile (Dennis Wilson), Ryan Northcott (Carl Wilson), and Ned Vaughn (Al Jardine). David Marks, who had a short stint as Al's replacement at rhythm guitar, is played by Dublin James. Anthony Rapp also has a memorable guest appearance as Brian's musical collaborator, Van Dyke Parksnote , while Kurt Fuller briefly appears as Mike's father, Milton Love.

Everybody's gone tropin'...:

  • 0% Approval Rating: By the time the Beach Boys fire him during the recording sessions for "I Get Around," everyone has had it with Murry's Control Freak tendencies as manager and producer. As such, none of the band members nor the engineers speak up in his defense when Brian chews him out.
  • Abusive Parents: Murry Wilson – both physically and verbally.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Much like Bo Foxworth in Summer Dreams a decade prior, Ryan Northcott is noticeably slimmer than the real Carl Wilson, who had a portly frame, especially in his younger years.
  • Adapted Out: Outside of Brian's first wife, Marilyn, none of the Beach Boys' wives are specifically featured, as Mike's first wife Amy and second wife Pam appear to be composites. Ditto with Dennis' first wife, Debra. (His real-life third wife, Karen Lamm, who was featured extensively in 1990's Summer Dreams biopic, is not portrayed in the miniseries.)
    • It is implied in the film that Mike has only one younger brother. In real life, he had two – Stephen and Stan, the latter of whom played in the NBA and is current NBA star Kevin Love's dad.
  • All Drummers Are Animals: Initially played straight with Dennis, who's portrayed as someone who can't take things seriously, and only average at best as a musician (a "clubber," in Brian's words), hence Brian's decision to have session wizard Hal Blaine play most of the Beach Boys' drum tracks from the mid-'60s onward. This gets averted when Dennis composes the beautiful love song "Forever," which, in the film, impresses even the notoriously critical Murry.
  • Artistic License – History: In regards to their instruments: the guitarists in the band are depicted as playing models that they've never played in real life nor were associated with the Surf Rock genre. Early in the film, Carl is seen playing a Danelectro Shorthorn instead of his Fender Stratocaster or Jaguar, and Al/David is seen playing an unknown model that is decisively not a Stratocaster, which is what they were always seen playing. Semi-averted later in the film, where we finally see Carl and Al playing a Jaguar and a Stratocaster respectively during a performance of "Little Deuce Coupe" (their axes of choice at the time), yet David is playing a Gibson ES-335.
    • Semi-averted with Brian. He's always seen playing a Fender Precision Bass, but in earlier scenes, he's seen playing a 1950s model, when he is usually seen in real life playing a later late 50s-60s model. Completely averted in the aforementioned "Little Deuce Coupe" segment, where he's playing a 60s Precision Bass like in real life.
  • Ax-Crazy: Downplayed compared to how he was portrayed by Bruce Greenwood in Summer Dreams, but Dennis' portrayal in An American Family has a few examples, as he bashes Debra's car with a baseball bat when she catches him cheating and decides to leave him, and also drunkenly injures his hand when he punches a glass window at the studio, right after his bandmates warn him about the Manson Family. The latter incident actually happened (Dennis was unable to drum for a year afterward), although it happened in 1971, long after Dennis had disassociated with the Family and they'd murdered Sharon Tate.
  • Berserk Button: For Murry, any form of perceived disrespect or rebellion gets met with physical abuse.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Dave is portrayed as such, being the youngest (and smallest) in the band and more than a bit of a smart-mouth.
  • The Bus Came Back: In-Universe Al Jardine quits the Beach Boys shortly before their rise to fame because his family wants him to study dentistry in college. A couple years later, he's back in California, and available to rejoin when Dave quits the band.
  • The Casanova: Dennis, in spades.
  • Composite Character:
    • As mentioned above, most of the Beach Boys' real-life wives and girlfriends during the time periods covered have been distilled into fictional composite characters.
    • Tommy Schaefer is a composite of several people (Tony Asher, David Anderle, Loren Schwartz, etc.) whom Brian befriended in real life as he began experimenting with drugs in the mid-'60s. Could also be a case of No Celebrities Were Harmed, given the similarities between the names "Tommy Schaefer" and "Tony Asher."
  • Control Freak: Oh, Murry. Even when he ostensibly promises to be more hands-off and stop showing up at recording sessions, he still keeps on meddling. It gets so bad that engineer Chuck Britz sets up a fake control panel to give Murry something to tinker with.
  • Freak Out: Brian loses it and starts crying and screaming as he suffers a panic attack while the band is on a plane to Houston. Truth in Television, as this did indeed happen in real life.
  • Gilligan Cut: After their first recording for Hite and Dorinda Morgan, Mike takes Brian aside and tells him that he got his girlfriend Amy pregnant and needs some money. After Mike tells Brian, quite confidently, that his mom's not going to find out, we then cut to Mrs. Love screaming bloody murder as she chucks Mike's stuff out of his bedroom and kicks him out of the house.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: For someone who practices Transcendental Meditation, Mike Love sure loses his temper easily. He even snaps at his own father when he and Bruce Johnston drop by in the middle of a meditation session.
  • Hipster: Tommy Schaefer, Van Dyke Parks, and the rest of Brian's mid-'60s buddies.
  • It's All About Me: Murry often takes credit for molding the Beach Boys into superstars, and often makes sure everybody knows about it. Case in point – the concert where he handed out "I Know Brian's Dad" buttons to audience members.
  • Manipulative Bastard: When Murry proposes forming a publishing company (Sea of Tunes) to Brian, he essentially shuts out Mike (who's also written his share of Beach Boys hits) by advising Brian to tell his cousin that he's "covered" in the event he asks about it, when, in fact, Sea of Tunes is just Murry and Brian. No wonder Mike's especially pissed when Murry, without Brian's approval or knowledge, eventually sells Sea of Tunes for pennies on the dollar.
  • Must Have Nicotine: Downplayed with Carl, who isn't shown smoking in the series. In real life, Carl was a heavy smoker since his early teens who was just 51 when he died of lung cancer. (The type of cancer also isn't specified in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue.)
    • Played straight with Brian and Dennis, who smoke several cigarettes throughout the series, as well as with Pamela, who is partly based on Mike's real-life second wife, Suzanne Belcher, whose smoking habit allegedly angered Mike on occasion.
  • Not So Above It All: When Dave quits the Beach Boys in a huff (conveniently soon after Al's return to California), Murry isn't helping things by daring Dave to quit and childishly mocking his parting "I hate you, Murry!" comment.
  • Only Sane Man: Carl is this, both in the band and in the Wilson family, as he frequently tries to keep things together and isn't affected by the same demons that his brothers, cousin, and father are, although this isn't quite true as Carl was known to have a pretty heavy alcohol and drug problem in the 70s that he did eventually kick.
    • Likewise, Audree Wilson is a female version of this trope – the calm, caring, and unconditionally supportive counterpart to her husband Murry.
    • Record exec Nick Venet could also qualify, given how he does his best to remain rational despite Murry's domineering, even bullying tactics as band manager, to say little of the Beach Boys' own issues that interfere with the hit making process.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: In-Universe Murry Wilson's new proteges, the Sunrays, who dress like, and sound a lot like the Beach Boys on their biggest hit, the Murry-produced "I Live for the Sun."
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Tommy Schaefer and his fellow hipster hangers-on to Brian. Obviously, the Manson Family to Dennis.
  • Turn Out Like His Father:
    • Implied in the case of Murry and Buddy Wilson. Several Beach Boys books have hinted that Murry was indeed a bit of a screw-up as a younger man, much to his father's chagrin, which explains why Murry grew up to be such a hard-ass on his sons, especially next-generation screw-up Dennis.
    • Brian shows shades of this during the making of Smile, as he demands perfection from the plethora of musicians he's hired for the ill-fated project. However, his perpetually stoned state and his own experiences at the hands of the abusive Murry prevent him from being outright cruel toward the musicians.
  • The Unfavorite: Dennis to Murry, and Murry himself to his father, Buddy.
  • Vicariously Ambitious: Murry, having never achieved fame as a musician apart from his song, "Two Step Side Step," being featured on The Lawrence Welk Show, wants his kids' band to have the success that eluded him, though he clearly takes this too far on many an occasion.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: The Wilson boys, most especially Brian and Dennis.