We were horrified when NBC's 1960s-set gem, American Dreams, bumped off stalwart Henry's wife late last month. (We optimistically thought the cancer patient would recover!) But imagine how series regular Jonathan Adams felt: Not only did he have to say good-bye to his on-screen better half, but her loss was his gain. Since the plot twisted, he has been given especially meaty material and has risen to the occasion, playing to the hilt his character's heartbreak and resilience.

"I got kind of upset with myself," he admits to TV Guide Online, "because last year, when [executive producer] Jonathan Prince and I were discussing it, I got a little bit happy. 'They're going to kill my wife! Yea!' As far as [dramatic possibilities for Henry], I thought it was wonderful. It just felt really weird."

The suddenly-single parent will need every ounce of his strength, not to mention his restraint, in this Sunday's episode (airing at 8 pm/ET), when he learns that his ill-fated mate's employers lied about having paid her in full. "It's a really great [confrontation]," Adams says, particularly in light of his character's evolution from a stand-up guy to a guy who'll actually stand up for himself. "We see a lot of Henry not really being aggressive toward the white people on the show, and I think this is one of the steps in his journey [toward assertiveness]."

At the same time, Henry's teenage son, Sam, is growing increasingly distant and troubled, and there's no telling whether ne'er-do-well nephew Nathan's search for his footing in a sea of change will lead to enlightenment or incarceration (or, for that matter, both!). "[Being a father and mother] is really difficult for Henry, especially with his daughter," his portrayer observes. "He doesn't really know how to relate to her. I actually thought about telling the producers, 'You know, there's a big hair issue. Mom can do the hair and make it these beautiful, silken ropes, but when you get Dad in there, you're going to have some problems!'

"Those perfectly aligned ponytails won't be so perfectly aligned anymore!" he continues, chuckling. "But they didn't go for it."

Obviously — although Henry would be loath to admit it — he could use a hand. And, hints his portrayer, the widower may get one sooner than he — or viewers — might imagine. "He's not going to be ready when [a new relationship] happens," Adams teases. "All [I know is that there will be] an episode where a woman [as yet uncast] comes into the store looking for a radio and she's actually looking for Henry.

"We'll see what happens from there," he continues. "They're not going to be 'officially dating' until the end of the season. We're going to see a slow courtship between two older people." On a lesser program, we might say, "Wake me when it's over"; with this one, we'll alert the TiVo, because we wouldn't miss it for the world.