On January 31, 1988, following the Washington versus Denver Super Bowl broadcast, U.S. ABC-TV premiered the pilot episode of a new, coming of age series, “The Wonder Years”. The program would go on to win the Emmy for Best Comedy Series of 1988 and place in the Nielsen Top 30 ratings for four of its six seasons on the air.
To celebrate the show’s 30th anniversary, Time Life Entertainment has released “The Wonder Years: Complete Series Deluxe Edition” DVD set. The specially priced collection is housed in a miniature metal school locker, which holds the 26 discs in two binders. 22 DVDs contain all 115 episodes, while four more discs are made up of extra bonus features. A small yearbook and magnets to attach to the locker are also included.
About the series
The series provided a look at growing up in suburban America during the late 1960s and early 1970s, as reflected upon by Kevin Arnold. Fred Savage played the character onscreen, with Daniel Stern narrating each episode as the adult Kevin. Kevin’s family consisted of his gruff, working man father Jack (Dan Lauria); mom Norma (Alley Mills); brother Wayne (Jason Hervey); and hippie sister Karen (Olivia d’Abo). Also prominently featured were Kevin’s best friend Paul (Josh Saviano); and sometime girlfriend Winnie (Danica McKellar). Although the show won the Comedy Emmy, the series was definitely more of a combination comedy/drama program.
The show still holds up well 30 years later. In particular, the 1990 Season 3 episode “Goodbye” is especially poignant. Kevin’s math teacher, Mr. Collins (Steven Gilborn) agrees to tutor him in hopes that Kevin will get an “A” on his midterm exam. Days before the exam, Mr. Collins tells Kevin he can’t tutor him anymore. Kevin is frustrated, and ends up writing nonsense answers on the exam, given on Friday. The weekend goes by, and Kevin arrives at school on Monday to find out that Mr. Collins has passed away. Savage’s acting, his silent response of surprise and sadness in his eyes when he finds out the news, is superb.
On the other hand, the series provided humor, too. An example would be the 1990 episode, “The Glee Club”, in which a new music teacher, the enthusiastic Miss Haycock (Andrea Walters) takes over Kevin’s Boys Glee Club class. Unfortunately, the boys aren’t the greatest singers, and their performance of “Stout-Hearted Men” for the Robert F. Kennedy Junior High School’s Spring Sing concert ends up turning into chaos. Their “secret weapon” singer Warren Gander’s voice starts to change as he leads the beginning of the song during the concert. Paul starts sneezing, which causes one of other singers to slip off the riser (he’s not hurt, just a little slapstick comedy), and Kevin drops his sheet music. As narrator Kevin tells the viewers about the performance, “We were a bunch of eighth grade boys not an ensemble of stout-hearted men”. Dustin “Screech” Diamond from “Saved by the Bell” is one of the Glee Club members.
Two of Kevin’s other RFK Junior High School teachers made more frequent appearances in the series. Robert Picardo (“Star Trek Voyager”, “Stargate SG-1”, and “China Beach”) played P.E. instructor Ed Cutlip. The straight laced Cutlip features in an episode in which Kevin discovers him moonlighting as a shopping mall Santa Claus during the holiday season. It’s interesting when Cutlip tells Kevin that one of the reasons he worked the second job was because “Kids like me when I’m Santa”. Picardo would receive a 1989 Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Cutlip in the basketball themed episode, “Loosiers”.
Ben Stein had played an Economics teacher in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. In “The Wonder Years”, he was Science teacher Mr. Cantwell, with his droning voice describing catastrophic events to his students while showing slides, movies, etc. Such as in the 1991 episode “Graduation” in which Cantwell tells his students about that day’s lesson: “Armageddon. The final frontier. The splitting of atoms. The tearing apart of nature’s closest bond. Let’s take a look”. With Stein’s vocal delivery and the writing, he takes a serious subject and makes it funny.
What’s enjoyable, additionally, is to see the well known performers who appeared in episodes of “The Wonder Years”. John Corbett of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Sex and the City” fame played Karen's college boyfriend in the 1988 broadcast, “Angel”. Three years later, future “Friends” star David Schwimmer also played Karen's boyfriend and then husband. 1992 Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Juliette Lewis was Wayne’s girlfriend in four 1989 and 1990 episodes. Alicia Silverstone, too, appeared in the 1992 episode “Road Test” as a girl Kevin has a crush on.
Alicia Silverstone's appearance on The Wonder Years-1992
Music in The Wonder Years: The Complete Series Deluxe Edition DVD set
Music played an important part in “The Wonder Years”, and the fact that 96 percent of the songs were cleared to use for this DVD set was quite a coup for Time Life. Just 12 songs weren’t cleared, with two appearing in a couple of different episodes. An interesting bit of trivia is that Series creators Neal Marlens and Carol Black mention in a bonus feature that one of the songs considered to be used for the opening credits was “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell. It’s hard to think of another song other than Joe Cocker’s version of “With a Little Help from My Friends” being played for that sequence.
The choice of music fit the show’s scenes well, too. In particular, the 1991 episode “Heartbreak” features a touching sequence in which Winnie tearfully tells Kevin she has a new boyfriend, with a confused Kevin trying to make sense of this. The Beach Boys classic “God Only Knows” plays in the background.
Also, Nat King Cole’s “When I Fall In Love” is a great musical choice as it’s played twice in 1989’s “Pottery Will Get You Nowhere” episode. Both times it’s the soundtrack to home movies showing Jack and Norma kissing while sitting on the kids swing. The song is especially effective as it plays after the pair make up following an argument.
Picture quality is good, not great, for the episodes. The series was shot on 16mm film and edited to video. English closed captions are available for the episodes. The set is also available in a slipcase edition.
With shows like “Will and Grace”, “Roseanne”, and “Murphy Brown” returning to television with new episodes recently, what about “The Wonder Years”? As mentioned before, “The Wonder Years” was a program that took place in the 1960s and 1970s, and aired from 1988 to 1993. So, the new “Wonder Years” would probably be set in the 1990s. I don’t know if that would work today.
Actually, a series incorporating the real lives of “The Wonder Years” actors today would be interesting. Both Saviano and Crystal McKellar (Becky Slater), are attorneys. Danica McKellar, in addition to acting in Hallmark Channel movies and appearing in “Dancing with the Stars” in 2014, has written seven books on mathematics for young people and adults.
In recent years, Savage has hosted the game show “Child Support", as well as directed episodes of “Modern Family”, “ 2 Broke Girls”, “Fresh Off The Boat”; and much more. Hervey is business partners with former WCW pro wrestling head Eric Bischoff in a video production company. So, how about a sitcom or series with Danica McKellar as a math teacher, Josh Saviano and Crystal McKellar (Danica’s sister) working in a law firm, Fred Savage directing perhaps Alley Mills in a TV series with Jason Hervey as the production boss, and more? It could be a "reboot" of a series, but in a different way.
As Savage told WGN Chicago radio’s Dave Plier in January 2018, “The Wonder Years” still creates a connection with the viewer 25 years after it left the air. “It does kind of address universal questions, problems, moments in adolescence that we all experienced” Savage said.” Whether you grew up in the 60’s or the 90’s or today, or grew up in the United States or across the world, people have really responded to it. I think there are those transcendent moments in growing up that everyone can relate to and experience.”
If you're a longtime fan of the series or a new viewer to the show, "The Wonder Years: The Complete Series Deluxe Edition" DVD set is a nice showcase of a classic program. Recommended.
© 2018 Marshall Fish