‘In memory, everything seems to happen to music.’ – Tennessee Williams
It’s the mark of a quality television series, when it’s set in a specific period of history and still has massive appeal to just about any audience. “The Wonder Years” wasn’t just a TV drama for adults in the eighties that still hadn’t gotten over the sixties. “The Wonder Years” surpassed simple nostalgia and approached its narrative from two angles. It was a family dramedy set in the sixties that took off from “A Christmas Story” chronicling the pitfalls and highs of growing up through a young boy. It also examined the decade that much of the eighties and early nineties were still trying to come to grips with.
This included the Vietnam War, Watergate, The Draft, The Civil Rights Movement, and just the general changing social climate that jarred many folks coming out of the great depression and World War II. “The Wonder Years” chronicles the youth of Kevin Arnold, a normal suburban boy who is watching the world around him change for the better and for the worse.
Meanwhile, he has to steer his life through his own internal dialogue, witnessing humongous events, and trying to survive his own Earth splitting milestones including break ups, Graduations, girlfriends, and the shifting structure of his family constantly keeping his traditional parents at odds with him and his brother and sister Wayne and Karen. True, you can call “The Wonder Years” a show about Kevin Arnold, but its his entire circle of friends, family, and quirky side characters that keep his world lively and often times very turbulent.
“The Wonder Years” grabs some top notch talent including, and not limited to, Fred Savage whose performance as the adolescent Kevin Arnold is compelling and often times brilliant. Savage’s large eyes and mundane appearance make him the perfect protagonist, who has to face many hardships and difficult truths as he grows up and tries to navigate through a fulfilling path. There’s also the excellent Dan Lauria as Kevin’s long suffering father, Alley Mills as Kevin’s mother Norma, a well meaning woman who acts as Kevin’s conscience quite often, and Jason Hervey, Kevin’s obnoxious older brother who makes his life miserable. Danica McKellar is the quintessential girl next door as Kevin’s first love Winnie, while Josh Saviano as Kevin’s long time friend Paul gives Kevin interesting dramatic balance and friction.
All of the episodes are recounted through narration by Daniel Stern whose performance as an older Kevin Arnold is sublime. One of the more intriguing story elements of the series (that thankfully never became a gimmick) is that we know Kevin grows up, his fate is just always ambiguous until the very end of the series. “The Wonder Years” thankfully hasn’t lost its dramatic punch and thick characterization, offering up episodes that touch on adolescent milestones with immense maturity and occasional quirky humor. It’s rare a series can make you laugh, cry, and suffer with the characters and still feel so richly composed and complete. “The Wonder Years” is one of the very few eighties dramas that hasn’t shown its age, and actually lives up to its promise of being timeless. The series finally comes to DVD after literal years of requests from fans, and TIME Life’s treatment of the show amounts to wanting it now, or wanting it good.
Thankfully, TIME Life didn’t rush their set in to stores with horrible library music in place of the brilliant soundtrack that complimented the series. After years of acquiring and paying for the rights to the show’s soundtrack, they give fans the exact show they fell in love with. All episodes feature all of the original songs from Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle, and a variety of other sixties artists fully in tact. Suffice it to say it was well worth the wait as the series deserves to be preserved.
For folks willing to pop the money for the Collector’s set of the entire series, Time Life includes a hefty amount of extras and collectibles for the hardcore fan. The series comes encased in a tin locker, and packed with a page of magnets reflecting the series and characters. There’s also the Wonder Years Yearbook (1988-1993) which is an utterly fantastic and well compiled book filled with color photos from the set, interviews with past cast members, and a look at the cast now. Fans will be glad to see that the cast turned out very well, including Savage who is a prominent director for television. The DVD’s comes packed in books that resemble old fashioned school binders, with the DVDs themselves resembling records. Among the slew of special features, there’s the twenty minute “Highlights from the Wonder Years Cast Reunion,” the twenty five minute “With a Little Help from My Friends” discussing the early days of the series and the creation of the pilot episode.
There are interviews ranging between twenty to thirty minutes with Creators Neal Marlens & Carol Black, Fred Savage, Danica McKellar, Josh Saviano, Daniel Stern, and the rest of the cast. There’s a roundtable interview with Danica McKellar, Fred Savage, and Josh Saviano, The Times They Are A-Changin’: The Era, a twenty nine minute exploration of the show’s time period, and how it held a crucial importance to certain episodes, and how clips of shows and news broadcasts on television were specifically placed to match the year certain episodes were set in for authenticity’s sake. There’s “16 Years Later: The Wonder Years Cast Reunion, May 28, 2014, in Los Angeles, California” a fifty two minute reunion segment with the cast, all of whom discuss their favorite memories and anecdotes on shooting the series. There are outtakes from the pilot, including various takes of the famous Kevin and Winnie first kiss that Danica McKellar’s mother saved and allowed to be used for the set.
“When a Man Loves a Woman: Kevin & Winnie Forever” is a thirty minute look at the tumultuous relationship between characters Kevin and Winnie and how they progressed over the course of the series, with clips. “ABC: Teachers That Made a Difference” is a thirty minute segment discussing the various teacher characters on the show that managed to make a huge impact on the character Kevin, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow: The Wonder Year’s Love Stories” a twenty minute look at the various other love stories featured in the series beyond Kevin and Winnie. A big highlight is the One Hour ABC Broadcast of the Series Finale, which Time Life includes for fans. There’s the alternate syndicated two part episode version and the one hour format as it originally aired for folks that want to divide their time or take it in one shot. Finally, there are the featurettes “I Love You for Sentimental Reasons” about fan favorite episodes, the Executive Producers, writers, and the cast discuss fan-favorite episodes of the series including “Separate Rooms,” and “My Father’s Office.” To say that Time Life gives “The Wonder Years” the royal treatment is an understatement.