Looking back at The Wonder Years

Feature Carley Tauchert 13 Feb 2014 - 07:00

Now that it's finally coming to DVD, Carley continues her classic kids' TV look back with The Wonder Years...

“Things never turn out exactly the way you planned. I know they didn't with me. Still, like my father used to say, 'Traffic's traffic, you go where life takes you' and growing up happens in a heartbeat… And the thing is, after all these years I still look back in wonder.”

1988 saw the first Bush (George H. W to be precise) take power in America, three of the top ten movies of the year were laugh out loud comedies (Coming to America, Twins and The Naked Gun) and Roger Rabbit was being framed by a pretty scary Judge Doom.

Right at the beginning of the year ABC piloted a new series that would not only capture the hearts of the American viewing public but also tickle their nostalgia bone. It was a huge success being nominated for 54 awards during its run and winning the Emmy for Best Comedy Series after just six episodes had aired.

What’s it About?

Set from 1968-1973 (and narrated twenty years later from 1988-1993) The Wonder Years focused on the life of Kevin Arnold, a teenager growing up in one of the most exciting and turbulent times of American history and while history is being made around them the focus of the show is the joy and the pain of being a teenager. Along with his best friend Paul and crush, turned friend, turned girlfriend Winnie, Kevin works his way through adolescence, with his older-self providing sage perspective.

Why Did I/Why Should I Watch It?

The late 80s was a great time to grow up, the cartoons were great, the toys were great and you were young enough not to worry too much about the bigger picture in the outside world, for anyone older the 80s were radically different to their own upbringings and I think that is why The Wonder Years made such a massive impact when it was first broadcast. For half an hour a week an entire generation could look on back to the good old days while the younger generation could connect with the issues Kevin and his friends were going through because no matter what the year, growing up is hard to do.

The premise of the show is very simply, a boy going through the twists and turns of life but what brings it to life in such a vibrant way is Fred Savage’s portrayal for Kevin Arnold (which must run in the family as brother Ben did the same thing in Boy Meets World the year The Wonder Years ended). Kevin is a total everyman, his experiences are not out of the ordinary and his family basically encapsulates the 2.4 children ideal of the time.  

It is however the normalcy of it all that makes the show so great, although nothing truly out of the ordinary happens it is the heart, soul emotions and humour that pour out of it that makes it ideal viewing for everybody. Kevin takes us though his life in a very honest if sometimes rose-tinted way and you really connect with the events that make him the person he becomes later in life. There is also that connection at an emotional level because who doesn’t remember fondly their first crush or first kiss and that connection is truly what makes the show work.

Another factor in the show’s success of course is its supporting characters that weave in, out and into Kevin’s life. Special appreciation must go to Dan Lauria who played Kevin’s father Jack to perfection. The man who hated the changes going on around him but wasn’t afraid to take a leap of faith in himself. Then there was Winnie, played by the beautiful girl next door Danica McKellar. Not since Moonlighting had there been such a will they/won’t they romance on the air and you couldn’t help but root for them both to just figure things out and be together and the innocence and magic of their relationship was a key factor to keep tuning in each week.

Best Episodes


My Father’s Office

The Family Car

White Lies

The Little Women

Independence Day

What Else do I Need to Know?

After a long, long wait, The Wonder Years is finally coming to DVD later this year, but if you can't hold on until then, it can also be watched via Netflix and Amazon Prime. The final ever episode was ranked at number 43 in TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.

As mentioned above Fred Savage’s real life little brother became best known as Corey Matthew’s another ABC Comedy, Boy Meets World, he also appeared in an episode of The Wonder Years as did a very young Giovanni Rabisi and David Schwimmer.

Also Grandpa Arnold played the title role in Santa Claus the Movie

If You Like This You May Also Like

Happy Days

Boys Meets World

Doogie Howser, M.D.

Freaks & Geeks 

Read Carley's look backs at Round The Twist and Are You Afraid Of The Dark?

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Grew up watching Kevin and Winnie. Happy days.

Interesting article. Could perhaps have done with a short description of each of the best episodes and why, in your opinion, they are so good. Otherwise it implies a received wisdom amongst fans of the show that episode titles alone are enough to recommend them to potential new viewers. Intrigued to learn Fred Savage is from such a talented family, Have fond memeories of.Joe Cocker's 1968 cover of With A Little Help From My Friends which was used as the theme tune.

Hey! Doesn't his best mate look an awful lot like Marilyn Manson? ;)

It's a wonderful show but I have one important question about this. The soundtrack, intact or not?

How did it wrap up in the end? Did it wrap up at all or was it simply cancelled? Always loved it but didn't see any kind of conclusion/closure that I recall.

Yes they used (as far as I know all) the original songs

Winnie...my teenage self still has a crush on you

I wonder who they based Millhouse on in the simpsons!

Winnie was a skank who broke Kev's heart...She was however an early crush of mine.

Pretty sure this was a Sunday morning show here in the UK, and I remember watching weekly in fasination, not only at the family antics but here was American family life on screen, and as a English kid it looked fun. My clearest memory from the show is the lake trip, and the father and son bonding that was just itching to play out, but Winnie was always there, and I think this was the episode he got his first kiss... arrhh I was so jealous back then :)

No, The Wonder Years. Happy days was The Fonz and the Cunninghams etc. ;-)

it had a lovely proper final episode - well worth a watch if you can find it :)

Eh surely that's Mr and Mr's C to you.

"a new series that would capture the not only capture the hearts of the American viewing public" ..wait what?

Ditto. Danica McKellar still looks lovely today, it has to be said...

The Wonder Years doesn't appear to be on UK Netflix as far as I can see.

Thanks. Good to know it had a fitting ending. Will try to get hold of a copy.

I don't know about you, but it did capture the my only the capture of my heart.

DOG Listed the last ever episode "Independence Day" as one of the best episodes.

A neglected gem, thanks Carley for the article. I think the re-runs were on a Sunday morning, however, the original transmissions were late Sunday afternoon/early evening around 6.30pml. It was first shown on Channel 4 between 20th August 1989 and 6th June 1993. In America, they showed 114 episodes, the last being the hour long finale. In Britain, frustratingly, there were 115 episodes as Channel 4 (in its wisdom) decided to split the finale into two half-hours, they did the same to one of the best episodes of Frasier - Three dates and a break-up, ruining the storytelling in the process - they continue to repeat it in the same split format. Shame the finale of The Wonder Years only made number 43 in TV Guide's survey. Should have been in the Top Ten in my book! Bob Brush, the show's executive producer has suggested the show should "never be in the business of giving America a happy half-hour..." ironically that's just what it did!

Kevin winds up in a bar, with all these crazy people he has met over his life. Its his birthday and he thinks he has met God.....wait a minute...

Get a VNC to the states and it should work.

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