The episode begins with Kevin sitting on his bike in front of a house. He is wistfully looking into a living room and watches a kid playing the piano with various people surrounding the pianist. As Kevin looks onto the performance, we hear adult Kevin reflect on the scene before us:
“When you’re a little kid, you’re a little bit of everything: Artist, Scientist, Athlete, Scholar. Sometimes it seems like growing up is a process of giving those things up, one by one. I guess we all have one thing we regret giving up; one thing we really miss – that we gave up because we were too lazy, or because we couldn’t stick it out, or because we were afraid.”
This above quote exemplifies just why “The Wonder Years“ is so great. It makes the audience thinking and feeling right from the very beginning. The quote touches at the core of much of human misery: regret. In particular, the regret from giving up something we love because we put barriers on ourselves.
The episode unfolds backwards, with the events that lead up to the first scene. Kevin is taking piano lessons reluctantly because he has to listen to Ronald Hirschmuller play beforehand. Ronald is Kevin’s age and is a talented piano player, and Kevin doesn’t think there isn’t any point to practicing if he doesn’t sounds as good as Ronald. However, Kevin’s piano teacher tries to encourage Kevin by pointing out he has talent and that he just needs to continue practicing. Fueled by this encouragement, Kevin dedicates more time to practicing and realizes he likes playing the piano, and he decides to play in the recita
However, his confidence is shot when during the dress rehearsal before the recital, he finds out that Ronald will be playing the same piece as he. While Ronald is playing, Kevin keeps thinking of all the ways that Ronald is playing the piece better, and gets caught up with this insecurity that when it is his time to practice during the dress rehearsal, he stumbles a great deal of times. Ultimately, Kevin is unable to shake his internal comparison against Ronald, and decides to drop out of the recital. It is this recital we see Kevin looking into in the first scene of the show.
The show did an excellent job of emphasizing the lesson that we can achieve a far more if we focused more on what we enjoy and recognizing the good within ourselves rather than on comparing how we measure to others. Perhaps Kevin, and many of us, would have far less regrets about things we should have done because we would have just acted rather than restraining ourselves with unrealistic expectations.
I liked that the episode’s beginning and ending scenes mirrored each other to illustrate a central point about Kevin (and probably a statement that is true about us all): it is easier to imagine the potential of how great you can be rather than having to actually test it and be disappointed. Kevin enjoys pretending he is a great NFL player, and plays that before he starts getting into his piano lessons and after he decides to quit. His enjoyment may come from the mere fact that he gets to play with his friends, but is also driven by the fact that in this fantasy, he doesn’t have to be subjected to the reality of his own constraints and doesn’t face competition from anyone else. If the latter happens, Kevin can change the rules to make it fit his reality, unlike the battle he faced when comparing his piano playing with Ronald.
Overall, another strong episode from “The Wonder Years.” I look forward to seeing whether the show address Kevin being more open to acknowledging his strengths as he gets older.