TV has a different purpose in my life depending on my age. As a kid, it was just pure entertainment. During college and immediately after college, TV was a source of escapism from studying or work. Recently, however, I am drawn to shows that make me think and reflect upon my life and the world. My favorite shows are those that reveal something about human nature or make me be a better person. This reason is why I enjoy The Wonder Years so much. While I am watching the episode, I am absorbing the storyline and message. Days later, I am reflecting on what that episode meant and how I could apply it to my own life.
In this episode, Kevin is forced to address a pretty heavy question about his life. The teacher tells everyone to write their own obituary and has the students share it in class. While Kevin’s classmates are able to easily recite how they see their lives shaping (Paul practically recites a novel on his life accomplishments), Kevin has a hard time thinking of what to write and misses the initial assignment deadline.
Writing someone else’s obituary is difficult enough, but writing your own, and having to really think about what you want your life to be about is challenging. While I wouldn’t think it would be as meaningful and helpful to do at Kevin’s age- when preferences are still being shaped and goals change afterwards in high school and college- I do think that it is great exercise to help adults reflect on what they want the narrative on their life to be when the leave and take the actions to achieve that goal. The storyline got me thinking that question for my own life.
I was able to get some answers to that question as I saw Kevin try to make sense of two events that happen while he is working on the assignment. The first is Apollo 13 and the second is tax day. Apollo 13 is experiencing system problems that jeopardize both the rocket mission and the astronauts’ lives. Meanwhile, tax day is approaching and Norma- who manages the receipts to help make deductions (this part, by the way, was funny to watch, as technology has made things less manual)- can’t find the documents.
Kevin stresses out on his mother’s behalf given how moody his dad gets around tax day (plus, as we’ve seen in previous episodes, Jack Arnold can be difficult and has a temper at times). He sees his mother at church praying and thinks that his mother is praying for finding the receipts. In the usual Kevin manner, he overdramatizes the situation and believes his family will fall apart as soon as Jack learns the truth about the documents.
However, when Jack finally finds out, Kevin is surprised to see his parents work through the document issue together in a loving manner, backtracking the expenses by remembering the different things in the year and enjoying reminiscing. Kevin also learns that his mom went to pray for the Apollo 13 astronauts’ safety.
After watching his parents, Kevin goes to write his obituary and concludes that that even though he didn’t know what his life would end up being, the things that would help him through were family and faith. I really appreciated that this is the lesson Kevin lands upon because that’s something we all – including myself- forget about when dealing with daily struggles at work and school. Family and faith – not necessarily the religiously aspect of it but the optimistic drive part – are the foundations and meaning during difficult and changing times. Kevin’s reflections reminded me that those are the things that bring meaning to life: the things that are not related to fleeting situations but are on foundational values and character.
I agreed with how Kevin got to this conclusion and can see how small moments can bring deep insights about life. However, the execution of this scene felt a bit rushed and shorter than what I would have liked. Something felt missing from this final scene but I can’t put my finger on it. Normally, when Kevin has an “a-ha” moment, the lesson feels very well integrated into the overall show and is timed well. In this episode, the timing felt off and abrupt. On the other hand, the music in the background did wrap up the episode perfectly, even if the dialogue portion did not. The instrumental version of “Amazing Grace” is playing in the background as this scene plays out. That musical choice was the perfect way to wrap up the episode and align with the show’s poignant tone.
Overall, a thought provoking episode, though not my favorite in terms of execution.