Written by Sarita
“The Wonder Years” is one of those shows that I always intended to watch but sadly never got the chance to see. I was about 9 or 10 years old when the show was on television, and only had the chance to randomly see two to three episodes. When the television on DVD craze started, I naturally assumed that The Wonder Years would be released, but music licensing issues hindered the process, which basically translated to the show’s chances of being on DVD as low to none. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised when, about a month ago, I saw that “Wonder Years” was streaming on Netflix. Netflix had been able to work out a deal that allowed the show to be released with some music substitution for the songs that were not licensed. Good news for me and countless others who had missed out on the show in the original run.
Why did I want to watch “The Wonder Years” so badly? As a child, it was more likely due to my crush on Fred Savage. More recently, however, I have had the opportunity to watch and gain appreciation for shows that didn’t rely on soap opera drama for storylines and focused more on good acting and realistic /relatable plots (shows like “Friday Night Lights,” “Parenthood” and “Cosby Show”) and “Wonder Years” is one of the shows that had those qualities. The premise of Wonder Years centers on an adult Kevin Arnold (voiced by Daniel Stern, also known as one of the robbers in “Home Alone), reflecting about growing up in the 1960s. The everyday childhood moments that the show depicts are ones that anyone can relate to regardless of the time period in which they grew up. I was filled with nostalgia as I watched the pilot, and the scenes of Kevin playing football on the street with his friends reminded me of my own childhood of playing kickball with the neighborhood kids. The show’s use of adult voiceover to narrate the past is a smart choice, as it allows viewers to remember the thought process of children going through awkward periods of time, while giving the adult perspective on how various childhood dramas can provide lessons about growing up and life in general. While the show provides a reminder of the innocent moments of childhood, it also reminds us of national events influenced the growing up process and affected some of that simplicity. The show’s backdrop is set against the Vietnam War, and we are able to see how Kevin’s perceptions of childhood and adulthood are affected by this.
The pilot starts in the summer of 1968 and focuses on Kevin’s first day of junior high school. Kevin’s first day experiences highlight all the awkwardness and mini drama we all faced when transitioning to middle school; the drama of choosing the correct outfit, trying to fit in at the bus stop with older kids, wanting to get into the good grace of teachers (especially if an older sibling has set a bad example) and dealing with school bullies. As I watch these various scenes, I am instantly impressed at Fred Savage’s ability to seamlessly convey the emotions of a teenager without it feeling like it was overacting or contrived. Fred Savage’s natural acting at such an early age is in contrast to some of the Disney actors and actresses today, who at the same age use a lot of fake and overly dramatic facial expressions to make a point (my favorite case in point was Raven Symone, when she was on the show “That’s So Raven”).
The climax of the episode is when Kevin and his best friend Paul are at lunch, and having found it hard to find a group to sit with in the cafeteria, sit by themselves and try to remain inconspicuous. Their friend Winnie Cooper, aka Kevin’s potential love interest, later joins them and Kevin thinks his day is in the clear, until Kevin’s older brother Wayne approaches the group and taunts Kevin and Winnie. Fed up with his day, Kevin tells Wayne that Winnie is not his girlfriend and proceeds to stomp out of the cafeteria with an apple in hand. As he leaves, Kevin meets the assistant principal, who warns Kevin to not leave the cafeteria with the apple. In watching this scene in which Kevin testily responds against the assistant principal, I again took notice of Fred’s natural acting style, in particular how is he able to use his eyes to convey the emotion of a frustrated teenager who feels the entire world is against him. The scene end up with Kevin throwing the apple back into the cafeteria, and ending up in the assistant principal’s office.
As we witness Kevin’s tumultuous day, we can’t help but sympathize with him and his struggles, particularly as he is unable to explain this to his parents and assistant principal when he is grilled in the office. I wonder why the writers chose to not have Kevin explain what happened throughout the day to cause him to throw the apple, and the only explanation I can think of is that sometimes children don’t think that parents will understand their problems or will listen to them. Or perhaps, children don’t want to admit when they are having difficulties. Kevin awaits the inevitable punishment as he drives from school to home, but the struggles of his day take on a different meaning when, upon arriving at home, he and his parents learn from Kevin’s siblings that Winnie Cooper’s brother has been killed in the Vietnam War. This tragedy reflects how suddenly the simplicity of childhood can change when you least expect it. The episode ends with Kevin comforting Winnie in the park, and sharing his first kiss with her in the process.
The narration at the end of the episode provides good food for thought regarding how we view suburbanAmerica. Interspersed throughout the episode on Kevin’s experiences is a glimpse into the life of living in suburbs. The episode begins with Kevin’s comments that suburbs are often viewed as being cookie cutter and with no differentiation. It is only fitting then that at the end of an episode filled with hope, fear, and tragedy, we can take away an important about lessons about suburbs, as best summed by Kevin: “we know that inside each one of those identical boxes, with its Dodge parked out front and its white bread on the table and its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories. There were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love. There were moments that made us cry with laughter. And there were moments, like that one, of sorrow and wonder”