• Wonder Years, The – The Complete Series

    Released by: Time Life
    Released on: March 13th, 2018.
    Director: Various
    Cast: Danica McKellar, Fred Savage, Josh Saviano, Dan Lauria, Olivia D’Abo, Jason Hervey
    Year: 1988 - 1993
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Series:

    Co-created by Carol Black and Neal Marlens, The Wonder Years debuted on NBC on January 31, 1988 and the first season lasted only six episodes. The show was, however, a commercial and critical success and it was soon renewed for a full second season that ran seventeen episodes. Following their massive ‘complete series' release from last year, Star Vista is now making individual seasons available on DVD. The complete second series of the show ran from November 30th, 1988 through May 16th, 1989.

    For those unfamiliar with the show, it revolved around the exploits of Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), a kid growing up in the late sixties. Kevin lived at home with his kindly mother Norma (Alley Mills), his surly father Jack (Dan Lauria), his hippie sister Karen (Olivia D'Abo) and his obnoxious older brother Wayne (Jason Hervey). Together they lived in a perfectly normal suburb where Kevin went to school with his best friends Paul Pfieffer (Josh Saviano) and Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar), the latter of whom would be Kevin's on again/off again girlfriend throughout much of the series. The series is presented with narration from Kevin's adult self (voiced by Daniel Stern) which in turn provides some reflection on the events we see unfold from an adult perspective.

    You don't have to have been around in the sixties to appreciate this show. The way in which the story of Kevin and his family and friends unfolds is plenty easy to relate to as it is very much grounded in reality. The series does intertwine newsworthy events and topics of the era into the series as it deals with everything from military conflicts to free love to drug use to civil rights, but we see this through Kevin's eyes and experience it with him rather than watch him go it alone. The narration also does a great job of providing a more modern, adult context to what we see Kevin going through in his younger days. Stern does a fantastic job here and anyone who has personally looked back on something they did as a kid and wondered why they did what they did should appreciate his take on the material.

    The show is anchored through not only good writing but good acting as well. As Kevin Arnold, a wide-eyed Fred Savage creates a likeable and believable kid. Kevin isn't the coolest kid around, nor is he at the bottom of the pecking order: he's decidedly average. His parents aren't rich, but they aren't poor and in a lot of ways to some of the other kids he's just sort of there. This becomes interesting as Winnie develops and becomes a bit higher up on the cool factor than he and a lot of this second season deals with how they both handle that side of things. We see Kevin rebel here, and so too do we see the consequences of his not really thinking things through. Savage handles all of this well and the onscreen relationship that he shares with Danica McKellar, who is every bit as good as he, is not only sweet but realistic as well. Josh Saviano as Kevin's right hand man Paul is also great and some conflict that occurs between these two best friends also creates some interesting plot lines that run throughout the show.

    As great as the leads are, the supporting players are every bit as good. Jason Hervey is insanely good at being Kevin's bratty bigger brother while Dan Lauria frequently steals every scene he's in. Alley Mills is wonderful as Mrs. Arnold, you really believe she cares about her family and that she has their best intentions in mind while Olivia D'Abo is good as the hippie sister (and possibly the inspiration for Haley on American Dad?).

    The show also features impressive attention to period detail. The dress and wardrobe work all looks spot on as does the set decorating, the way in which certain characters speak, and the way in which current events are worked into the show. The series also does a great job of working plenty of music from the era in to the show at wholly appropriate times. Speaking of which, it's worth noting that the episodes as they are presented in this set are offered up in their original broadcast versions, so all of the original music (tracks from Bob Dylan, Carol King, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Cream, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, The Troggs, Simon And Garfunkel, Traffic, Diana Ross, James Taylor, Donovan and quite a few more) is included here with the exception of the Heart Of Darkness episode. Here Riders On The Storm, by The Doors, has been replaced with a song called Children Of The Night (which sounds intentionally similar) during the sequence in which Kevin dreams he appears in front of his class in his pajamas.

    Moving away from the first two seasons, season three sees the writing team firing on all cylinders. That nice balance of nostalgia for your childhood years and witty, funny and realistic humor meshes beautifully here. When mixed with the top notch acting delivered by pretty much every member of the crew, well, it's easy to see how this show holds up as well as it does. The opening episode set the tone nicely. Here the Arnold's and the Pfeiffer's vacation together at the shore only to see Paul's allergies go nuts and Kevin fall for a girl, which goes a long way towards healing the broken heart handed to him when he found out Winnie was seeing someone else. The relationship between Kevin and Winnie was obviously a huge part of the storylines that ran throughout the show and here, as we did in season two, we once again see it tested. They're getting older, they're not kids anymore, and what once seemed ‘meant to be' is now very much up in the air.

    As the season plays out we see the funny side of everyday life. Kevin struggles with his math grades, Wayne gets his driver's license, Kevin and Winnie reconnect while working on a school play together while Jack struggles with what to do about the family car seemingly to be on its last legs. Kevin makes a new friend and joins his garage band, has trouble asking a girl to the dance and gets a puppy with from his grandfather while Paul winds up on the rocks with his lady friend Carla. Another Valentine's Day comes and goes, and of course young love cause problems the way young love always causes problems when you're a teenager and it's Valentine's Day. Some things never change. Kevin and Jack bond over building a treehouse only to use it to spy on the hot neighbor and things get tense for Kevin and Winnie when, after getting back together, they wind up at a make-out party that neither of them are really and truly ready for.

    Jack and Norma go through a rocky patch when she loses the receipts for the year's tax return, Kevin is forced to think about mortality and then later about favoritism when trying out for the baseball team (though not in the way that you'd expect). As the season comes to a close, Paul finds himself crushing pretty hard on Kevin's mom after she tries to help him boost his low self-esteem, Karen pushes back when the family tries to plan a special celebration for her eighteenth birthday and, in the last episode, we learn that the Cooper's are moving. When Kevin wants to buy Winnie a ring and make a commitment to her, she pushes back…

    Again, there's nothing here that couldn't happen to anyone pretty much anywhere in North America, and that's what makes this show so accessible. The sixties make it an interesting back drop as we see elements of social change work their way into the lives of the various characters but more than anything else this show is about relationships, be they familial, romantic or just good old fashioned friendships.

    Season Four, like every season of the show really, also features some great music. Contributions from the likes of Marvin Gaye, The Ronettes, The Monkees, Hank Williams, Glenn Miller and Aretha Franklin appear alongside occasional classical selections like pieces from Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. The music in the series is a big part of its appeal, not just in the selections that make their way into the series, but just as importantly how those selections are used. Those behind the music in the series very clearly put a lot of thought into how each selection would have an impact on the viewership, be it to heighten dramatic tension or enhance the series' typically very effective comedy.

    What makes season four differ from the first three is that Kevin and his friends are, once again, getting a bit older and growing up. Since the series started with him as a pretty young kid, each season sees this happen to an extent but in season four we see him change from a kid into an adolescent. This is made clear in the season opener when he and some of the other boys are at the public pool checking out a young lady filling her bikini rather nicely. That same episode finds Karen being shipped away to college, Wayne getting a new girlfriend and then promptly being dumped by her, and Jack losing out on a promotion. So right from the start, a lot is happening in Kevin's world, even before the wonders of puberty are taken into account.

    When that summer comes to an end, it's time to start his first year of high school, the big difference here isn't so much that he's in high school but it's that Kevin's best gal ever, Winnie Cooper, isn't with him. She's off at another school on the other side of town, but meeting Madeline Adams (Julie Condra) makes that a little easier for him, at least at first. Kevin is bullied, he and his friends try to make their way into a girl's sleepover under the pretense that they'll be bringing some beer, and Kevin decides to increase his earning potential by taking a job at the local golf course, which leads to a lesson in respect when he winds up caddying for his dad and his boss.

    But of course, sooner or later it's got to come back to Winnie, right? She and Kevin share their one year anniversary (marking the date when he should have asked her out but didn't) when she gives him an ID bracelet. Instead of going out with her that night, however, he has to go to Madeline's house to work on a school project. This understandably causes tension in the world of young love, a world that becomes even more complex when Paul's younger sister, Debbie (Torrey Anne Cook), starts to crush pretty -hard on Kevin. As the school year moves on, Paul actually makes the basketball team, Jack gets a promotion that requires him to travel more, and Kevin busts Coach Cutlip working a second job as a mall Santa. Kevin launches a campaign for Student Council President against Becky Slater (Crystal McKellar) and then, on a field trip done in conjunction with Winnie's school, Kevin can't help but notice how her new friends have changed her already, only to find that she's met someone else. They break it off and Winnie sets out with new beau Roger. Kevin doesn't take this well, and there's a good stretch of episodes where she doesn't appear. When she does come back to the series, she's split with Roger but there are still some obvious walls up. Again, Kevin is going to do what Kevin has to do here, but we won't spoil the later part of the season for those checking it out for the first time.

    The series, as Kevin gets older, becomes increasingly more adult as it goes on and you can really start to see that this time around. Kevin's becoming a young man, and all of the toils and tribulation involved in that evolution are on full display. Of course, the backdrop of the era in which all of this takes place still factors into the storylines. Kevin's mom is still very much that, a stay at home mom, while Jack heads out into the work force, bound and determined to get enough money to buy her a new stove. With Karen off at college she factors into the series less (though she's not completely absent) and Wayne takes more of a back seat here than he has in the past, letting us focus on Kevin's issues more than anything else. And it works. His circle of friends expands a bit, there's more to it now than just Paul and Winnie, but they remain his closest confidants, even as things appear to be shifting in the season finale.

    The series is firing on all cylinders at this point in its six season run. The writers were taking things in more interesting directions, the drama and the comedy were mixing flawlessly and the actors were doing work that was just as strong as those behind the scenes. At this point, we really felt like we knew the characters and anyone old enough to relate to the experiences of the teenagers in the series would have no trouble doing just that. Great television, through and through.

    The sixth and final season of The Wonder Years brings to a close the story of Kevin Arnold and his family, friends and other assorted characters from his to this point. Those new to the series are best to start with the first season, as obviously a lot of the storylines here have played out to a certain degree in the five seasons prior. The twenty-two episodes that make up this series are spread across four DVDs and are presented unedited (not that there was all that much to censor but certain TV channels have shown these in syndication with the odd mild cuss bleeped).

    When this last season starts, Kevin is starting eleventh grade. With Paul (Josh Saviano) now class president and things getting kind of hum-drum for Kevin, he starts hanging out with Jeff Billings (Giovanni Ribisi) more often. He and Winnie (Danica McKellar) are still an item but when Kevin takes a job delivering for Mr. Chong's and has to put the restaurant logo on his car, she gets embarrassed to be seen with him. Early on in this episode there are tensions between Kevin and Winnie, it's a recurring theme throughout the show but especially obvious in these later episodes.

    Politics rear their ugly head when Wayne (Jason Hervey) meets up with his old friend David "Wart" Wirtshafter, recently back from a tour of duty in Vietnam. His adjustment period is tough. Kevin asserts his independence when he goes on a disastrous fishing trip with Wayne and Jack (Dan Lauria), and again, we start to see the kind of tensions arise that always arise when teenagers become adults and have to push back, warranted or not, with their parents and older siblings. From there, Kevin gets drunk at a wedding, he takes a job painting a house for his pretty teacher Miss Farmer (Rebecca Staab) only for it to go horribly wrong and Winnie gets some firsthand experiences with an election. When Kevin tries to get Winnie to sleep with him and fails, he misspeaks to the guys at school and rumor's start to spread, driving a further wedge between he and she while Wayne falls for an older single mom named Bonnie Douglas (Paula Marshall) who he meets at work and soon makes plans to move in with her and help raise her kid, much to the dismay of Norma (Alley Mills), who is understandably concerned about this.

    School and work start causing Kevin some stress and Paul in particular is freaking out about SAT's. Jack leaves his old job to go into partnership with a friend and open a furniture business, family drama makes New Year's Ever a night to remember, Kevin and his friends do their damnedest to see The Rolling Stones play at a local dive bar, Coach Silva (James Tolkan) invite Kevin to try out for the school wrestling team, a trip to the planetarium takes some unexpected turns, Norma takes a job for the first time and then she and Jack attend her high school reunion.

    When summer rolls around, Winnie takes a job at a resort out of town, working as a lifeguard. When Kevin's plans to drive cross-country are shut down by his dad, he takes a job as a waiter at the same resort so he can hang out with her for the summer, only to find out that they're too busy and that Winnie is interested in another guy working out there. From there, the series finale wraps up most of the show's loose ends and Kevin's adult narration puts a lot of things in perspective.

    The Wonder Years was great right from the start and while the last two seasons don't quite match the quality of the first four, they're not so far off. The writing was strong throughout and while some fans did get their fur up a bit by the way that the series finished off, in hindsight the ending seems quite fitting. The narration seals the deal, viewing the past from an adult's point of view and clearly through rose tinted glasses, the way that many of us, as we age, tend to view large portions of our younger days that may have been, at the time, far less than ideal. It's rare that a series captures the power of nostalgia as well as this show did, but they pulled it off.

    As always, the music used throughout the series plays a huge part in making it work as well as it does. This time around we get contributions from The Association, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, The Beach Boys, Canned Heat, The Champs, Eddie Cochran, Joe Cocker, Nat King Cole, The Everly Brothers, Marvin Gaye, Lesley Gore, Grateful Dead, Ben E. King, The Miracles, The O'Jays, Helen Reddy, Johnny Rivers, The Rolling Stones, Sam & Dave, Frank Sinatra, Stealers Wheel, Steely Dan, Hank Williams and Tammy Wynette amongst others. The music is always appropriate to the situation at hand and most of the time, of the era in which it is all set.

    And again, the performances are great. Fred Savage brought Kevin to life and made it look easy and it's interesting to see how both the character and the actor change as the series evolves. Dan Lauria, Jason Hervey and Alley Mills are all really strong here too. Hervey's character matures a lot in this season and so again, we see the actor and the character change, growing into adulthood before our eyes. Josh Saviano has less to do this season than past seasons as Paul and Kevin are definitely growing apart by this point, something that most of us can relate to in some way, but he turns Paul into a more mature and intelligent character than he was in the early seasons. Danica McKellar is once again perfectly cast as Winnie, and if she took a back seat in season five, in this last season her relationship with Kevin once again becomes a big focus of the story arc.


    Each and every episode of The Wonder Years is presented in its original fullframe broadcast aspect ratio, which is as it should be. The video quality here isn't going to floor anyone but the material here looks decent enough. As a lot of fans are probably aware, the series was shot on 16mm to give it an authentic period feel, but then transferred to tape for editing purposes. Given that it is from those tapes that the DVD transfers would seem to have been sourced, you can't expect sterling picture quality here but the show is definitely watchable enough. Black levels can sometimes be closer to dark grey than true black but for the most part the colors are reproduced reasonably well. Some small white specks do pop up here and there and there are some minor compression artifacts throughout but odds are that if you're not specifically looking for them you won't notice them. Given the origins of the series, the good definitely outweighs the bad here. This is a perfectly decent presentation of some iffy source material.

    An English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track is provided for each episode with optional closed captioning provided in English only. Quality here is fine, there are no issues with any hiss or distortion and the dialogue is clean, clear and easy to understand. There's some good channel separation when the music kicks in and a reasonable amount of depth here as well. No alternate language audio or subtitle options are provided.
    Extras are season specific and play out across the set as follows:

    Season One:

    First up, we get a featurette called Highlights From The Wonder Years Cast Reunion in which we get a pretty fun conversation recorded on May 28, 2014 featuring Danica McKellar, Fred Savage, Josh Saviano, Dan Lauria, Olivia D’Abo, Jason Hervey and Alley Mills. It’s fun to hear them look back on the show and tell stories from the time they all spent working together on the series.

    Up next is With A Little Help From My Friends, a featurette that covers show's inception made up of cast and crew interviews – look for series creators Neal Marlens and Carol Black to show up here as well as Savage, Saviano and McKellar. There are also individually shot interviews here with Marlons and Black, Savage, Saviano and McKellar that each run roughly twenty-minutes or so. There’s a bit of overlap but most fans won’t mind.

    Each disc also features menus and episode selection. The two discs come packaged with a color insert booklet containing an essay from Fred Savage, episode information, disc credits and more.

    Season Two:

    Extras, all of which are on disc four, start off with School Days which is a roundtable discussion of the series with Danica McKellar, Fred Savage and Josh Saviano. They talk here about the roles they played in the series and share some amusing anecdotes about the T-shaped school set (which had no locks on the lockers) compared to shooting on location in real schools, and what their own real high school experiences were like. Saviano notes that he stayed in his actual high school and refused to transfer and would attend there when the show wasn't being made, Savage transferred from Chicago to L.A. in ninth grade, McKellar was in and out of school all the time as she only worked 2-3 days a week. They then go on to share a mix of stories of their own high school years and stories from the set of the series while it was in production. It's a nice piece that runs just under eight minutes in length.

    Also included here is a featurettes called The Times They Are A-Changin': The Era that mixes up clips from the show with interview clips with co-creators Carol Black and Neal Marlens, key grip Skip Cook, producer Bruce Nachbar, executive producer Robert Brush, cast members Josh Saviano, Jason Hervey, Robert Picardo, Dan Lauria, Alley Mills, Olivia D'Abo, Danica McKellar, Wendel Meldrum and Fred Savage. This piece runs just under half an hour in length and the emphasis here is how what would have been current events in the era in which the series was set work their way into the storylines. Some insight from those old enough, when this show was being made, to remember the sixties explains how and why this was done while insight from the younger cast members gives us a look at how the show still balanced all of this with the day to day drama that occurs when characters are ‘coming of age.' This is well put together and quite good.

    Separate interviews are also included here with Daniel Stern (who talks for over half an hour about taking the role and how he felt about the series, relating to the character of Kevin Arnold and more), Dan Lauria (who talks for twenty-minutes about how Joanna Kerns from Growing Pains inadvertently got him the role, his thoughts on his own high school experience, what it was like playing Kevin's dad in the series and quite a bit more) and Alley Mills (she spends thirty-four minutes discussing her thoughts on reading the pilot, getting the role, her character and what made her really enjoy working on the series). Each disc includes menus and episode selection and inside the keepcase alongside the four discs is a full color booklet including episodes synopsis' and some information on the series and the DVD release.

    Season Three:

    The extras, all of which are on disc four, start out with Hall Pass: Roundtable With Danica McKellar, Fred Savage, and Josh Saviano that runs for about eight minutes. They talk about ‘the magic of' the series and note the sincerity of it being key to its longevity, but they also talk about the music, the directing and other qualities. They also talk about how the series took the perspective of the kid, which was rare for shows at the time that this show originally aired.

    We also get a featurettes here called A Family Affair: At Home With The Arnolds which is an interesting look back at the characters and what the actors who played The Arnolds brought to their respective roles. The actors are interviewed here too, it's a nice retrospective if not super in-depth considering it's almost half an hour long. Disc four also contains a selection of solo interviews with cast members Olivia d'Abo (roughly thirty-three minutes), Jason Hervey (roughly twenty-four minutes), Danica McKellar (roughly sixteen minutes) and Crystal McKellar (roughly twenty-one minutes). These are actually more interesting than the At Home piece as the interviewees offer up some rather revealing information about their experiences on the series, how they got into character, their acting experience before and after the show and their thoughts on the series years later.

    Each disc also features menus and episode selection. The four discs come packaged with a color insert booklet containing an essay from Fred Savage, episode information, disc credits and more.

    Season Four:

    First up, as far as the extras go, is a featurette called ABC: Teachers That Made A Difference that is a thirty-six minute long piece that covers the cast members that played the teachers in the Wonder Years universe. Through a series of interesting cast and crew interviews we look back at Kevin's crush on Miss White (Wendel Meldrum), the English teacher who talked him into performing in the school play. We also learn about his relationship with Mr. Collins, his science teacher Mr. Cantwell (Ben Stein), his math teacher, and of course his relationship with Coach Cutlip (Robert Picardo), the gym teacher who always seemed to butt heads with young Mr. Arnold.

    Aside from that we also get some decent interviews with Fred Savage, Robert Picardo, Ben Stein and Wendel Meldrum. These are all done on camera, individually, and they're pretty in-depth. Savage covers some of the same ground here he has in other interviews on earlier seasons but getting the actors who played the teachers down to talk about their work on the series was a good move, as they've got their share of amusing anecdotes to offer up. Menus and chapter selection are provided for each episode. There's an insert booklet included in the set, containing information on each episode as well as credits, guest appearance info, an intro from Fred Savage and more.

    Season Five:

    Extras are pretty solid here. That's A Wrap! Mark B. Perry's Farewell Set Tour, as it sounds, a set tour in which the writer/producer of the series gives us a quick, five minute tour of the set. This was his last season working on the show. It's interesting to see, but not as substantial as Will You Love Me Tomorrow: The Wonder Years' Love Stories that takes a look at the various romantic subplots that were such a big part of the show's success. This twenty-six minute piece does not focus on Kevin and Winnie as you might expect, but instead on the other girls that Kevin got involved with as well as the courtship and marriage between Karen and Michael that becomes very important in this season. It's marginally amusing and occasionally touching but it doesn't really do much to document the history of the show, rather, it simply recounts a lot of what fans already know by recapping the different storylines.

    Additionally, the set includes some interviews, the first of which is with Olivia d'Abo, who as we all know played Karen Arnold in the series. This was the last season to feature her and here she speaks for thirty-five minutes about her experiences working on the series, her thoughts on the character and the different people she worked with on the show over the years and more. Complimenting this nicely is a forty-minute interview with David Schwimmer, who played Michael, Karen's fiancé then husband. He covers similar ground, talking about his experiences on set, some of the turmoil that his character went through and his thoughts on the show overall. Both are nicely done and quite interesting. It's nice to see some of the supporting characters covered as in-depth as they are in these two interviews.

    Season Six:

    Extras are made up primarily of a few featurettes, the first of which of is At Last: The Final Episode wherein most of the key cast and crew members look back on what went into finishing up the series and bringing it all to a conclusion in this final season. This piece runs sixteen minutes and it's mostly made up of brief interview clips, but it's interesting enough. Also on hand is an interview with Bob Brush, the Executive Producer of the series. He speaks for over fifty-minutes about working the show, how it got off the ground, casting the picture and what the various actors brought to the series, writing the show and loads more. He looks back on this with a lot of wit and insight, this is a great piece. Lastly, in the five minute From The Vault: Alley Mills And Bob Brush Letters piece Mills reads to the camera both a letter she wrote to Brush when the series ended as well as his response to her.

    It's also worth noting that Time Life gives you the option of watching the season finale in its original hour long broadcast format or as the two part format that it was shown as when put into syndication. Menus and episode selection are included for each of the four discs in the set and tucked away inside the DVD case along with the discs is an insert booklet containing episode information for each of the twenty-two episodes that make up this season.

    The Final Word:

    The Wonder Years is one of the best television shows of its day and it holds up remarkably well all these years later. The complete series DVD release from Time Life might not look as good as the series really should, but it sounds pretty solid and it features a nice selection of extra features that do a fine job of documenting the history of the show. Great stuff.

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. JLG's Avatar
      JLG -
      kawc pp
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      I haven't seen an episode of this since it originally aired on television over here, but I remember it to be pretty darn good.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Kudos for a MONSTER review!