You may have noticed that we here at PopWatch Central have spent the summer on a bit of a nostalgia kick — and who can blame us, what with 1980s cartoon series becoming box office sensations and the new 1990s block on TeenNick burning up ratings charts and Twitter feeds. But one show stands equal to none when it comes to detonating a nostalgia bomb, and that, my friends, is The Wonder Years.
And that is because this Emmy-winning, groundbreaking dramedy — a chronicle of the junior high and high school years of suburban everykid Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) from 1968 to 1973 — is a double-dutch nostalgia bomb. It hits the kids (like me) for whom the show proved our first introduction into the wily wondrous years of adolescence, and the parents of those kids for whom the show is a direct portrait of their own adolescence. Before Forrest Gump made 1960s reminiscence ironic, The Wonder Years — which debuted after Super Bowl XXII in 1988 and ran for six seasons until 1993 — recreated Baby Boomer childhoods in an earnest, thoughtful, 30-minute-long package, from Big Picture events like the Vietnam War to small, thoughtful details like yearning for a color TV. I can still remember watching it with my parents, and listening to them swoon as the show evoked memories of watching, say, the Apollo XIII disaster unfold on TV (in an episode that predated Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 by five years).
It was kinda odd watching my folks dial into the story of a 12-year-old kid, because I was much closer in age to Kevin than they were. I was experiencing what he, his best friend Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano), and his on-again-off-again-on-again flame Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar) were going through first hand. This was a show in which entire episodes were built around getting a good grade on a math test, gossiping behind your best friend’s back, or shunning school weirdo Margaret Farquhar. Thinking back on the show now — roughly 20 years after it aired — puts me in the even stranger position of feeling like narrator Daniel Stern. I’m suddenly remembering quite sheepishly that “Margaret Farquhar” became shorthand for one of the “weird” girls in my sixth-grade class; seems the message of that particular episode may have been lost on us. Awkward.
Actually, the show should have been called The Awkward Years. Watching Kevin strike out with Winnie Cooper over and over and over again? Awkward. Watching Winnie play ping-pong with poor Kevin’s heart as she vacillated back-and-forth over her own conflicted feelings? Awkward! And watching Kevin, Winnie, and especially beanpole nerd Paul — a.k.a. The Character I Most Identified With — go through puberty on national television? Super awkward! Check out these screen grabs from the pilot, third season, and finale:
Kevin, through the years
Winnie, through the years
Paul, through the years
Okay, so maybe Winnie Cooper never had an awkward stage.
But who did you most identify with on The Wonder Years?
There are so many other nostalgic memories from this show that I could talk about — Coach Cutlip! Mr. Collins! David Schwimmer as Karen’s live-in boyfriend! — but instead, I’ll turn the discussion over to you. What was your favorite memory of The Wonder Years?
Follow Adam on Twitter @adambvary