'The Wonder Years': Singing out of tune rarely sounded so good


Image Credit: Everett Collection

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

Read more:
The sounds of ’90’s nostalgia: ‘Doug’ never made me feel ‘Beeeyouuuuuu’
‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ Which episodes made you say, ‘Yes.’
‘Family Matters’: Did you love or hate Urkel?

Comments (78 total) Add your comment
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  • LAH

    Now there’s a series I would buy on DVD…too bad the music copyright fees would make it too expensive to produce it. Great show…great music. It was one of the few shows that both parents and their children could enjoy watching together.

    • COOL

      The Savage brothers Fred and Ben combined have the definitive take on adolescence between “The Wonder Years” and “Boy Meets World” and it was neat how BMW followed right after Wonder Years

    • Frank Anderson

      I would LOVE this on DVD. Too bad it looks unlikely.

    • Jamie

      You can find them on DVD if you search the Internet hard enough. There are sites that sell where they converted it from VHS (while in syndication) and converted to DVD…the quality is VHS quality mind you, but it’s still great having all seasons on DVD.

    • Marti

      I purchased this whole show by some Korean DVD dealer online – only $50 and the entire show on 10 DVD’s! Not bad quality, and no commercials.

  • Dawn

    Brilliant show. End of story. What does my younger sister have? Crap like Secret Life Of The American Teenager.

    • Summer Bay

      Hey! Secret Life isn’t crap. OK so it’s no Wonder Years, but it’s not Gossip Girl either.

      • Chris

        Sorry, it is crap. All those shows on ABC Family are soo lamely written and acted.

      • Viv

        Yea my daughter loves Secret Life and it’s total garbage. There are no life lessons being learned on that show just who is sleeping with who. It’s just a vehicle to sell the ideals that girls should be sluts and boys should sleep with anything that moves to kids.

      • Chelsea

        I agree Secret like is garbage but I wouldn’t say all the ABCFamily shows are. Switched at Birth is surprisingly well-acted/well-written.

      • Ted

        To be fair, we don’t need to be sold the idea of sleeping with anything that moves.

    • Kalie

      I agree. It’s depressing when you think about the innocent shows we watched as kids that actually had a message as compared to the stuff kids have nowadays. I was lucky enough to have grown up with poignant shows like “The Wonder Years”, “Life Goes On” & “My So-called Life”. At least kids can watch the reruns on TV right now. Everything else aimed at tweens & teens is all about sex, vampires and expensive clothes.

  • Rob Grizzly

    Finally! Is it on DVD yet? Oh. It’s not? Then why are we talking about this?

    • JDF

      Probably because it’s been running regularly on “The Hub” (formerly Discovery Kids, I believe) for several months now.

    • DRG

      We’re talking about it because the past 30 years has been nothing but an orgy of baby boomer nostalgia and the world revolves around the 60’s as a result.

  • cshock

    Great series, especially the first 3 seasons. The episode entitled “Goodbye,” featuring the final appearance of Mr. Collins, is not just the highpoint of “The Wonder Years,” it is also one of the finest half hours of television EVER.

    • Allison

      Just thinking about “Goodbye” makes me tear up. Great episode, I’d forgotten about it.

    • D

      Well said! I was just about to make this very comment! Such a powerful episode, especially when Kevin tells his principal, “You don’t have to grade it…it’s an A.” Tears!

  • Dawn

    “I ‘like’ like her”

    • jane

      Awe – that was so innocent! I miss that aspect of 80s-90s tv shows. Can’t imagine the impact current tv is having on our teens.

  • Amy

    What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?…. What an awesome show! I was a little on the young side for the original run (I was 11 when the show finished its run) but I watched every episode on Nick at Night when I was in middle school and high school. I loved that the issues were mostly the same regardless of being set in the 60’s/70’s.

  • Karate Pants

    Okay, so I ALSO referred to weird girls as “Margaret Farquhar”!
    Great show, one of the few sincere and thoughtful shows from the 80’s.

    • DOSIE-DOH!

      I referred to them as “3 TAILED BATGIRLS”. I love the final voice-over in that episode, I love that Kevin knows every single thing about her present day life because he feels so ashamed. So sweet. I also love the episode where Kevin dives into the pool to get Paul’s sister’s bracelet, the episode where puberty strikes the all-boys choir, “friends? I’ll show you friends”, the summer romance at the lake, summer romance at the beach, fishing, and the beatnik choose your grade teacher. I’m 22 now, but the show has definitely stuck with me after all this time.

      • Batgirl

        “In your life, you meet people. Some you never think about again. Some, you wonder what happenend to them. There are some that you wonder if they ever think about you. And then there are some you wish you never had to think about again. But you do.”

  • Sarah

    I still love catching the reruns on television. It’s amazing how true this show rang to real life. The episodes that could punch you in the gut with sadness or regret would be balanced evenly with the light hearted episodes where little misunderstandings seemed like catastrophes. Wonderful show.

  • Gen of Montreal

    I haven’t cried this hard at the end of a show since The Wonder Years Finale. So glad they didn’t go with the Sunset ending everyone was wishing for.

  • Josh M

    Well, crap – I assumed this post meant there was news on the DVD front.

  • J Go

    Love this show. Anyone know where I can catch some reruns?? I never seem to see it when clicking through the channels.

    • Saracen Riggins

      It’s lately been airing on a channel called “HUB” on Comcast. Along with other awesome classics like Jem, Doug, and other shows from that era.

  • Jeremy

    I loved this show and miss it greatly. I remember the kind of strict grandpa (David Huddleston) who left Kevin and Wayne by the side of the road after they got into a fight at a relative’s funeral. I think that was the reason. Maybe I’m combining memories from different episodes. I really would love to see this show again.

  • BLM

    Wow, I had no idea that Becky Slater and Winnie Cooper were sisters in real life. Loved this show–Fred Savage was my first celebrity crush.

  • frankl

    Of course kids today would not ‘get ” this show, it does not talk about drugs, teenage sex, or vampires. It was a sweet ,wonderful show and i do miss it,. They show reruns on the Hub channel. And you maybe able to find a bootleg copy of the series at some video stores, but check the Hub channel, they show them all in order on there.

    • JDF

      Actually, I recall drugs and teenage sex being a topic on multiple occasions…

  • Mrs Fred Savage

    I loved THE WONDER YEARS. I was 16 in 1988, in my freshman year of high school…had a massive crush on Fred Savage. I loved Wayne, Kevin, Winnie, Paul, Kevin’s parents [my favorite episode was the one where Kevin's mom makes an ashtray & Mr Collins' death..hit a bit close to home because my HS math teacher died in 1990 & he was very kind to me] who knew Fred Savage would marry a girl only 4 yrs older? Coulda been me, but I digress…

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