While there are many classic TV shows one will remember with fond nostalgia, few are as precious as The Wonder Years. The coming-of-age sitcom, which aired from 1988-1993, is set in the late 1960s, during the Vietnam era and after the run of assassinations. It simultaneously ushers a boy through puberty and documents a transitional time in American history, as concerned (if not more so) with emotion and context than being funny. The laughs tend to come from authentic situations, rather than goofy gags, and the characters are realistic and loveable. Finally, this complete series is available on DVD from StarVista/Time Life.
As the story begins, Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage, The Princess Bride) is starting junior high school alongside his best friend, Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano). They may be a bit dweebish, but Kevin still catches the eye of the beautiful girl-next-door, Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar, Young Justice). If Kevin should ever get a little full of himself, though, he has jerk older brother Wayne (Jason Hervey), stoic dad Jack (Dan Lauria, Sullivan & Son), not-quite-understanding mom Norma (Alley Mills, The Bold and the Beautiful), and peacenik sister Karen (Olivia d’Abo, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) to ground him. Viewers are privy to Kevin’s thoughts via narration by Daniel Stern (Manhattan, Home Alone).
The Wonder Years ran for six seasons and received numerous accolades. Premiering in the prime post-Super Bowl slot, it won the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy for its very first, six-episode season and Savage became the youngest-ever Emmy nominee for Oustanding Lead Actor for a Comedy Series. These were only the beginning of a run that would score many trophies, pushing the boundaries of its genre and production. While it does feel, at times, like an after-school special, it takes that format and deepens it in such a way to move anyone that views it, leaving the cheese out, for the most part.
Sadly, the series finale is not what many would have liked. Mired in struggle between the network and the producers, who wanted to mature the material along with Kevin (something ABC resisted mightily in a family-friendly program) the show came to an abrupt end after season six. The writers only had Stern’s narration with which to craft a true ending, no more opportunity for filming existing. This set contains the originally-broadcast version of the hour-long finale, as well as the edited-down, two half-hour editions. Those involved did a terrific job, considering, and the somewhat unsatisfying ending is realistic. Still, even with the rough stop, The Wonder Years remains an important body of work, remembered fondly for good reason, and is well worth the time it takes to relive it.
Part of the reason why The Wonder Years may have taken so long to get to disc is because is has a phenomenal soundtrack, with literally hundreds of classic songs featuring the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Carole King, and more. These are integral to the story, and the show would really be missing something without them. I do not know if every track has been retained, but the press materials report that over three-hundred numbers from the original broadcasts have been licensed for the DVD, so the vast majority, at least, are present and accounted for, which matters a lot in this release.
The picture and audio quality in this DVD release do not appear to have been updated. However, The Wonder Years had a dated look even for its time, so the production fits the style of the piece. It isn’t distracting enough to pull one out of the story.
Whatever efforts were not put into updating the video presentation are more than made up for in the quality of everything else. Should you choose to obtain the complete set, it comes with 26 discs packaged in binders replicating Kevin and Winnie’s school tomes, each with a helpful book that has notes and episode descriptions. They sit alongside a really cool yearbook, full of photos and information about the show, in an actual metal locker (which comes with series-themed magnets to decorate it with). There are a couple of different limited editions of this set that have even more inclusions, so the really die-hard fans may want to check those out, too.
The Wonder Years Complete Series has a TON of extras. Over 23 hours of bonus features boast lots of new featurettes and fresh interviews with many of the key people that made the series a reality. All seven of the show’s leads are among the participants, as well as several notable guest stars. There are outtakes galore (including of Winnie and Kevin’s first kiss), a cast reunion, a look at the teachers on the series, and so much more. I cannot stress enough how much is here, and it will take days, if not weeks, for most people to sift through it all.
The Wonder Years Complete Series isn’t perfect, but it’s darn close. It was certainly well worth the wait, one of the coolest series sets I’ve seen. As a fan myself, I’m super excited to dig even further into this than I’ve had time to do so far. The Complete Series is available now, and individual seasons will start being released this week.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00NTDXEG2][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00L9OPFTC]