Sunday, November 23, 2008
The Wonder Years (1989-1994) charmed from the moment it first went on the air. From the opening theme song (Joe Cocker's fantastic rendition of "A Little Help from My Friends") to the grainy Super 8 footage of a typical suburban family, circa late 1960's, we knew we were in for a nostalgic treat. But there was never anything typical about The Wonder Years, which was ground breaking in its own sweet and gentle way. It was one of the first television programs to routinely feature contemporary artists and songs in the background, which brought a tremendous emotional lift to all the stories. It was the one of the first to have a narrator (marvelous Daniel Stern) in every episode. And long before LOST confused us with endless flashbacks, The Wonder Years was one of the first programs where the entire series was told through the lens of memory.
At its core, The Wonder Years was a show about growing up in that peculiar time of American history when "Duck and Cover" air raid drills were routine and all the junior high schools were named after the Kennedys. Watching Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), and his friends Paul (Josh Saviano) and the ethereal Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar) was like flipping through an old family photo album for just about every Baby Boomer on the planet. The experience was funny, touching, and on occasion painfully real.
In my favorite episode (Math Class), Kevin is struggling with a particularly difficult Algebra moment. His teacher (Mr. Collins) is strict and humorless but he is determined to work with Kevin, every day after school, until he "gets" it. Kevin rebels against this regimen every step of the way. But soon enough he realizes, much to his utter amazement, that math isn't as mysterious as he once believed. He wants to thank Mr. Collins, but it turns out that mentoring Kevin was the last act of this dedicated high school teacher, who had succumbed to cancer. With Karla Bonoff's "Goodbye My Friend" playing in the background, Kevin understands that what he learned was a lot more than arithmetic.
I'd like to dedicate this post to my son Tommy, who is about to wrap up his own "wonder years" in a few days when he departs to serve his country as a sailor in the US Navy. I wish him wisdom, laughter and luck as he embarks on this incredible adventure.