Sunday, December 20, 2009

The 2000s, A Decade in Retrospect...ION airs The Wonder Years

[images courtesy of The Wonder Years]

The 2000s, A Decade in Retrospect is a series where I will be professing my love to the pop culture wonders that I discovered during this decade, but not specific to this decade.

"Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're in diapers, the next day you're gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house like a lot of other houses, a yard like a lot of other yards, on a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back, with wonder."

In the uneventful summer of 2007, I stumbled upon the late-eighties coming-of-age half-hour dramedy, The Wonder Years. The show delicately chronicles the adolescence of Kevin Arnold during the escalating confusion and violence of the Vietnam War.

I was immediately hooked. ION played three cycles of the entire show, thankfully. I was able to consume all six seasons in a very short period of time. I was completely in love with a television show for the very first time.

The performances. The script. The amazing soundtrack.

Fifties, sixties, and seventies pop never sounded so cool and timeless. I used to listen to The Stylistics' "You Are Everything" and Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight" back-to-back because those songs always reminded me of the scenes in the show and how much I wished my adolescence was filled with that kind of innocent puppy-love romance.

While I've always love nostalgia when used effectively in every artistic medium I've ever encountered, I've never seen it done like this. The show is, and always will be, a sweetly sentimental masterstroke of television genius. You don't have to live and breathe knowledge of mid-twentieth century Americana to completely relish the hormonal antics of The Wonder Years. It simply the best television show I've seen about the process of growing up in suburbia.

Fred Savage's brilliant turn as Kevin showcases an adolescent under the influence of angst, infatuation, humor, heartbreak, brattiness, and confusion. Savage is a natural; the obvious crux of the show. Season four highlights Savage's capability to believably deliver the most heartbreaking moments of adolescence.

Speaking of season four, it is perhaps one of the best seasons of any television show ever. I was left speechless when I watched the captivatingly dramatic, achingly devastating two-parter, "Heartbreak" and "Denial." I got teary-eyed when Kevin discovers the necklace Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar) leaves on his bus seat, shortly after their break-up. I got even more teary-eyed in the aftermath of the break-up when Winnie tells Kevin that she wants to be friends and Kevin insists he doesn't want to be friends. He honestly believes, in his achingly fragile teenage heart, that he loves her. And we believe that too.

To me, Kevin and Winnie are the ideal sweethearts, simply because they aren't perfect. Their relationship is confusing, like all relationships are. But they keep coming back to each other because well, they can. I've always wanted a relationship like Kevin and Winnie's, but I'm already at the latter edge of adolescence, so I guess it's a little too late.

Being a Kevin and Winnie fan, I embrace season six with opens arms, which is my second favorite season of the series. Some fans may feel cold towards season six, but after those random missteps in season five, season six is a refreshing surprise. But it's the most human and consistent season. It makes me wish there is indeed a season seven. But thanks, ABC and the TV gods for annihilating the existence of a season seven for me. My life is sorrowfully imperfect without it.

I especially like how Kevin and Winnie matured into two teenagers who can be a steady couple and work out problems together. Kevin is no longer pining for Winnie because he doesn't have to. And Winnie isn't playing games with Kevin anymore because she knows that Kevin cares for her--always have been, and always will. Winnie may not be the most likable character, but McKellar's performance makes us see her the way Kevin sees her: flawed, yet a desirable object of affection.

And in one of my favorite episodes (from season five, amazingly enough), "Double Double Date" shows the chemistry between Savage and McKellar at its most electrifying and fantastical:

It's good to be a teenager, right?

While I may adore The Wonder Years for the adolescent romance between Kevin and Winnie, the supporting characters are also memorable.

Jack (Dan Lauria), a middle America breadwinner, who is, I believe, what 80% our fathers really are like. Jack Arnold is the anti-Bill Cosby because fathers like Jack are real, not products of the laugh tracks of sitcom land.

Wayne (Jason Hervey), is another character that strikes a chord with me. He's a bully of an older brother, but he's also human, susceptible to all kinds of vulnerabilities. One of the great things about season six is that Wayne matures into the kind of man who can be relied and trusted. The New Year's episode shows Wayne at his most authentic; he's more than a caricature of childhood or a comedic stereotype--he has a heart that can be broken.

Daniel Stern's narration as the "older Kevin" is also one of the grander highlights of the show. The lines that hit home and choked me up are mostly in narration, a role that Stern plays wonderfully.

The Wonder Years is not a perfect show, though. There are episodes that are terribly preachy. There are several rotten episodes (mainly in season five) that I try to weed out of my memory. Kevin's best friend, Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano), always annoyed me. Thank goodness most of the episodes does not focus on the Kevin and Paul friendship because I couldn't care less. I was actually glad when Kevin found new best friends in season six because well, people change.

But despite these minor flaws, The Wonder Years is still amazing. There is so much emotional authenticity to the very best episodes that most shows of its kind can barely achieve or even come close. I feel like a thorn get stuck in my heart every time I re-watch some of the scenes on Youtube. Now, all they have to do is release the damn show on DVD...and perhaps this is just wishful thinking, but I'd like the original music on it too, please!

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