The Wonder Years was the first show I was obsessed with. I know; it’s kind of a weird show to be obsessed with. Most people remember it fondly, but not as their favorite show ever. Every so often they’ll try to bring it back into syndication, which usually lasts one go round, maybe two before it goes away again. Even when I was watching it, the only other person I knew who watched every episode was my high school math teacher. It’s a show steeped in nostalgia: both for the time period it takes place in (late 60s, early 70s) and nostalgia for your own youth. I think my main interest was that Kevin Arnold was my age—the main character was my exact age! Until The Wonder Years, All I had were side characters, like Ben Seaver from Growing Pains. Recently I discovered that The Wonder Years was on Netflix, and I thought it would be interesting to re-watch the series as an adult. Would 40 year old Ken enjoy the show as much as 12-17 year old Ken? Only one way to find out.
The pilot perfectly sets up the entire series. It starts off the summer before Kevin starts junior high, but just barely mentions the summer. The bulk of the episode is the first day of junior high. For me, it brought back memories of the pressures of 7th grade, and realizing that junior high is a whole different animal and a chance to reinvent yourself, even though you knew most of the kids since you were five. Just the outfit you wore on the first day could set the tone for the next 2-3 years of your life. It also captures how lunch was the most pressure of the entire day: who you sit with and how you’re seen is everything. They set up Kevin perfectly: he wasn’t the coolest kid, and he wasn’t the biggest nerd–that was Paul, of course. But Paul was his best friend, so he was definitely on the nerdy side, just a bit.
Of course, Kevin has a fairly awful first day of junior high. His brother starts picking on him in the lunchroom about his crush on Winnie Cooper right in front of her. He storms out and has a run in with the school principal, the first of many in this first season. He ends up being a wise-ass to the principal, which is a side of Kevin I don’t believe we ever see again, and ends up getting his parents called down to the school. On his way into the house to receive his first ever beating from his dad, his sister, Karen, tells them that Brian Cooper, Winnie’s older brother and the neighborhood cool guy, has been killed in Vietnam.
I didn’t see this episode when it first aired. When I started watching, Brian Cooper had been known to be dead. It’s not quite like how Psycho killed off the protagonist halfway through the movie (spoilers for Psycho!!!!!!), but it must have been pretty jarring to have a character that had been built up as the guy who ran the neighborhood to be killed off in the first episode. The tone of the episode changes, obviously, to a sense of melancholy that permeates the entire series. Even Kevin’s first kiss (an iconic shot of the series) with Winnie comes hours after learning of her brother’s death. Not exactly the victorious story kids want to brag about to their friends. Looking back, this was such a weird show to become obsessed with at 12.
Best line: Kevin, on his dad: “He worked hard for us, he provided for us, and he certainly didn’t want to have to talk to us on top of that.”
Kevin’s dad drinks vodka tonics right when he gets home, which have become my after work drink of choice. Odd coincidence or subconscious conditioning?
I know they have to introduce six other principal characters besides Kevin, but we don’t get much information on the other main characters of the show. Here’s what we know so far:
Jack Arnold, Kevin’s dad: Grumpy, works hard, stern.
Norma Arnold, Kevin’s mom: Doting housewife.
Wayne Arnold, Kevin’s brother: Bully, jerk.
Karen Arnold, Kevin’s sister: Hippie, seems to think announcing that she’s going on birth control is a good dinner table subject.
Paul Pfeifer: Nerdy best friend, has allergies.
Winnie Cooper: Love interest, looks good in go-go boots.