The Wonder Years: What episodes to watch & why

Dave Lange

WHAT IS The Wonder Years ABOUT?

An enthralling and nostalgic retro comedy/drama series that revolves around a young kid named Kevin Arnold and the challenges he faces during his “Wonder Years” of growing up during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Original TV Home: ABC

Number Of Seasons: 6 (1988-1993)

Total Episodes / Time Table: 115 Episodes (approx. 23-24 minutes each) = approx. 58 hours.

Viewing Strategy: You can complete the series in about a month by watching 4 episodes per day for 29 days.

Begin who is in it section

WHO’S IN IT? Top Up arrow

Wonder_Years-0798Fred Savage, Daniel Stern, Dan Lauria, Alley Mills, Jason Hervey, Josh Saviano, Danica McKellar, Olivia d’Abo. A string of guest stars includes a handful of notable names. Among them: Robert Picardo, Ben Stein, Juliette Lewis, David Schwimmer, Paula Marshall, Seth Green, Peter Billingsley, Soleil Moon Frye, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Carla Gugino, Alicia Silverstone.

Begin where is it now section

WHERE IS IT NOW? Top Up arrow

Netflix (U.S. only). Available online at watchseries.cr and other streaming sites. Also available on DVD, in individual seasons or in a boxed set containing the entire series.

Begin why is it binge worthy section

WHY IS IT BINGE WORTHY? Top Up arrow

The trials and tribulations of growing up are identifiable to everyone. And the ways in which they are dissected and explored in The Wonder Years make the series sparkle brilliantly. Although it was produced during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the show is set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a turbulent time within the social and political history of America. In fact, each season of the series is set exactly 20 years before that season aired.

The production casts a young Fred Savage (now the co-star of Fox’s The Grinder) in the role of Kevin Arnold, an average suburban kid who is surrounded by all the usual challenges that face anyone knocking at the door of puberty and adolescence. The story of young Kevin is relayed to viewers throughout the series via voiceover narration that features the adult Kevin reminiscing about his youth and the people who were part of it. Although Daniel Stern provided the voice of the adult Kevin for the bulk of the series, the pilot episode used the uncredited voice of Arye Gross.

On camera, meanwhile, Savage is surrounded by a first-rate cast, including Josh Saviano as Kevin’s nerdy best friend, Paul Pfeiffer, and Danica McKellar as Winnie Cooper, the girl who enters, exits and re-enters Kevin’s life at various times throughout the series. Also notable are Alley Mills as Kevin’s mother, Norma, and Dan Lauria as Kevin’s gruff and grumpy dad, Jack. Olivia d’Abo and Jason Hervey round out the Arnold clan as Kevin’s hippie sister, Karen, and his dimwit-bully brother, Wayne.

The Wonder Years was part of a new drama/comedy – or “dramedy” – programming trend that emerged on TV during the late 1980s. A midseason addition to ABC’s schedule, the series was also one of the first shows to benefit from premiering right after the Super Bowl. The series was created by Neal Marlens and Carol Black, the husband-and-wife writing/producing team that also later came up with Ellen DeGeneres’ 1990s TV sitcom, Ellen. Marlens and Black left the show after the second season, with Bob Brush taking over the primary duties of executive producer for the rest of the show’s run.

The number of episodes varies from season to season. Since the show was a midseason addition to ABC’s lineup, the first season of The Wonder Years only contained six episodes.

Music plays a HUGE part in the series, with outstanding classics from the 1960s filling many episodes. Leading the pack each week is the show’s theme song: With a Little Help From My Friends, belted out by Joe Cocker.

The Wonder Years won a slew of awards, particularly during its early seasons. Among the honors was a Television Critics Association Award in 1988 for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy and the 1988 Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series.

The character of Kevin is 12 years old when the series begins and 17 when the series ends. The transition of the show’s younger cast members is sometimes remarkable as they grow from young kids to young adults. Nostalgia plays a big thematic role in the series, with the memories conjured up running the full spectrum. Although Baby Boomers will identify with this show the most (due to the time in which it is set), the storylines and challenges explored through the show’s six season will strike a familiar chord with viewers of all ages.

Begin must sees section

MUST SEES … Top Up arrow

 Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): It’s amazing how the opening episode of The Wonder Years manages to capture and encapsulate the entire series. Set in 1968, it is poignant and touching tale that paves the way for a great ride throughout the rest of the episodes. Some have called this the best pilot episode of any series in all of television. They’re probably right.

Swingers (Season 1, Episode 2): Kevin (Fred Savage) and Paul (Josh Saviano) grapple with the intricate details of sex education being detailed by a gym teacher. Sound familiar?

My Father’s Office (Season 1, Episode 3): Dan Lauria does a great job in the role of Jack, Kevin’s perpetually grumpy father. This episode gives Kevin (Fred Savage) – and viewers – a lot of insight as to why his dad is the way he is.

Heart of Darkness (Season 2, Episode 1): Kevin (Fred Savage) and Paul (Josh Saviano) try to make themselves cool by hanging out with a troublemaking schoolmate named Gary (Breckin Meyer).

Just Between Me and You and Kirk and Paul and Carla and Becky (Season 2, Episode 5): Kevin (Fred Savage) encounters the wrath of his new girlfriend, Becky Slater (Crystal McKellar), after he confesses to her that he still likes Winnie (Danica McKellar). There are a lot of funny moments, including a goofy little Star Trek spoof.

Night Out (Season 3, Episode 17): The relationship between Kevin and Winnie endures lots of ups and downs over the course of the entire series. This episode brings a lot of elements together after they get invited to a make-out party.

The House That Jack Built (Season 4, Episode 21): A pre-Friends David Schwimmer puts in the first of four guest appearances that are stretched over the show’s remaining seasons. He plays the role of Michael, the new guy in the life of Karen (Olivia d’Abo). The episode’s theme of changing times and changing values strikes different chords with Kevin (Fred Savage), Norma (Alley Mills) and Jack (Dan Lauria).

Carnal Knowledge (Season 5, Episode 19): Kevin (Fred Savage) and his pals plan to sneak into a movie theater to see Carnal Knowledge. When Paul (Josh Saviano) decides to stay home instead in order to have dinner with family friends and their daughter, he ends up having an eye-opening experience of his own.

Broken Hearts and Burgers (Season 5, Episode 24): The fifth-season finale serves up another clash between Kevin (Fred Savage) and Winnie (Danica McKellar), which leads to a parade of highlights from the past as Kevin ponders the ups and downs of his relationship with Winnie. Unlike the retrospective at the end of the fourth season (see Don’t Waste Your Time On …).

Homecoming (Season 6, Episode 1): The first episode of the show’s final season is notable for some significant changes – especially some rather striking physical changes that have taken place among the cast’s young characters as they have matured. There are also some big emotional changes that are revealed in some other peripheral characters as the episode unfolds.

Summer (Season 6, Episode 21) and Independence Day (Season 6, Episode 22): They’ve come a long way, baby! The two-part series finale lays out the final building blocks of the series, as the 17-year-old Kevin (Fred Savage) and Winnie (Danica McKellar) struggle to carve out their paths for the future. The two-part finale also makes it onto our list of Most Shocking Episodes below.

DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME ON …

The Wonder Years (Season 4, Episode 23): Filled with an assortment of clips, this episode simply revisits highlights of the show’s first four seasons, reliving the junior-high-school years of Kevin (Fred Savage) and his friends. If you’ve been binge-watching all the episodes up to this point … well, you’ve really seen it all already, so you can just skip over this one if you want.

Begin shocking episodes section

MOST SHOCKING EPISODES Top Up arrow

There are a lot of moments throughout The Wonder Years that are more on the touching and poignant side rather that serving up bone-rattling shockers. And there are a couple of episodes that stand out in that regard …

Goodbye (Season 3, Episode 20): Math teacher Arthur Collins (Steven Gilborn) becomes somewhat of a mentor to Kevin (Fred Savage) in this episode. But a twist of fate that befalls the teacher ends up having a profound impact on Kevin.
Heartbreak (Season 4, Episode 11): The relationship between Kevin (Fred Savage) and Winnie (Danica McKellar) encounters a major snag during a school field trip.
The Accident (Season 4, Episode 20): Kevin (Fred Savage) worries about Winnie (Danica McKellar) and her attitudes toward him. But all of that changes after she gets injured in a car accident.

Grandpa’s Car (Season 5, Episode 12): Kevin’s grandfather, Albert (David Huddleston), has been having trouble driving, which leads Kevin (Fred Savage) to be the designated driver on his grandpa’s trip back home. But the road trip takes some unexpected turns.

Private Butthead (Season 5, Episode 14): It is 1972 and the Vietnam War is still raging on. So, when Wayne (Jason Hervey) decides that he wants to join the army, it throws the family into turmoil.

Summer (Season 6, Episode 21) and Independence Day (Season 6, Episode 22): The cast and crew of The Wonder Years got news of the show’s cancellation as they were working on the second-to-last episode of the sixth season. That prompted a total reworking of things in these two segments in order to bring the show to its conclusion. The resulting double episode has a couple of shockers thrown into the mix near the end. Some viewers were upset by the revelations in the final scenes. You decide.

Begin great lines section

THAT LINE WAS SO GREAT… Top Up arrow

Most – if not all – of the best lines in The Wonder Years come in the voiceovers delivered by the adult Kevin Arnold. Although uncredited, Arye Gross provided the voice in the show’s pilot episode. Daniel Stern handled the task for the rest of the series. Most of the voiceovers are comical, many are nostalgic and some are even inspirational. Here are just a few examples:

 

“There’s no pretty way to put this. I grew up in the suburbs. I guess most people think of the ‘suburb’ as a place with all the disadvantages of the city and none of the advantages of the country. And vice versa. But, in a way, those really were The Wonder Years for us there in the suburbs. It was kind of a golden age for kids.”

 

– From Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): With The Byrds singing Turn! Turn! Turn! in the background, the voiceover of the adult Kevin Arnold explains the roots of his childhood and sets the stage for the series and the beginning of the show’s storyline in 1968.

 

“A suburban junior-high-school cafeteria is like a microcosm of the world. The goal is to protect yourself – and safety comes in groups. You have your cool kids. You have your smart kids. You have your greasers. And in those days, of course, you had your hippies. In effect, in junior high school, who you are is defined less by who you are than by who’s the person sitting next to you. A sobering thought.”

 

– From Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): The adult Kevin Arnold recounts his first impressions of having lunch in his new school’s cafeteria.

 

“It was the first kiss for both of us. We never really talked about it afterward. But I think about the events of that day again and again and, somehow, I know that Winnie does, too – whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs, the mindlessness of the TV generation. Because we know that, inside each one of those identical boxes, with its Dodge parked out front and its white bread on the table and its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories. There were families bound together in the pain and struggle of love. There were moments that made us cry with laughter. And there were moments, like that one, of sorrow and wonder.”

 

– From Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1): With Percy Sledge’s When a Man Loves a Woman playing in the background, the voiceover of the adult Kevin Arnold wraps up the first episode of the series with a scene as the 12-year-old Kevin (Fred Savage) tries to comfort Winnie (Danica McKellar) after the neighborhood has been jolted by some unfortunate news.

“Like women all over America, my mother confronted tragedy and death with cold ham and Jell-O salad.”

 

– From Swingers (Season 1, Episode 2): The adult Kevin provides a comical explanation as his mother (Alley Mills) prepares to attend a funeral reception in the neighborhood.

 

“Among the many great historical milestones of 1968, perhaps the greatest was the advent of sex education in the schools.”

 

– From Swingers (Season 1, Episode 2): The adult Kevin sets the stage for a scene where the school’s physical-education teacher, Mr. Cutlip (Robert Picardo), begins to explain the female reproductive system to a class of boys.

 

“This … was Louis. He was a junior at the state university, an honors student in political philosophy, active in student government and various non-profit social causes. But I didn’t know that. All I knew was that he was on my sister like mold on cheese.”

 

– From Angel (Season 1, Episode 4): Adult Kevin explains his reaction the first time that he catches a glimpse of his sister’s boyfriend, Louis (John “Jack” Corbett).

 

“Teachers never die. They live in your memory forever. They were there when you arrived. They were there when you left. Like fixtures. Once in a while, they taught you something. But not that often. And you never really knew them, any more than they knew you. Still, for a while, you believed in them. And, if you were lucky, maybe there was one who believed in you.”

 

– From Goodbye (Season 3, Episode 20): The opening lines of this episode set the stage for a tribute to Mr. Collins (Steven Gilborn), a math teacher who helps Kevin (Fred Savage) prepare for a mid-term exam.

 

“Love is never simple. Not for fathers and sons. We spend our lives full of hope and expectations. And, most of the time, we’re bound to fail. But that afternoon, as I watched my father sheltering his son against a future that was so unsure, all I knew was … they didn’t want to let each other down anymore.”

 

– From Private Butthead (Season 5, Episode 14): It’s the voiceover as Kevin (Fred Savage) watches his father, Jack (Dan Lauria), hugging Wayne (Jason Hervey) outside the army-recruiting center.

 

“Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day, you’re in diapers; 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 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.”

 

– From Summer / Independence Day (Season 6, Episodes 21 / 22): They’re the final lines of the series, voiced by the adult Kevin (Daniel Stern). And they pretty well sum up the thematic thrust of the entire show.