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The Wonder Years aired from January 1988 until September 1993 on ABC.

Nineteen-sixty eight, I was twelve years old. A lot happened that
year. Dennis McLain won thirty-one games..."The Mod Squad" hit the
air...and I graduated from Hillcrest Elementary, and entered junior
high school. But we'll get to that. 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.
Adult Kevin (Pilot Episode)

A whimsical view of growing up in suburban America of the 1960's as
seen through the eyes of a 12 year-old. In 1968, Kevin (Fred Savage)
was just entering Robert F. Kennedy Junior High School. Vietnam
protests, Beatles music and America's space program were in the air,
but Kevin's concerns were closer to home. His teenage brother, Wayne
(Jason Hervey), existed only to torture and humiliate him, or so it
seemed; his older sister Karen (Olivia d'Abo) was in her own world of
love beads and social protest. Mom (Nora, played by Alley Mills) and
Dad (Jack played by Dan Lauria) were a little distant-especially Dad,
an intimidating presence who came home tired from work each day and
always seemed to get in an argument with someone. The family dog was
Buster. Fitting in at school was an awesome challenge, shared with
best friend Paul ( Josh Saviano) and hoped-for girlfriend Winnie
(Danica McKellar). But Kevin, a rambunctious kid with an angelic face,
would try.

A wide variety of teachers, dates, friends, and tormentors were seen
from time to time, as stories explored Kevin's relationships with
adults and peers-and especially with Paul and Winnie. Perhaps the most
memorable were fearsome Coach Cutlip (played to the hilt by Robert
Picardo, who was appearing simultaneously in a very different role on
ABC's China Beach) and "steady date" Becky ( Crystal McKellar), the
best alternative to beloved Winnie.

By the end of the series run the time had advanced to the early
1970's. Dad gave up his bureaucratic job at Norcom and started his
own furniture-making business; Wayne graduated from McKinley High and
got his first job-at the smae company his father had left. He lived
downstairs in the family rec room. At the end of the 1991-1992 season
Karen married Michael (David Schwimmer) in an outdoor "hippie"
celebration that upset her family and moved to Alaska.

The final episode in 1993 looked ahead nostalgically , as if skimming the remaining pages in the family album. Kevin finally broke with his domineering father but made up before Jack died , two years after the series ended. Wayne took over the family's businessupon his father's death. Karen had a son, and best friend Paul went to Harvard and became a lawyer. And winnie, the love of Kevin's life? She went to Paris to study art, leaving Kevin to marry another, with whom he had a son. But he would always remember...

The series was narrated by an unseen adult Kevin; news clips and music
from the period also contributed to the nostalgic flavor. One critic
called it "A Leave It To Beaver with Bite." A special preview of the
series was telecast on January 31, 1988, following the Super Bowl.

A Review from the LA Times

TV REVIEW : A Poignant Rehash of Life in the 'Wonder Years' Two Decades Ago
January 30, 1988|LYNNE HEFFLEY

An opening film-clip montage of civil rights marches and Chicago demonstrators being beaten by police tells you that ABC's new comedy series "The Wonder Years" isn't another "Ozzie and Harriet."

Making its premiere immediately after the Super Bowl on Sunday (expected to be about 7:30 p.m., Channels 7 and 3), the show is a bittersweet look at growing up in '60s suburbia, through the eyes of 12-year-old Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage).

In wry Woody Allen style, the adult Arnold narrates: The suburbs were "a kind of a golden age for kids," a place "where kids could go for a walk without fear of ending up on a milk carton."

It's also a place where Mom (Alley Mills) is a housewife and the family has dinner together every night at the table--although talking is risky until Dad (Dan Lauria) has his first vodka tonic. Older sister Karen (Olivia D'Abo) is a budding hippie, and the Vietnam War, dominating the evening news, claims a neighbor's son.

Like ABC's "The 'Slap' Maxwell Story" and "Frank's Place" on CBS, "The Wonder Years" is another in the growing ranks of "dramedies" that aim for as many serious moments as funny ones.

In the premiere, written by series creators Carol Black and Neal Marlens, Kevin's days of innocence are ending. No, he's not aware that his insular world is threatened by political and social upheaval--it's the first day of junior high school, and he's terrified.

With good reason.

The seventh-grader who has the locker next to him has a beard, wears a leather jacket and carries a knife. His gym teacher has "the biggest inferiority complex since Napoleon," big brother Wayne (Jason Hervey) picks on him and makes him look stupid in front of Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar)--transformed from childhood playmate to heartthrob by fishnet stockings and go-go boots.

The cast is fine and Steve Miner directs with sensitivity. There's real poignancy in the last scene between Savage and McKellar. It's a refreshingly gutsy half-hour, a look back at how things were--and weren't.

Billed as a mid-season series for ABC, "The Wonder Years" will join the network lineup as a weekly series later at a date yet to be set.

An Article from the Washington Post

By Cynthia Gorney April 5, 1988

BURBANK, CALIF. -- In a high school gymnasium, which is full of helium balloons and hazy purple light, some 12-year-olds are standing around waiting to dance. They are looking at their socks and at their punch cups, the way 12-year-olds do when they see that they will have to dance, and it is almost awful. It is supposed to be almost awful. Grown-ups are walking among them, making certain that it is almost awful; here is a dance consultation grown-up, explaining the Monkey as it would have been performed by flailing 12-year-olds, and a foot-positioning grown-up, moving boys around until they are fixed irretrievably in front of girls.

The boys try to smile. The girls try to smile back. Around them steps the accessories grown-up, examining necks and wrists. The bell-bottoms are good. The fringed leather jacket is good. The Jackie Onassis bouffant flips look positively enameled into place, which is very good. The transparent Swatch wristwatch, on the other hand, is out of the question.

"Here," the accessories grown-up says, and in his small plastic box, tucked in among the medallions and peace signs, he finds a proper watch, gold-toned and stodgy and fat as a hockey puck.

"Well," says a young man in blue jeans, watching from the sides. "Welcome to 1968."

In the gymnasium of John Burroughs High School it will be 1968 for approximately 10 more hours, until the block-long line of trailer trucks pulls away at midnight with the folded remains of the location set for this season's last episode of the exuberantly received new ABC series called "The Wonder Years." Into the retreating procession will go the Nehru jacket, the three-ring binder with "Flower Power" scrawled across the front, and the last of the 12-year-olds, each of whom has been accompanied by some larger person sighing deeply and remembering what it was like to be 12 years old, which is of course is what "The Wonder Years" is all about.

"We like to be careful not to overdo it, and not kind of drop in obtrusively prototypical archeological remnants of 1968," says Carol Black, one of the two former 12-year-olds who have gotten rather a lot of attention recently for coming up with "The Wonder Years," whose Tuesday night episodes (Channel 7 at 8:30) are done as the alternately comic and painful recollections of an adult offscreen narrator remembering his first kiss, his relationship with his father and other mysteries of being 12 years old in a generic American suburb. The narrator would be turning 32 this year, two years older than Black, but precisely the same age as her husband and coproducer, Neal Marlens.

" '68 seemed more interesting than '70, so his year won," Black says. "We just thought, let's do it in the time we were kids, because we've frequently talked about what an interesting time it was to be that age, when you're just trying to invent yourself in the world, and you're trying to decide how you're going to be."

She grew up in Silver Spring and he grew up on Long Island, in their own renditions of the flat and newly minted street from which the young Kevin Arnold, played by the almost-12-year-old actor Fred Savage, makes his weekly forays into the weirdness of being 12. The show is autobiographical only in the loosest sense, Black says; both she and her husband, as they wrote and oversaw the first six episodes of "The Wonder Years," shared similar memories of leaving childhood at the close of the famously disarranged 1960s.

"You look at your parents, and you look at the way your world is changing around you," Black says. "And you suddenly realize, no matter how you feel about your parents, it's just not an option to be like them, because the world has changed. And so you don't have them as role models. And you're just kind of casting about, trying to make all the decisions that any 12-year-old has to make, but in an even more sort of disorienting atmosphere. The period is just kind of tangential in a lot of ways in this show. It's really more about being 12. But we just thought it was an interesting backdrop."

Thus the sets for "The Wonder Years," like this gymnasium turned temporarily into the site of the mythical Robert F. Kennedy Junior High School's fall dance, are a charming and slightly disorienting spectacle of casually dressed baby boomers recreating their own adolescence. Crew members scramble to adjust overhead lights, position the smoke machine, arrange the cameras for the best close view of the bright red punch, and in the midst of the hubbub is Carol Black, gazing fondly at the 12-year-olds in their polyester miniskirts. Marlens is editing back at the production studios, and Black pads among the "Wonder Years" crew in black thongs and a loose long skirt, her shirt tied at the belly and her hair pulled back in a straight long ponytail that is, it must be noted, pure 1968.

She is four months pregnant and thickening at the middle, but she still looks young enough to get carded in bars. "All my junior high school teachers would probably recognize me in a second," Black says. "I was short." She is grinning broadly; she is still short. Very pretty, milky skin and deep green eyes, but short. "I just had the long straight hair hanging down the sides of my face -- and my mother always said, 'Get your hair out of your face, you have such a pretty face!' "

Black's voices climbs an octave, indicating aggravated Mom. "And she'd brush it straight back, and I would say, 'Oh, it looks so stupid.' And we had the horrible low-cut bell-bottoms, and wore a lot of purple."

Her own junior high school, which has since closed, was Silver Spring's Francis Scott Key. "The notable thing about our little area was that for a time we had the largest Sears in America," Black says, and breaks up. It was suburb pure and plain, she says, and it suited her just fine. "There at the intersection of New Hampshire and Colesville Road ... It was just little quarter-acre lots, completely bare of trees when it was first built. And gradually they grew up, as we did."

Her father was a Navy physicist and her mother was a homemaker, active in Democratic Party politics; Black was Springbrook High School Class of 1976, and then off to Swarthmore, where she majored in English and met Neal Marlens. Marlens was not, he says in a telephone interview, a maturing rendition of Kevin Arnold; he was Jewish, the son of a school psychologist and a prominent newspaperman (his father, Al Marlens, was managing editor at Newsday and editor of The New York Times' "Week in Review" section), and at 12 rather irritated that he was not in fact a college student at a time when that seemed the really interesting thing to be.

"I wanted to be 17, 18 or 19, so I could be independently involved in the American counterculture," Marlens says. "I went so far as to organize a busload of protesters to go from Long Island to the Moratorium in Washington."

When the couple left Swarthmore, Marlens himself took on a newspaper job with the paper in New Bedford, Mass. But a college friend lured them a few years later to Los Angeles, where the friend had been hired to write scripts for "Family Ties," and while Black worked as a temp-for-hire, her husband wrote up a "Barney Miller" script and sent it around to see what producers might think.

"And he got a lot of calls," Black says. "He got a 'Newhart' assignment, and a couple of 'Three's Company' assignments, and he got an agent, and he got a job in a series called 'Amanda's by the Sea,' all in about two weeks."

For a while Black would look at her husband's scripts. "And I'd go -- " she mugs, a look of horror flicking quickly across her face -- " 'That's good, honey!' And then we'd fight for three hours." Uproarious laughter. "Then finally I learned how to say, 'Okay, I like this, but I don't like this, and this is why I don't like this.' And we kind of learned to be a little bit more constructive in our discussion of things."

The product of which was the professional team of Marlens and Black, who together produced the television sitcom "Growing Pains" and the motion picture "Soul Man," neither of which was met with what might be called overwhelming critical approval. In fact, The Washington Post's review of "Growing Pains" was so bad that Black can still remember Tom Shales' language, which she repeats in some astonishment. "He said," Black says, pronouncing carefully, "it was the dregs of the nadir of television."

Actually Shales said it was "the nadir, the bottom, the subterranean depths that lie beneath the dregs," but Black seems to have the general idea. Both she and Marlens say they are a lot more cynical than they used to be about reviewers in general, even the ones now giving them such a joy ride. "It's not as bad as people who didn't see it think it probably is," Black says about 'Soul Man,' which concerns a white law student who decides to get a minority scholarship by taking pharmaceuticals to turn his skin black. "A lot of black people really liked it. Some didn't. A lot of white people really liked it. Some didn't. But it's not that horrible. It's certainly not that perfect. There are certainly things I don't like about it. But the reviewers were just -- just -- "

Black sighs, groping for words. "I don't know," she says. "Treating you as though you're committing crimes against humanity, instead of just being some poor slob who's trying to make an entertaining show and not succeeding all that well."

The genesis for "The Wonder Years," with which they appear to have succeeded very well, came largely from the all-consuming Los Angeles pastime known regionally as "pitching a pilot." "We were using the device of the narrator in a screenplay we were writing once," she says. "It was something that involved adults, and we just found the narration to be really fun, because you're building contrast between what people are saying and thinking -- what people feel at the time, and what they feel about something later. And you can kind of use that to comic effect, and other effects, so we started thinking, well, what can we do?"

Black is laughing now, palms spread, the hapless Hollywood penitent awash in dumb ideas. "We were kind of like, 'Okay, young couple buys a restaurant. Um, in-laws move in -- naaah -- um, let's see. Zany gang of characters hangs around -- naaah.' "

She makes an exasperated face. "Everything was starting to feel kind of tired," Black says. "We thought that maybe we could use this device of narration to do something different, and we just jumped from there to thinking, 'Well, let's do something about a kid, because that even increases the contrast between the narrator's perspective and your protagonist's perspective.' And from there we just jumped to setting it in 1968."

That immediately meant all kinds of fun, of course, like figuring out what color the suburban house walls ought to be; Marlens and Black went through three interior paint jobs before settling on blues and greens that seemed at once vigorous enough and evocative enough to suggest the colors of the 1960s. The effort, Marlens says, is to set people off without flinging them into period detail the way "Crime Story" does. "We want them to say, 'Wow, man, look at that, it's a lava lamp, remember that,' without seeing 10 other silly '60s things that are evocative of that period," he says.

Someone had to go out and find the lava lamp, of course. The prop masters, an enthusiastic pair named Robert Joffray and Richard Horn, have had a terrific time haunting swap meets and obscure psychedelic shops in search of Spiro Agnew buttons and cereal boxes that could properly stand on a 1968 breakfast table. It was a bit of an effort, Horn says, since much of this stuff has not exactly achieved collector status yet, but by now they are quite proud of their cache, which includes glass Dr Pepper bottles and big Jackie O. sunglasses and some TV Guides with cover photographs of the Mod Squad.

They found some nice old binders, too, the three-ring kind with the blue cloth covers, and on the set they handed them to some of the 12-year-olds and asked for cover graffiti that would serve as reminders of these ancient times. One young actor, having evidently consulted with his parents, did rather a good job on the front cover, writing "Grateful Dead" and "Moody Blues" and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," even filling in the proper capitals so the LSD stuck out.

"But this sort of gives it away," says Horn, and turns the binder over to the large drawing of a two-finger peace sign. The inscription, in energetic and misspelled ball-point letters, reads, "PEACE, DOOD."

An Article from the LA Times

Wonder Years' Pays Its Respects to '60s Suburbia
April 08, 1988|DIANE HAITHMAN | Times Staff Writer

Inside each one of those identical plastic boxes, with its Dodge parked out front and its white bread on the table, with its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle, there were moments that made us cry with laughter, and there were moments . . . of sorrow and wonder.

--From the pilot of "The Wonder Years"

As defined by the Wonder Bread commercials that aired in the 1960s, the Wonder Years were the crucial growth period between ages 1 and 12--during which eating plenty of that marshmallowy, eminently squish-able white bread in the polka-dot plastic wrapper "helps build strong bodies 12 ways."

Neal Marlens, 31, and Carol Black, 30, remember Wonder Bread well. And in "The Wonder Years," their new half-hour comedy on ABC, they re-create the experience of growing up in the 1960s through the eyes of Kevin Arnold, a 12-year-old boy entering junior high school in American suburbia, 1968.

"The Wonder Years" pilot episode first aired Jan. 31 following ABC's Superbowl telecast; the series of six episodes returned March 15, beginning with a repeat of the pilot. Since then, the series has aired at 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays behind ABC's hit "Who's the Boss?," where it has been drawing big ratings. It was the eighth most-watched program on TV last week--boosting its chances of being renewed for the fall.

In the show, the now 31-year-old Kevin Arnold is the off-screen narrator, reminiscing about growing up in a typical suburban household in the days "when a kid could still go for a long walk alone at dusk without ending up on a milk carton."

The young Kevin is portrayed by 11-year-old Fred Savage, whose credits include the feature films "The Princess Bride" and "Vice Versa."

The people in Kevin's little world include his bespectacled best friend Paul Pfieffer (Josh Saviano); Winnie Cooper, his first love (Danica McKellar); his uncommunicative father Jack (Dan Lauria); his bullying older brother Wayne (Jason Hervey); his older sister Karen (Olivia D'Abo), blossoming into adolescent hippie-hood, and his mother Norma (Alley Mills), stalwartly in control of maintaining status quo and making sure the Jell-O mold sets on time.

Although not the first writers to look back at the turbulent decade of the '60s, Marlens and Black are among the first to view the period from the perspective of those born at the tail end of the baby boom. In 1968, the youngest members of the TV generation were more concerned with the traumas of grade school or junior high than political upheaval or social reform, watching bemusedly while their older brothers and sisters went to Woodstock and got shipped off to Vietnam.

"By the time you were 12, the whole world had changed before you were exactly sure how to think about it," Black said during a recent conversation at the "Wonder Years" production office in Culver City.

Black and Marlens both grew up in East Coast suburbs and met while they were college students. After moving to Los Angeles, the pair, who are now married, pursued separate careers for a time. Although Black worked with Marlens on ABC's comedy "Growing Pains," which Marlens created, and they co-produced the feature film "Soul Man," "The Wonder Years" is the first project they have created together.

They remember their years in suburbia as a jumble of major world events and minor childhood concerns that somehow seemed equally important.

"I was in the kitchen making toast and the toaster caught on fire, and I heard on the radio that Martin Luther King (Jr.) had died," Black reminisced. "I went in to my mom and dad's bedroom and I said, 'Mom, Dad, the toaster caught on fire!' And then once that crisis was over, I said, 'And Martin Luther King was shot.' People getting shot was just something that happened every once in a while."

Added Marlens: "I was 8 years old when John Kennedy got shot. That sort of sets the tone, when you're 8 years old and the President gets shot. At that point, what else could have been surprising? That notion of instant crisis was something that became everyday."

Marlens noted that not only have recent TV shows and movies concentrated more on older baby boomers in their late 30s and early 40s--include on that list ABC's "thirtysomething" and the feature film "The Big Chill"--but they have also focused on the current disillusionment of that group, rather than looking back at its past.

Even though some in the TV industry have jokingly called "The Wonder Years" "twelvesomething" or "The Little Chill," Marlens said the show views the world with 12-year-old wonder rather than the disillusionment of radicals who have reluctantly entered the Establishment.

"We saw that a lot of the shows that seemed to be made by yuppies, baby boomers, people in their mid-30s to mid-40s, seemed to be so directly and literally about contemporary life," Marlens said. "I think there's some value in that, but it's also real dangerous. It's like looking in a mirror, which is not necessarily the best way to get a perspective on yourself."

"The Wonder Years" does borrow one element from "The Big Chill": the use of plenty of pop music of the era as a backdrop for the story. The producers said, however, that they don't plan to limit the selections to the classic pop hits that still turn up on the radio, but want to revive some of the unmemorable tunes and bubble-gum music popular with the teeny-boppers of the era.

"In some ways, that music brings back the period even more, because you really haven't heard those songs in 20 years," Black said.

But Marlens and Black both add that they want "The Wonder Years" to address the universal experiences of childhood, rather than be a statement about an era. "When the show becomes more about a period than about people growing up, then there's a problem with the way we're writing the show," Marlens said.

Through "The Wonder Years," Marlens and Black also hope once and for all to debunk the notion that everyone who grows up in the middle-class American suburbs, as they did, somehow ends up as pasteurized, processed and homogenized as a block of Velveeta cheese.

"It is, in a sense, an apology for being suburban and middle class," Marlens said.

Black added that the problems of the people in "The Wonder Years" are no less compelling because of the suburban setting.

"We just basically like doing small stories about ordinary people," she said. "You see those kinds of stories being done set in Texas during the rural Depression, or in the French countryside during the Occupation, and they seem very pithy and meaningful. But we didn't live in rural Texas during the Depression; we lived in the suburbs in the '60s."

Marlens acknowledged wryly that middle-class suburban Americans are not "a particularly victimized group," but added that they still have a valuable statement to make about the universality of human nature through the gentle humor of "The Wonder Years."

"We both went to small Eastern colleges, with a significant number of students from urban private schools," Marlens said. "They had a sort of attitude of superiority, that anything that happened in the suburban middle-class culture was significantly less important than anything that happened in the urban culture.

"At a certain point, you begin to question whether that is inherently the case. If middle-class suburban life is essentially dulling and uninVolving, then we're all in a lot of trouble, because a vast proportion of Americans come from that background."

An Article from the New York Times


June 11, 1989

ABC's ''Wonder Years'' is the kind of small, beautifully crafted weekly series that is so good it prompts immediate speculation on how long it can be held together.

Created by Neal Marlens and Carol Black, the show made its debut on Jan. 31, 1988, immediately following a Rose Bowl game that guaranteed an enormous sampling audience. The reviews were generally enthusiastic. After only six episodes, ''The Wonder Years'' snared last year's Emmy Award for best comedy series. Along with the considerable prestige, which ABC badly needed after notorious clinkers like ''Amerika,'' the ratings have been fairly solid, improving during the season just ended when the show was given an earlier slot, 8:30 on Tuesdays, following ''Who's the Boss?'' and before ''Roseanne.'' Things could hardly look better for a deserving series.

But this being television, nothing is ever quite that simple. This past March, in the middle of production, the husband-and-wife team of Mr. Marlens and Ms. Black - they previously developed ''Growing Pains'' - suddenly departed ''to pursue other projects,'' leaving Bob Brush (''The 'Slap' Maxwell Story'') as the executive producer. In a brief statement, ABC expressed its ''fullest confidence'' in Mr. Brush.

Yet, the network can justifiably feel nervous about dealing with the creators of top series. Matt Williams left ''Roseanne,'' though with no discernible effect thus far, but Glenn Gordon Caron dropped out of ''Moonlighting,'' which was one of the final nails in that show's coffin.

Further, ''The Wonder Years'' has some built-in pitfalls. The period is the late 1960's. There's the Vietnam War, protesting students, hippies, psychedelic music, drugs. So far, Kevin Arnold, who started out as a 12-year-old and is already 13, has been able to stay on the sidelines, preoccupied with the standard problems of adolescence - going on dates, kissing, discovering that his parents are real people with problems of their own.

But what happens when he's 14 or 15? Does he remain the ingratiating good kid, or does he start rebelling and possibly experimenting with drugs? For the moment, a bit edgy about the obvious dangers, the producers are proceeding one week at a time.

To date, as the series goes into summer reruns, ''The Wonder Years'' has painstakingly tread a paper-thin line between unpretentious emotion and sentimentality. The show's structure is ingenious. Young Kevin, played with remarkable charm by Fred Savage, is seen growing up in suburbia as filtered though the tart, bemused, fond comments of today's Kevin, now in his mid-30's. Never seen, the older Kevin is ''played'' vocally by Daniel Stern (''Diner,'' ''Breaking Away''), who has also directed some episodes. Each Kevin cleverly works off the other. Occasionally, the gimmick is stretched too far, as when the young one reacts to something the older one is saying but which he couldn't possibly have known or felt at the time. But the back-and-forth routine works well as a tool to undercut excessive soppiness. With the deft additions of period music, ranging from the Beatles to Nat King Cole, the tone of the show is calibrated with uncommon precision.

This is not your standard sitcom, taped before a studio audience and cluttered with entrance and exit wisecracks. ''The Wonder Years'' is filmed and clearly not interested in tired contrivances. Simplicity and economy are at the heart of the very best episodes. Small but illuminating perceptions are allowed to creep up on both the characters and the viewers.

Mr. Savage is only slightly more equal than the others in what amounts to still another one of those fine ensemble companies in which television specializes: Dan Lauria as Jack Arnold, the father; Alley Mills as Norma, the mother; Jason Hervey as older brother Wayne, the bully; Olivia d'Abo as older sister Karen, budding flower-child; Danica McKellar as Winnie Cooper, object of young Kevin's ardent love, and Josh Saviano as Paul Pfeiffer, nerd extraordinaire and Kevin's best friend.

Perhaps not surprisingly, ''The Wonder Years'' is most affecting when least cute. One episode, for instance, began with Mom enrolling in a pottery class and bringing home the most grotesque ashtrays and pitchers imaginable. Amusing enough. But it seemed that Dad did not like the idea of his wife spending even a small portion of her life outside the family precincts. Before Kevin knew what was happening, his mother and father, once taken for granted as an eternal unit, were having a battle that could easily prove traumatic for all concerned.

More recently, in the season's final episode, Kevin became so obsessed with Winnie's attentions, or the lack of them, that he failed to notice that she was profoundly unhappy because her parents were separating. ''Suddenly, I began to understand,'' he said. ''I wanted to say something that would give her comfort, something incredibly wise.'' Turning to Winnie, he muttered, ''Sorry.'' These are the passing moments that ''The Wonder Years'' handles with insight and seductive humor. There is Kevin visiting his father's office and finding out why he tends to come up from work grumpy and unapproachable. Or there is Kevin discovering that he will never be as good a pianist as the obnoxious Ronald Hershheimer. For the time being, these are moments enough for any television series.

Mr. Marlens has said the series would probably end when the required period music reached disco. That still leaves a hefty slice of time for a lot more special moments.
Correction: June 18, 1989

Sunday, Late Edition - Final An article about ABC's ''Wonder Years'' in some copies of the Arts and Leisure section last Sunday incorrectly characterized the date on which the series had its premiere. The premiere followed the Super Bowl, not the Rose Bowl.

An Article from Entertainment Weekly

Ben Stein on ''The Wonder Years''

Ben Stein
May 24, 1991 at 04:00 AM EDT

I hated junior high school. Not disliked, hated. It was a prisonlike brick pile, but the building was not the problem. The problem was that junior high is always horrible: It catches you at that vulnerable stage between child and adolescent. For me, it was a three-year period of being ignored by the cheerleader types I had crushes on, being threatened by various ”tough kids,” and walking home feeling like the lowest creature on earth.

This all comes to mind because on the set of The Wonder Years, Christine Kirby, who spends all day cooking goodies for the cast and crew, has put up a sign that reads, ”It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” I used to make fun of slogans like that, but thanks to The Wonder Years, this one’s proven true.

I got called, at the age of 43, to return to junior high —in this case, Robert F. Kennedy Junior High, the daytime home of Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano), Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar), and the other kids who people The Wonder Years.

I am not an actor. I got called by ABC to play the same kind of person I have always been — a big, monotoned nerd, exactly what I was in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and what I am in real life when I teach at Pepperdine or UCLA or give expert testimony in securities law cases. I was drafted to play the kids’ slightly scary, extremely pessimistic science teacher, Mr. Cantwell, whose slide shows and lectures have often paralleled what was going on in Kevin’s life. I showed slides of earthquake devastation, and Kevin’s mother (Alley Mills) had a fight with Kevin’s father (Dan Lauria). I showed movies of praying mantises eating butterflies, and Kevin prepared to take Winnie to a ”make-out” party. Once I even blew up my lab when Kevin was having a blowup with Paul over school.

And from the first day I showed up at John Muir Junior High in Burbank to do location work almost three years ago, the whole experience has been a way to reprise-and repair — Junior High Hell. Instead of scary, pimply thugs pushing me into the lockers, there were assistant directors to show me reverentially to my dressing room as if I were the Dalai Lama. Instead of fierce opponents pinning me in wrestling class, there were tough gaffers and electricians to laugh with me and say how much they loved my ”work.” Instead of teachers who droned on when I yearned to be outside, I got to be the teacher droning on — with a camera on me, which is like basking in a beam of heaven’s grace.

However, sic transit gloria, and there’s a little bit of real life intruding even into Hollywood and the chance for second chances. On the episode that aired May 8, Kevin and Paul and the others graduated from RFK. It was a particularly moving show, with old friends facing separation, and loss and gain hanging in the gray clouds of the future. I even got to participate in a scary stunt involving something called an ”air mortar” that blows doors off classroom sets.

The sad part for me is that Kevin is going on to high school, and I’m not sure I’ll get to go along with him (though I do pray about it a lot). I got bandaged up in the final shot, and that make-believe wound measured how I felt about leaving the best school I ever attended. For me, real junior high has become RFK Junior High, in the town of Arnoldville, state of Arnoldland, circa 1972. Christine had it right. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood, especially out here at the end of the Yellow Brick Road.

To watch clips of The Wonder Years go to

For more on The Wonder Years go to

For a Website dedicated to The Wonder Years go to

For Peter's Wonder Years Guide go to

For a Website dedicated to the Wonder Years go to

For Tim's TV Showcase go to

For more on The Wonder Years go to

For The Wonder Years: An American Narrative go to

To look back in Wonder go to

For an article on The Wonder Years go to

To find out why The Wonder Years was really cancelled go to

For some Wonder Years-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to

For a Review of the Wonder Years go to

To watch the opening credits go to
Date: Fri April 22, 2016 � Filesize: 60.2kb, 121.8kbDimensions: 850 x 567 �
Keywords: The Wonder Years Cast (Links Updated 8/4/18)


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