Throwback Thursday: The Wonder Years (1988-1993)

What: The Wonder Years

When: 1988-1993 (six seasons)

Starring: Fred Savage, Dan Lauria, Daniel Stern, Danica McKellar, Jason Hervey, Josh Saviano

The Reason for the Throwback: No word of a lie, here’s how the thought process went on selecting The Wonder Years as this week’s throwback:

I haven’t done a television show yet. I should do one. I could do Boy Meets World and work a tie-in to the impending spin-off (spin-forward) Girl Meets World where Corey and Topanga are grown up and married and have a daughter.

Meh — it was a pretty solid show, but “Little Savage” (real name: Ben) wasn’t nearly as good as his brother.

Wait — that’s it — I’ll do The Wonder Years! That show kicked ass!

You’re damn right it did.

During its six-year run, The Wonder Years was easily one of the best shows on television, addressing very real and important issues in a way that broke from the traditional model for sitcoms at that time. This wasn’t a slapstick show with a laugh track and predictable jokes — there were comedic moments that presented themselves in real life and a genuine feel to the show from the very beginning.

And it all centered around Kevin Arnold.

Portrayed by Fred Savage, who became the youngest actor nominated for an Emmy (he was 13 at the time) as Outstanding Lead Actor for a Comedy Series, we accompanied Kevin on his journey through adolescence.

With his geeky best friend Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano) by his side and quintessential girl next door Gwendolyn “Winnie” Cooper (former Among Men High School Crush nominee Danica McKellar) never far from his heart, Kevin went through the same teenage issues every kid faces, but the resolutions and lessons learned never came off heavy-handed.

This wasn’t Saturday morning “tweens shows with a message” (read: Saved by the Bell), it was a Sunday night sitcom that often played more like a drama, as illustrated by the fact that the show won a Peabody Award in 1989. There was family strife, typical battles with siblings, friends and other kids at school, and the impact of world issues taking place in the 1960s where the show was set.

There were also two non-traditional elements that really made this show stick out, at least for me: the theme song and the use of a narrator.

While just about every show has a theme song or theme music, The Wonder Years opened with the scratchy warbling of Joe Cocker’s version of  “With a Little Help From My Friends” and it was perfect. It was a far more pained, deliberate version than the original and it fit the theme of the show to a tee.

The narration of the show was a different twist as well and Daniel Stern did a great job with it. He has the kind of distinct voice that isn’t too distinctive, if that makes sense. This wasn’t Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones dominated what you’re seeing with their commanding voices — it was Marv, one half of The Wet Bandits, guiding us through every episode without overshadowing it.

A show like The Wonder Years probably wouldn’t work in today’s landscape dominated by reality TV, cooking competitions of all flavours, and premium cable kicking network television in the tail every week — it was too wholesome.

Ironically, that’s part of what made me choose it for this week’s Throwback: I kind of miss the days of just watching a quality show about things that happen in real life to everyday people.

You know, instead of the Kardashians.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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