In 1988, a television show debuted that quickly won the heart of every baby boomer out there. The Wonder Years followed the daily life of a young boy named Kevin Arnold, who was coming of age during the turbulence of the late 60s. While Kevin struggled with his own adolescence, the nation had it’s own challenges – the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and the liberation of women – and millions tuned in each week to follow the trials and tribulations of this all-American suburban family.
In the first episode, we met Kevin and his two friends, Paul and Winnie. Paul was a geeky nerd, relying on Kevin’s advice to achieve any sort of coolness, though Kevin wasn’t such an expert himself. Winnie, formerly an ugly duckling, had recently transformed into a beautiful girl who dazzled Kevin. All three were poised to enter junior high where–as everyone knows–childhood friendships often come to an end when one (Winnie) is more socially acceptable than the other two.
Kevin nursed a crush on Winnie during the whole series. It seemed that his love was requited, though both teenagers dated other people and ended up mad at each other for one reason or another. Their first kiss happened on the day Winnie’s family found out that her older brother had died in Vietnam. It was a bittersweet moment for both of them and Kevin was wracked with guilt (although he still planted a good one on Winnie). The show was full of moments like that: earth-shattering for young Kevin, but tempered with wisdom for the older narrator.
Kevin’s family consisted of dad Jack, mom Norma, older sister Karen and older brother Wayne. Jack was a dour man, extremely reserved and sullen, who eventually left his soul-crushing, middle-management job to start his own business. Norma was blond, bubbly and always placating but she also felt the first stirrings of feminism contradicting her conservative husband. Karen was a hippie, free-thinking and liberal, and if she and Jack were in a room together, an argument was almost assured. Wayne was a bully and rather dim, the bane of Kevin’s existence.
Through junior high, high school and summer vacations, Kevin, Winnie and Paul experienced all the hallmarks of adolescence with all the requisite heartache and lessons learned. The last episode had all the characters watching a Fourth of July parade, while the older Kevin explained what happened to each of them in the future.
The show bowled over both audiences and critics, earning an Emmy after only six episodes were aired. Furthermore, Fred Savage (Arnold) became the youngest actor ever to be nominated for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. The voiceover narration provided by Daniel Stern (as an adult Kevin) became a trademark that has been since oft-imitated in film and television. The Wonder Years ran for six seasons, winning a total of 22 Awards for their efforts. It has also aired for many years since in syndication.
If watching The Wonder Years was like stepping into a time machine each week, or if you just liked rooting for Kevin in the hopes that he and Winnie might one day walk off into the sunset together, we welcome your memories of this beloved show in our comments section.