Time Life released the four-disc set of Season Four of The Wonder Years on January 16th. During this season, we not only watch Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) finish Junior High school, but also begin to transition from a little boy into a young man.
Savage continues to give excellent performances, but it is clear that he, his character, and the rest of the cast are growing up. It’s most noticeable in Kevin’s best friend Paul (Josh Saviano) whose character begins to step out of Kevin’s shadow and the actor clearly becomes the first to sprout.
As the characters struggle with the transitions that life is putting them through, the writers struggle as well in Season Four. Filled with both good and bad episodes, the writers seem to be embracing the transitions of the characters with the coming-of-age storylines in episode three “The Journey” and episode four “The Cost of Living.” Sadly, the growth we see in our characters leaves episode ten “The Candidate” and episode fifteen “Buster” standing out as steps in the wrong direction as the stories seem too childish at this juncture.
Luckily, the writers finish strong with two of the best episodes of the season. “The Accident” shows Winnie (Danica McKellar) struggling with changes in her life and the episode ends with arguably one of the best moments in the show thus far. “Graduation” manages to include an amazing amount of quality storytelling in just 22 minutes. Sadly, these two episodes sandwich “The House That Jack Built” in which Karen (Olivia d’Abo) begins cohabitating with Michael (pre-Friends David Schwimmer). This is the only episode of the season where the story focuses on Karen, and the writers portray the character poorly and create a frustrating scenario to watch.
The final episode of the season “The Wonder Years: Looking Back," is a pleasant retrospective, but when combined with the bonus material which includes the featurette: "ABC: Teachers That Made a Difference," and interviews with Fred Savage and three of the teachers highlighted in the featurette, it all gets a bit redundant.
The visual quality on this release is excellent, and though the sound required an increase in the volume on two different players, the music adds so much to the experience that it makes the acquisition of the rights, and the subsequent delay in getting The Wonder Years out on DVD, well worth waiting for.
Recommendation: It’s hard to say anything negative about such an iconic series that consistently displays quality in all aspects of the production. Yes, out of the 22 episodes (not counting the retrospective) in Season Four, there are some that don’t quite hold up as well as others, but, even a weak episode of The Wonder Years still brings back enough pleasant memories to make it worth watching, and since it is on DVD, all you have to do is invest another 20 minutes or so to find one of your favorites.
The Wonder Years is pretty much a must-own series and one of the best TV series to introduce to those who never saw it. They’ll thank you and not only like you, they will like you like you.