Appearing on both The Hollywood Reporter's and Rolling Stone's Best TV Shows of All Time lists, The Wonder Years is certainly one of the most memorable shows of the late '80s. Premiering after the Super Bowl on January 31st 1988, it was an immediate hit as baby boomers could not get enough of the blossoming 1960s junior high school relationship between Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) and Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar).
There were certainly many other relationships explored on The Wonder Years featuring an amazing array of talented performers, but ultimately the show always came back to Kevin and Winnie. As mentioned in the bonus material found on the DVD release of Season Six from Time Life, which hit shelves on September 27th, “You rarely marry your childhood sweetheart.” This was a factor in making Season Six the last of the series as the characters we had come to know and love were growing up, getting ready to graduate high school, and ultimately moving on. Yes, there could have been more seasons of The Wonder Years, but not without a new direction and ultimately a change to the innocence of the show. After all, this was now the seventies.
Sadly, Season Six contains some of the weakest episodes of the series. Knowing that the end was near and no significant changes were to be made, the writers seem to be biding their time so as to pour everything into the ending. They were successful as the final episode is one of the most poignant and emotional of the series. Before we got to the finale, we do have to travel down some roads that don’t seem to go anywhere as well as some that seem very familiar.
Season Six opened on September 23rd, 1992 with “Homecoming” featuring a potentially powerful tale of Wayne’s (Jason Hervey) best friend Wart (Scott Menville) returning from Vietnam. This is the first sign that Season Six would be one filled with dancing around the proverbial line. Though there are a few powerful scenes, too much time is spent at the start of the episode catching us up on where we left off, and a side story about Kevin stealing the mascot of a rival team. Like most of the season, we don’t get enough of what we want.
Episode Two features Jack (Dan Lauria) taking the boys on a fishing trip. The episode tries too hard to make a point and leaves us wanting a subplot. “Sex and Economics” is reminiscent of a Happy Days episode though it does feature a guest appearance by Seth Green. “Hulk Arnold” is a little too similar to Kevin going out for baseball in season three, while “Poker” and “Kevin Delivers” seem like filler as neither episode…well, delivers.
There are many episodes where we see elements of the relationship between Kevin and Winnie, but it’s not until the end that we see real growth. In the case of the rest of the characters, watching Jack leave Norcom and purchase his own furniture business, Wayne start dating a woman with a child, Paul (Josh Saviano) exert his independence from Kevin, and the addition of Giovanni Ribisi to the cast as one who brings a nice balance to Kevin’s circle of friends, are truly the best parts of the season. Still, we are left with some questions, such as why was Wayne absent throughout the storyline of Jack leaving Norcom? Wayne was working there at the time so the decision would seem to have impacted him.
As always, the music is great and this release has some of the best bonus material of the series including an enlightening interview with executive producer Bob Brush.
Recommendation: Ultimately season six is all about the finale, and the cast and crew deliver wonderfully. It’s worth buying the season just to see how the story of these Wonder Years comes to a close. Have a box of Kleenex at the ready.