The sixth and final season of The Wonder Years brings to a close the story of Kevin Arnold and his family, friends and other assorted characters from his to this point. Those new to the series are best to start with the first season, as obviously a lot of the storylines here have played out to a certain degree in the five seasons prior. The twenty-two episodes that make up this series are spread across four DVDs and are presented unedited (not that there was all that much to censor but certain TV channels have shown these in syndication with the odd mild cuss bleeped).
When this last season starts, Kevin is starting eleventh grade. With Paul (Josh Saviano) now class president and things getting kind of hum-drum for Kevin, he starts hanging out with Jeff Billings (Giovanni Ribisi) more often. He and Winnie (Danica McKellar) are still an item but when Kevin takes a job delivering for Mr. Chong's and has to put the restaurant logo on his car, she gets embarrassed to be seen with him. Early on in this episode there are tensions between Kevin and Winnie, it's a recurring theme throughout the show but especially obvious in these later episodes.
Politics rear their ugly head when Wayne (Jason Hervey) meets up with his old friend David "Wart" Wirtshafter, recently back from a tour of duty in Vietnam. His adjustment period is tough. Kevin asserts his independence when he goes on a disastrous fishing trip with Wayne and Jack (Dan Lauria), and again, we start to see the kind of tensions arise that always arise when teenagers become adults and have to push back, warranted or not, with their parents and older siblings. From there, Kevin gets drunk at a wedding, he takes a job painting a house for his pretty teacher Miss Farmer (Rebecca Staab) only for it to go horribly wrong and Winnie gets some firsthand experiences with an election. When Kevin tries to get Winnie to sleep with him and fails, he misspeaks to the guys at school and rumor's start to spread, driving a further wedge between he and she while Wayne falls for an older single mom named Bonnie Douglas (Paula Marshall) who he meets at work and soon makes plans to move in with her and help raise her kid, much to the dismay of Norma (Alley Mills), who is understandably concerned about this.
School and work start causing Kevin some stress and Paul in particular is freaking out about SAT's. Jack leaves his old job to go into partnership with a friend and open a furniture business, family drama makes New Year's Ever a night to remember, Kevin and his friends do their damnedest to see The Rolling Stones play at a local dive bar, Coach Silva (James Tolkan) invite Kevin to try out for the school wrestling team, a trip to the planetarium takes some unexpected turns, Norma takes a job for the first time and then she and Jack attend her high school reunion.
When summer rolls around, Winnie takes a job at a resort out of town, working as a lifeguard. When Kevin's plans to drive cross-country are shut down by his dad, he takes a job as a waiter at the same resort so he can hang out with her for the summer, only to find out that they're too busy and that Winnie is interested in another guy working out there. From there, the series finale wraps up most of the show's loose ends and Kevin's adult narration puts a lot of things in perspective.
The Wonder Years was great right from the start and while this last two seasons don't quite match the quality of the first four, they're not so far off. The writing was strong throughout and while some fans did get their fur up a bit by the way that the series finished off, in hindsight the ending seems quite fitting. The narration seals the deal, viewing the past from an adult's point of view and clearly through rose tinted glasses, the way that many of us, as we age, tend to view large portions of our younger days that may have been, at the time, far less than ideal. It's rare that a series captures the power of nostalgia as well as this show did, but they pulled it off.
As always, the music used throughout the series plays a huge part in making it work as well as it does. This time around we get contributions from The Association, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, The Beach Boys, Canned Heat, The Champs, Eddie Cochran, Joe Cocker, Nat King Cole, The Everly Brothers, Marvin Gaye, Lesley Gore, Grateful Dead, Ben E. King, The Miracles, The O'Jays, Helen Reddy, Johnny Rivers, The Rolling Stones, Sam & Dave, Frank Sinatra, Stealers Wheel, Steely Dan, Hank Williams and Tammy Wynette amongst others. The music is always appropriate to the situation at hand and most of the time, of the era in which it is all set.
And again, the performances are great. Fred Savage brought Kevin to life and made it look easy and it's interesting to see how both the character and the actor change as the series evolves. Dan Lauria, Jason Hervey and Alley Mills are all really strong here too. Hervey's character matures a lot in this season and so again, we see the actor and the character change, growing into adulthood before our eyes. Josh Saviano has less to do this season than past seasons as Paul and Kevin are definitely growing apart by this point, something that most of us can relate to in some way, but he turns Paul into a more mature and intelligent character than he was in the early seasons. Danica McKellar is once again perfectly cast as Winnie, and if she took a back seat in season five, in this last season her relationship with Kevin once again becomes a big focus of the story arc.
Each and every episode of The Wonder Years: Season Six is presented in its original fullframe broadcast aspect ratio, which is as it should be. The video quality here isn't going to floor anyone but the material here looks decent enough. As a lot of fans are probably aware, the series was shot on 16mm to give it an authentic period feel, but then transferred to tape for editing purposes. Given that it is from those tapes that the DVD transfers would seem to have been sourced, you can't expect sterling picture quality here but the show is definitely watchable enough. Black levels can sometimes be closer to dark grey than true black but for the most part the colors are reproduced reasonably well. Some small white specks do pop up here and there and there are some minor compression artifacts throughout but odds are that if you're not specifically looking for them you won't notice them. Given the origins of the series, the good definitely outweighs the bad here. This is a perfectly decent presentation of some iffy source material.
An English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track is provided for each episode with optional closed captioning provided in English only. Quality here is fine, there are no issues with any hiss or distortion and the dialogue is clean, clear and easy to understand. There's some good channel separation when the music kicks in and a reasonable amount of depth here as well. No alternate language audio or subtitle options are provided.
Extras are made up primarily of a few featurettes, the first of which of is At Last: The Final Episode wherein most of the key cast and crew members look back on what went into finishing up the series and bringing it all to a conclusion in this final season. This piece runs sixteen minutes and it's mostly made up of brief interview clips, but it's interesting enough. Also on hand is an interview with Bob Brush, the Executive Producer of the series. He speaks for over fifty-minutes about working the show, how it got off the ground, casting the picture and what the various actors brought to the series, writing the show and loads more. He looks back on this with a lot of wit and insight, this is a great piece. Lastly, in the five minute From The Vault: Alley Mills And Bob Brush Letters piece Mills reads to the camera both a letter she wrote to Brush when the series ended as well as his response to her.
It's also worth noting that Time Life gives you the option of watching the season finale in its original hour long broadcast format or as the two part format that it was shown as when put into syndication. Menus and episode selection are included for each of the four discs in the set and tucked away inside the DVD case along with the discs is an insert booklet containing episode information for each of the twenty-two episodes that make up this season.
The Wonder Years: Season Six brings the series to a close with all the warmth and drama and humor you would want from the show. The writing and performances are uniformly excellent as is the series' production values, attention to period detail and use of music. Time Life's DVD release looks and sounds just fine and it also includes some decent supplements as well. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.