Co-created by Carol Black and Neal Marlens, The Wonder Years debuted on NBC on January 31, 1988 and the first season lasted only six episodes. The show was, however, a commercial and critical success and it was soon renewed for a full second season that ran seventeen episodes. Following their massive ‘complete series' release from last year, Star Vista is now making individual seasons available on DVD. The complete second series of the show ran from November 30th, 1988 through May 16th, 1989.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it revolved around the exploits of Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), a kid growing up in the late sixties. Kevin lived at home with his kindly mother Norma (Alley Mills), his surly father Jack (Dan Lauria), his hippie sister Karen (Olivia D'Abo) and his obnoxious older brother Wayne (Jason Hervey). Together they lived in a perfectly normal suburb where Kevin went to school with his best friends Paul Pfieffer (Josh Saviano) and Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar), the latter of whom would be Kevin's on again/off again girlfriend throughout much of the series. The series is presented with narration from Kevin's adult self (voiced by Daniel Stern) which in turn provides some reflection on the events we see unfold from an adult perspective.
The episodes that make up season two are presented across the four DVDs in this set as follows:
Heart Of Darkness: Kevin has a recurring nightmare about arriving at school in his pajamas and he winds up befriending a troublemaker who, not surprisingly, gets him into trouble.
Our Miss White: Kevin starts to crush hard on his teacher, Miss White, which convinces him to join a play she's producing about the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr..
Christmas: All that Kevin and Wayne want for Christmas is a new color TV, but Jack is reluctant to spend the money. Meanwhile Kevin has to figure out the perfect gift for Winnie.
Steady As She Goes: As Paul gets more and more into his new girlfriend, Kevin starts to miss Winnie to the point where he feels the need to do something about it.
Just Between Me And You And Kirk And Paul And Carla And Becky: Everyone at Kennedy Junior High tries to sort out who is dating who as the tumultuous world of pre-teen romance proves increasingly complicated.
Pottery Will Get You Nowhere: Norma is extremely excited about having enrolled in a new pottery class and she's thrilled with the support she's getting from everyone in the family except for Jack.
Coda: As Kevin improves at his piano playing thanks to his lessons, he finds himself having to compete against the dreaded Ronald Hirschmuller.
Hiroshima, Mon Frere: Wayne has always been a bully but he goes too far when he messed with a science project Kevin and Paul have worked very hard on.
Loosiers: Kevin complains to the coach when he gets tired of seeing Paul picked on at basketball, which winds up getting Kevin finding himself in a new position: team captain.
Walk Out: Kevin winds up on student council and accompanies the other members in organizing a walk-out as a protest against American's involvement in Vietnam.
Nemesis: Kevin gets a little gossipy about a certain someone but soon learns the hard way to watch what he says and who he says it to.
Fate: Kevin, now in touch with his love for Winnie, finds himself having to stand up to a much tougher, stronger boy at school.
Birthday Boy: Drama and competition ensues when Paul's bar mitzvah lands on the same calendar date as Kevin's birthday party.
Brightwing: Kevin finds himself in a tough spot when he learns that his older sister is planning to leave home and move to San Francisco.
Square Dance: Kevin is partnered with a strange girl named Margaret Farquhar when it comes time for square dancing at school and is unsure what to do when she tries to befriend him.
Whose Woods Are These?: Kevin, Winnie and Paul decide to work together to stop a developer from destroying the woods near their homes where they played as kids.
How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation: As the school year ends tough times are ahead as Winnie's parents get a divorce and Miss White gets married.
You don't have to have been around in the sixties to appreciate this show. The way in which the story of Kevin and his family and friends unfolds is plenty easy to relate to as it is very much grounded in reality. The series does intertwine newsworthy events and topics of the era into the series as it deals with everything from military conflicts to free love to drug use to civil rights, but we see this through Kevin's eyes and experience it with him rather than watch him go it alone. The narration also does a great job of providing a more modern, adult context to what we see Kevin going through in his younger days. Stern does a fantastic job here and anyone who has personally looked back on something they did as a kid and wondered why they did what they did should appreciate his take on the material.
The show is anchored through not only good writing but good acting as well. As Kevin Arnold, a wide-eyed Fred Savage creates a likeable and believable kid. Kevin isn't the coolest kid around, nor is he at the bottom of the pecking order: he's decidedly average. His parents aren't rich, but they aren't poor and in a lot of ways to some of the other kids he's just sort of there. This becomes interesting as Winnie develops and becomes a bit higher up on the cool factor than he and a lot of this second season deals with how they both handle that side of things. We see Kevin rebel here, and so too do we see the consequences of his not really thinking things through. Savage handles all of this well and the onscreen relationship that he shares with Danica McKellar, who is every bit as good as he, is not only sweet but realistic as well. Josh Saviano as Kevin's right hand man Paul is also great and some conflict that occurs between these two best friends also creates some interesting plot lines that run throughout the show.
As great as the leads are, the supporting players are every bit as good. Jason Hervey is insanely good at being Kevin's bratty bigger brother while Dan Lauria frequently steals every scene he's in. Alley Mills is wonderful as Mrs. Arnold, you really believe she cares about her family and that she has their best intentions in mind while Olivia D'Abo is good as the hippie sister (and possibly the inspiration for Haley on American Dad?).
The show also features impressive attention to period detail. The dress and wardrobe work all looks spot on as does the set decorating, the way in which certain characters speak, and the way in which current events are worked into the show. The series also does a great job of working plenty of music from the era in to the show at wholly appropriate times. Speaking of which, it's worth noting that the episodes as they are presented in this set are offered up in their original broadcast versions, so all of the original music (tracks from Bob Dylan, Carol King, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Cream, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, The Troggs, Simon And Garfunkel, Traffic, Diana Ross, James Taylor, Donovan and quite a few more) is included here with the exception of the Heart Of Darkness episode. Here Riders On The Storm, by The Doors, has been replaced with a song called Children Of The Night (which sounds intentionally similar) during the sequence in which Kevin dreams he appears in front of his class in his pajamas.The DVD:
Each and every episode of The Wonder Years: Season Two 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.Sound:
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:
Extras, all of which are on disc four, start off with School Days which is a roundtable discussion of the series with Danica McKellar, Fred Savage and Josh Saviano. They talk here about the roles they played in the series and share some amusing anecdotes about the T-shaped school set (which had no locks on the lockers) compared to shooting on location in real schools, and what their own real high school experiences were like. Saviano notes that he stayed in his actual high school and refused to transfer and would attend there when the show wasn't being made, Savage transferred from Chicago to L.A. in ninth grade, McKellar was in and out of school all the time as she only worked 2-3 days a week. They then go on to share a mix of stories of their own high school years and stories from the set of the series while it was in production. It's a nice piece that runs just under eight minutes in length.
Also included here is a featurettes called The Times They Are A-Changin': The Era that mixes up clips from the show with interview clips with co-creators Carol Black and Neal Marlens, key grip Skip Cook, producer Bruce Nachbar, executive producer Robert Brush, cast members Josh Saviano, Jason Hervey, Robert Picardo, Dan Lauria, Alley Mills, Olivia D'Abo, Danica McKellar, Wendel Meldrum and Fred Savage. This piece runs just under half an hour in length and the emphasis here is how what would have been current events in the era in which the series was set work their way into the storylines. Some insight from those old enough, when this show was being made, to remember the sixties explains how and why this was done while insight from the younger cast members gives us a look at how the show still balanced all of this with the day to day drama that occurs when characters are ‘coming of age.' This is well put together and quite good.
Separate interviews are also included here with Daniel Stern (who talks for over half an hour about taking the role and how he felt about the series, relating to the character of Kevin Arnold and more), Dan Lauria (who talks for twenty-minutes about how Joanna Kerns from Growing Pains inadvertently got him the role, his thoughts on his own high school experience, what it was like playing Kevin's dad in the series and quite a bit more) and Alley Mills (she spends thirty-four minutes discussing her thoughts on reading the pilot, getting the role, her character and what made her really enjoy working on the series). Each disc includes menus and episode selection and inside the keepcase alongside the four discs is a full color booklet including episodes synopsis' and some information on the series and the DVD release.Final Thoughts:
The Wonder Years: Season Two presents a solid run of the series in pretty good condition with a few nice supplements as well. The series holds up remarkably well, it's as timeless as a sitcom can get, thanks to clever writing and very strong performances from all involved. Highly recommended, this was and still is GREAT television.