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 fifth series of the show, comprised of twenty-four episodes, ran from October 1991 through May 1992.
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 twenty-four episodes that make up season five, the show's penultimate run, are as follows:
The Lake / Day One / The Hardware Store / Frank And Denise / Full Moon Rising/ Triangle / Soccer / Dinner Out / Christmas Party / Pfeiffer's Fortune / Road Test / Grandpa's Car / Kodachrome / Private Butthead / Double Double Date / Hero / Lunch Stories / Carnal Knowledge / The Lost Weekend / Stormy Weather / The Wedding Back To The Lake / Broken Hearts And Burgers
The fifth season, as you'd guess, continues to elaborate on the growing pains of Kevin and his friends and family. In the first season the Arnolds head out for a summer vacation with the Pfeiffer's and it's here that Kevin falls for a girl who lives in the area named Cara (Lisa Gerber). They watch The Planet Of The Apes at the drive-in, but it's not to be, because soon enough Kevin has to attend his first day at McKinley High. He quickly realizes what a lot of people leaving junior high quickly realize: you're the new kids now, you're the smaller ones, the ones with no seniority, and this place is a lot bigger than where you came from. It takes some time for him to adjust. And while he's adjusting he decides to make a career change, in hopes that ditching his old gig for a new job at the local mall will allow him to meet more members of the fairer sex. As the series progresses, Kevin's pal Ricky Halsenbach turns sixteen and gets his driver's license. This opens up a whole new world for the guys, and Kevin winds up blowing off a date to go cruising with his pals.
Meanwhile, Kevin's brother Wayne finds a new girlfriend, Sandy (Carla Gugino), and in doing so, becomes a kinder, gentler Wayne than the obnoxious character we've known in the past. Things get complicated for Kevin when he starts to think that this girl might actually have a thing for him, and not Wayne. When Kevin can't make the football team he tries out for soccer but quickly realizes that it doesn't carry the cool factor that football does, while Norma tries to mend Jack's relationship with Karen, who has moved in with her boyfriend Michael (David Schwimmer) by this point, by setting up a dinner for the family on Jack's birthday. Christmas rolls around and the Arnold's host their annual festive gathering… which has some unpredictable results that nobody saw coming, least of all Jack and Norma, and then later a rift develops between Jack and Alvin Pfeiffer when Alvin makes some serious money in real estate. Kevin tries to get his driver's license, while his grandfather really doesn't want to give up his driver's license, and Wayne announces to the family that he plans on joining the military once he's done high school.
Kevin and new girlfriend Julie hit it off, but this causes trouble between Kevin and the guys, as he pushes them aside for her, and then later Kevin and Winnie wind up going on a double date with some new love interests. Meanwhile, Paul winds up losing his virginity to a friend of the family one fateful night. Summer rolls around and Karen makes her wedding plans, and while this is happening, things come full circle for Kevin. Plenty of period appropriate teenage angst ensues from the first episode to the last.
Those not familiar with the series by this point would do well to start from the beginning but if you're not willing to invest that much time and/or money into that, this season isn't a half bad spot at all for new viewers to jump in. We get enough out of the cleverly and realistically written characters early on that we're easily carried throughout the season and while there's an earnest complexity to much of what happens, it won't be tough for anyone who can recall their teenage years to relate to. The humor in the series always feels natural and that's once again the case in this run.
The performances are great, so strong are most of them that it's tough even now, a few decades since it aired, to separate some of the performers from the characters they played in the show. Kevin, as played by Savage in the role he remains best known for, is still a very likeable character and even when he makes mistakes, as he often does, we want things to work out for him. Savage comes into his own here, no longer just the goofy kid he was when The Wonder Years began but a young man finding himself in a whole new world as he enters high school. The ease with which Savage carries things here is actually startling, few actors his age would have been able to make this work as well as he does. The writers get a lot of credit for that, but definitely not all of it. Dan Lauria and Jason Hervey each manage to steal more than a few scenes while Josh Saviano's character becomes a fair bit more than the comic relief element that he started off as. Paul too has grown, and it's interesting to see how this growth affects his relationship with his best friend. Danica McKellar is once again as adorable and charming as would seem to be humanly possible. Though Winnie in many ways takes a back seat in this series, the episodes that do focus on her are standouts and she is perfect in the role. The rest of the cast also impress, there's not a weak performance here to complain about.
Of course, a big part of what makes The Wonder Years stand out is the series' use of music. Featured in this season are recognizable tracks from The Archies, Frankie Avalon, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Joan Baez, Bread, James Brown, The Byrds, Canned Heat, Patsy Cline, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Van Morrison, Sonny & Cher, Ringo Starr, The Turtles, Muddy Waters and quite a few more. All of this music is not only period appropriate but it always pretty much perfectly accentuates the drama, the humor, the romance, the warmth, the disappointment… everything that happens in the show. The songs were very clearly chosen with care and it's just another aspect of the series that made it then, and now, stand out from other teenage-angst based dramedies and coming of age stories. It's that same attention to detail that carries over into the scripts, the wardrobe, the set design and the location work to really put this show head and shoulders above similar fare. It's amazing how well this series holds up.The DVD:
Each and every episode of The Wonder Years: Season Five 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 are pretty solid here. That's A Wrap! Mark B. Perry's Farewell Set Tour, as it sounds, a set tour in which the writer/producer of the series gives us a quick, five minute tour of the set. This was his last season working on the show. It's interesting to see, but not as substantial as Will You Love Me Tomorrow: The Wonder Years' Love Stories that takes a look at the various romantic subplots that were such a big part of the show's success. This twenty-six minute piece does not focus on Kevin and Winnie as you might expect, but instead on the other girls that Kevin got involved with as well as the courtship and marriage between Karen and Michael that becomes very important in this season. It's marginally amusing and occasionally touching but it doesn't really do much to document the history of the show, rather, it simply recounts a lot of what fans already know by recapping the different storylines.
Additionally, the set includes some interviews, the first of which is with Olivia d'Abo, who as we all know played Karen Arnold in the series. This was the last season to feature her and here she speaks for thirty-five minutes about her experiences working on the series, her thoughts on the character and the different people she worked with on the show over the years and more. Complimenting this nicely is a forty-minute interview with David Schwimmer, who played Michael, Karen's fiancé then husband. He covers similar ground, talking about his experiences on set, some of the turmoil that his character went through and his thoughts on the show overall. Both are nicely done and quite interesting. It's nice to see some of the supporting characters covered as in-depth as they are in these two interviews.Final Thoughts:
The Wonder Years: Season Five is, once again, four discs of nearly flawless television. It'll make you laugh, it'll make you cry, it'll make you feel. It may sound corny to read that, but it's true. The DVD set looks and sounds about as good as it probably can and it's got a few decent extras too. Highly recommended.