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Wonder Years: Season 3
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 third series of the show ran from October 3rd, 1989 through May 16th, 1990.
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 three are presented across the four DVDs in this set as follows:
Summer Song / Math Class / Wayne On Wheels / Mom Wars / On The Spot / Odd Man Out / The Family Car
The Pimple / Math Class Squared / Rock ‘n Roll / Don't You Know Anything About Women? / The Powers That Be / She, My Friend And I / St. Valentine's Day Massacre
The Tree House / Glee Club / Night Out / Faith / The Unnatural / Good-Bye / Cocoa And Sympathy
Daddy's Little Girl / Moving
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. This was always part of the show's charm and it's as evident in this run as it is anywhere in the history of the series.
Season Three sees the writing team firing on all cylinders. That nice balance of nostalgia for your childhood years and witty, funny and realistic humor meshes beautifully here. When mixed with the top notch acting delivered by pretty much every member of the crew, well, it's easy to see how this show holds up as well as it does. The opening episode set the tone nicely. Here the Arnold's and the Pfeiffer's vacation together at the shore only to see Paul's allergies go nuts and Kevin fall for a girl, which goes a long way towards healing the broken heart handed to him when he found out Winnie was seeing someone else. The relationship between Kevin and Winnie was obviously a huge part of the storylines that ran throughout the show and here, as we did in season two, we once again see it tested. They're getting older, they're not kids anymore, and what once seemed ‘meant to be' is now very much up in the air.
As the season plays out we see the funny side of everyday life. Kevin struggles with his math grades, Wayne gets his driver's license, Kevin and Winnie reconnect while working on a school play together while Jack struggles with what to do about the family car seemingly to be on its last legs. Kevin makes a new friend and joins his garage band, has trouble asking a girl to the dance and gets a puppy with from his grandfather while Paul winds up on the rocks with his lady friend Carla. Another Valentine's Day comes and goes, and of course young love cause problems the way young love always causes problems when you're a teenager and it's Valentine's Day. Some things never change. Kevin and Jack bond over building a treehouse only to use it to spy on the hot neighbor and things get tense for Kevin and Winnie when, after getting back together, they wind up at a make-out party that neither of them are really and truly ready for.
Jack and Norma go through a rocky patch when she loses the receipts for the year's tax return, Kevin is forced to think about mortality and then later about favoritism when trying out for the baseball team (though not in the way that you'd expect). As the season comes to a close, Paul finds himself crushing pretty hard on Kevin's mom after she tries to help him boost his low self-esteem, Karen pushes back when the family tries to plan a special celebration for her eighteenth birthday and, in the last episode, we learn that the Cooper's are moving. When Kevin wants to buy Winnie a ring and make a commitment to her, she pushes back…
Again, there's nothing here that couldn't happen to anyone pretty much anywhere in North America, and that's what makes this show so accessible. The sixties make it an interesting back drop as we see elements of social change work their way into the lives of the various characters but more than anything else this show is about relationships, be they familial, romantic or just good old fashioned friendships.The DVD:
Each and every episode of The Wonder Years: Season Three 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:
The extras, all of which are on disc four, start out with Hall Pass: Roundtable With Danica McKellar, Fred Savage, and Josh Saviano that runs for about eight minutes. They talk about ‘the magic of' the series and note the sincerity of it being key to its longevity, but they also talk about the music, the directing and other qualities. They also talk about how the series took the perspective of the kid, which was rare for shows at the time that this show originally aired.
We also get a featurettes here called A Family Affair: At Home With The Arnolds which is an interesting look back at the characters and what the actors who played The Arnolds brought to their respective roles. The actors are interviewed here too, it's a nice retrospective if not super in-depth considering it's almost half an hour long. Disc four also contains a selection of solo interviews with cast members Olivia d'Abo (roughly thirty-three minutes), Jason Hervey (roughly twenty-four minutes), Danica McKellar (roughly sixteen minutes) and Crystal McKellar (roughly twenty-one minutes). These are actually more interesting than the At Home piece as the interviewees offer up some rather revealing information about their experiences on the series, how they got into character, their acting experience before and after the show and their thoughts on the series years later.
Each disc also features menus and episode selection. The four discs come packaged with a color insert booklet containing an essay from Fred Savage, episode information, disc credits and more.Final Thoughts:
The Wonder Years: Season Three presents another excellent collection of episodes all presented in pretty good condition with a few nice supplements as well. The series, which was really riding a nice wave of quality writing and performances at this point, holds up remarkably well. The show remains a great watch that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. It's sweet and sometimes very touching but never too sappy and often more than hilarious. 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.