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30 Years Later: ‘The Wonder Years’ is Essential Viewing and One of the Greatest Shows Ever Made

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Created by Neal Marlens and Carol Black, The Wonder Years tells the story of Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) as he faces the trials and tribulations of youth while growing up during the 1960s. Told through narration from the perspective of an adult Kevin (Daniel Stern), the character recounts his adolescent years in suburbia as a mishmash of major world events and personal childhood traumas. When the series began, it was set in the historically significant year of 1968. Using the backdrop of a transitional time in America’s history, the coming-of-age tale brings emotion and context to moments that would shape a nation. Yet, it’s surprisingly the smaller moments that chart the rocky terrain of childhood that we remember most. Snapshots of adolescence, from baseball games and holiday dinners to school dances and a first kiss, and all the moments in between, are what makes The Wonder Years so timelessly appealing. Almost anyone who was a teenager living in North America can relate to Kevin’s personal adventures. The Wonder Years is both a nostalgic time capsule and an ode to growing up and parenting. For a show made in the late 80’s about the late ’60s, The Wonder Years was miles ahead of its time, and garnered a Peabody Award in 1989 for pushing the boundaries of the sitcom format while using new modes of storytelling. From Kevin’s first kiss with Winnie Cooper to their 4th of July fight, The Wonder Years captured the hearts of audiences and critics alike as fans shared in the friendships and the ups and downs of the Arnold family. This realistic, single-camera spin on the traditional family sitcom was unlike anything else on television, and decades later, it stands the test of time.

For a series rooted in the trappings of the American suburbs, with all the classic sitcom tropes present,The Wonder Years is a benediction. It showed us what television could (and would) be, and far more importantly, what life actually is. Set in and around a cookie-cutter neighbourhood where nothing spectacular ever happens, The Wonder Years extracts truths out of what appear to be life’s most random moments. The series is unique in that it is all from Kevin’s point of view but told from two vantage points: young Kevin’s naive view of life growing up and, his older and wiser recollections via voiceover courtesy of Daniel Stern. No show on television has since captured the pangs of a boy’s adolescent existence with such poignancy and humour. Black explained, “We liked the concept that you could play with what people think and what they’re saying, or how they would like to see themselves as opposed to how the audience is seeing them.” The narration used in The Wonder Years is unlike any used before or after in a television show — it is truly amazing and both simple and poetic.

The ace-in-the-hole is Fred Savage, who was only twelve years old when he appeared in the lead role, but who outshone his co-stars every step of the way. Savage was more than capable of handling the episode’s sharp emotional arc and was praised for his complex depiction of the teenage boy who had to deal with various problems, including star-crossed romance, peer pressure, loss, and above all, wonder. With his eyebrow raised and his New York Jets jacket, Kevin Arnold won the hearts of teenage girls everywhere. Though Fred Savage has made the transition from actor to producer and director of shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Party Down, his Kevin Arnold persona is something that’s going to follow him forever.

The series also has the honour of claiming one of the greatest TV pilots ever produced. With the pilot, director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th series) and writers Neal Marlens and Carol Black introduce Kevin, his family, his friends, and the newly renamed Robert F Kennedy Junior High. As the first entry in the series, the pilot features two life changing moments for Kevin, starting with the death of his neighbourhood idol Brian Cooper, and his first kiss with the love of his life, Brian’s sister Winnie. Even a generation of free love didn’t make Kevin and Winnie any less nervous about kissing, nor the actors, who in real life also shared their first kiss. In the pilot, we are also introduced to Kevin’s boorish older bother Wayne (Jason Hervey), his sister Karen (Olivia d’Abo), Paul, and his parents, Norma (Alley Mills) and Jack Arnold (Dan Lauria). The pilot episode of The Wonder Years is just so seminal, striking all the right chords and creating a moving and memorable viewing experience right to the end.

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 30: THE WONDER YEARS - "The Heart of Darkness" - Season Two - 11/30/88, Paul (Josh Saviano, left) and Kevin (Fred Savage) wanted to join the in-crowd with Winnie (Danica McKellar). , (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

The pilot aired on January 31, 1988, following ABC’s coverage of Super Bowl XXII, and went on to achieve a spot in the Nielsen Top Thirty for four of its six seasons. After only six episodes aired,The Wonder Years won an Emmy for best comedy series in 1988. In addition, at age 13, Fred Savage became the youngest actor ever nominated as Outstanding Lead for a Comedy Series. The series won a total of 22 awards and was nominated for 54 more. While it does feel, at times, like an after-school special, its tingling observations, unforced comedy, and quirky, enduring charm shows how an ordinary life can be reflected in an extraordinary way. And though The Wonder Years was made to represent a specific time and place in American history, it’s universal enough not to show its age. For the most part, the humour still makes me laugh, and the character work and writing are done with such great depth that you feel as if you are watching these characters actually grow up in front of your eyes. The Wonder Years truly holds up as something special — a coming-of-age sitcom, avoiding the usual multi-cam and common laugh track featured in sitcoms,  and told in a long-form episodic format, the series set itself apart from other shows of its time.

Trapped in a struggle between the network and the producers, The Wonder Years wrapped its sixth and final season in May 1993, and not how many would have liked. As Kevin and his childhood friends matured, the producers wanted the story-lines to mature as well. According to various sources, the original script hints that Winnie and Kevin make love in the barn. The network thought it was too risky to present Kevin’s sexual awakening because of the “gentle tone of the series and, most importantly, the 8 p.m. time period.”Each episode focused on some aspect of Kevin’s life, but it was his on-again, off again romance with Winnie that most of us remember best. It’s the backbone of the entire show. Compared to TV teen couples today, Kevin and Winnie are the real deal, and so fans were somewhat disappointed with the ending, in particular knowing that Kevin and Winnie don’t end up together (the series-ending narration tells us that Winnie flew to France for art school while Kevin stayed at home and married another woman). Still, even with the botched ending, The Wonder Years remains an important body of work that celebrates everyday life as a heroic achievement.

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Set to a phenomenal soundtrack, with literally hundreds of classic songs, including the series’ theme song (Joe Cocker’s rendition of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends”), music is an integral part ofThe Wonder Years. The expense of securing the rights to use the songs is the main reason why The Wonder Years took so long to be released on DVD. The Wonder Years Complete Series (see photo below) comes in a collectible metal locker like those at Kennedy Junior High, and includes two notebooks with detailed episode information, production photos, all 115 episodes, and over 23 hours of bonus features. Exclusive bonus features include the first cast reunion in 16 years, and fresh interviews with all 7 main cast members, the creators, the narrator, guest stars, and much more! There is also ten newly-produced featurettes and never-before-seen outtakes of Kevin and Winnie’s first kiss!

The Wonder Years remains an important milestone in television history, serving as an inspiration to television’s resurgence in recent years. It is essential viewing and one of the greatest shows ever made.

– Ricky D

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Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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TV

“Crisis on Infinite Earths” Is an Endearingly Clumsy Love Letter to DC’s Television Legacy

DCTV’s sprawling, ambitious crossover is creatively uneven, but its endearing nostalgia easily outweighs its flaws.

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Crisis on Infinite Earths

The ambition of The CW’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover can’t be understated, an attempt to integrate the network’s sprawling set of universes into a single, coherent reality – and perhaps more importantly, to say farewell to the series, and star, at its heart. A world-hopping, universe-jumping adventure acting as an homage to 50-plus years of DC television (and, in one notable case, film), the first three parts of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” are unfiltered joy, embracing its limited budget and impossibly large cast of characters (and famous cameos) in a wildly entertaining – if creatively uneven – journey through DC’s strange history on the small screen.

The sheer audacity of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is, frankly, incredible to watch: while it doesn’t always work, it makes the crossover event utterly fascinating to dissect.

The CW’s sixth official crossover technically began during its fifth; last season’s “Elseworlds” established the broad strokes to follow, setting Oliver Queen on his path to destiny – and in the process, muting the impact of every isolated story line of the extended DC lineup. The reveal of The Monitor in “Elseworlds (Part 3)” (which was Supergirl‘s ninth episode of its fourth season, if anyone is keeping score) was intriguing, but ultimately distracting: knowing the fate of the multiverse was casually hanging in the balance, limited the ability of stories like Lex Luthor and Barry’s convoluted time-traveling to have any sort of noticeable impact. Knowing what was coming made these (slightly) smaller scale stories just not matter; knowing the final season of Arrow was directly integrated with the “impending crisis” only further overwhelmed any sense of purpose the stories of its shows held.

(and if we’re being honest, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” has kind of been teased since The Flash‘s pilot episode in 2014, though that’s splitting hairs a bit.)

Crisis on Infinite Earths

Perhaps it is all that hype that makes “Crisis on Infinite Earths (Part 1)” the weakest entry of the three to air this week (parts four and five air in mid-January) feel like such an underwhelming, rushed introduction to this universe-hopping story of Drama and Emotion. When an anti-matter wave begins wiping out parallel Earths (including Earth-66, letting them sneak in a quick Burt Ward cameo), “Crisis on Infinite Earths” begins pulling it its many iconic major characters – which, let’s admit, doesn’t quite have the same impact it did back in “Invasion” or “Crisis on Earth-X”.

It then spends an inordinate member of time trying to integrate Supergirl‘s supporting cast into the fray (albeit briefly); which, as fans of previous crossovers would probably agree, always ends up being the weakest part of any crossover. Lena, Querl, Alex, and Kelly feel like nothing but obligatory inclusions in the episode – whatever is going on with Supergirl and the DEO, “Crisis on Infinite Earths (Part 1)” struggles mightily to make it feel like anything meaningful.

In their defense, it’s hard to invest in whatever side stories Part 1 is trying to nod towards; it all pales in comparison to seeing Kara fawn over momma Lois and poppa Clark, which is a tall task to compete with. But the DEO’s characters are noticeable momentum killers, moments where “Crisis on Infinite Earths” fumbles at grounding its outlandish, epic story with the non-powered entities of its universe.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

Unfortunately, it gets worse before it gets better: once we get all the heroes arranged, we get a lame-ass fight scene where the heroes (Supergirl, The Flash, Green Arrow, Atom, White Canary, Superman, and Batwoman) battle against some terrible CGI demons. It is easily the low point of all three hours, a clumsily-executed scene that utterly fails in providing any sense of urgency to the larger story (The Monitor’s nemesis killing off entire planets and realities with a massive wave of anti-matter, in case you were wondering).

It’s strange, because the fight scene ostensibly serves as the kicking off point for the whole crossover: and boy, is it awkward when it tries to make the CGI ghost fight the moment Oliver sacrifices himself to save the universe (or does he?). It’s a halting way to end Part 1, after a herky-jerky hour with a few choice cameos (including Griffin Newman as a trivia host, and Wil Wheaton as a protestor) and a lot of sci-fi mumbo jumbo establishing the stakes of the anti-matter wave.

“Crisis on Infinite Earths (Part 2)” is really where the crossover comes to life; both as a contained story, and a cumulative celebration of the strange, long legacy of mixed DC media. Batwoman travels to a parallel Earth to visit a embittered Batman (played by longtime Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy), Sara Lance gives Jonah Hex his signature scar outside a Lazarus Pit, and there’s an extended cameo of Tom Welling and Erica Durance as the OG The CW Clark and Lois; though all of those things are exactly as ludicrous and self-indulgent as they sound, the more Part 2 – and as a byproduct, Part 3 – bounce around worlds to visit iconic characters (and performers) from its past, the more powerful it becomes as a true crossover event.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

And despite the abundance of casting announcements and on-set photos, “Crisis of Infinite Earths” is still able to deliver a number of surprising appearances: who could’ve predicted a scene where Netflix’s Lucifer Morningstar talks to NBC/The CW’s John Constantine, which occurs after Part 3 does a motherfucking Birds of Prey cameo with Ashley Scott (AND the voice of Dina Meyer as Oracle, to boot). It is a fan fiction wet dream come true, even FINALLY integrating Black Lightning‘s Jefferson Pierce into the multiverse, with a shockingly (sorry) strong introduction of The CW’s most underrated hero into the already-crowded mix.

The sheer audacity of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is, frankly, incredible to watch: while it doesn’t always work, it makes both Parts 2 and 3 utterly fascinating to dissect. It is Justice League by way of Into the Spider-Verse and Avengers: Endgame, as clumsy and endearing as that sounds; at times, it utterly fails to make its universe-ending narrative hold any actual weight, but it is an emotional powerhouse of iconic, often underappreciated performances in DC’s television history (I swear to God, if they bring in Linda Hamilton for a Wonder Woman cameo, I’ll lose my shit).

If we’re being honest, it’s more interesting in its construction than it is in execution: after ingesting 200+ episodes of DC television over the years, I hold no expectations for “Crisis on Infinite Earths” to ever capture the immense dramatic potential of its narrative.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

That’s just not what DC television is good at (save for a couple seasons of Arrow, and most of Legends of Tomorrow): where these shows shine is their heartfelt depictions of human connection, of the beauty in finding shared purpose. At that, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is a pretty resounding success; whether Batwoman and Supergirl’s young friendship, or Barry’s tunnel-visioned optimism, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” proves the DC universe still has engaging stories to tell with the biggest stars of the present – and with characters like Kate Kane, Jefferson Pierce, and Ryan Choi (introduced in Part 3, in what appears to possibly be establishing a new Atom), the future.

We’ll have to wait until January to see how the grand experiment to unite all the timelines works out – but in its holiday send off, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is a pretty touching love letter to decades of superhero television, earning its entry into the annals of modern television’s most ambitious endeavors.

Other thoughts/observations:

In what appears to be his swan song (knowing that he is departing Legends of Tomorrow), Brandon Routh’s double-duty as Ray Palmer and Superman (reprising his role from Superman Returns) is wonderful.

Even Wentworth Miller makes an appearance, kind of: the alternate-reality Wave Rider the team of heroes, paragons, and ominous entities is guided by Leonard, an AI who ironically sounds exactly like Captain Cold.

We forever stan Sara Lance; to see her guide and organize the team in Part 1 and Part 2… well, it’s just beautiful to see.

Boy, it is strange how “Crisis” just kind of glosses over Batwoman killing the bitter, murderous version of Batman her and Supergirl visit in Part 2.

Easy litmus test to know whether you’re in or out on this whole endeavor; whether you jump for joy or scream in agony when hearing the word “infinitude” in the opening moments of Part 1.

There is a very, VERY brief shot of a few characters from DC Universe’s Titans, which I always forget exists. No Doom Patrol or Swamp Thing, unfortunately.

Unlike previous crossovers, only Supergirl‘s episode feels like it is still kind of trying to be an episode of its own series. I haven’t watched much Batwoman, but part 2 definitely does not attempt to make any play at drawing in a new audience with a unique display of personality (and in fact, I don’t think there’s a single other Batwoman regular in the episode).

Apparently the Brec Bassinger Stargirl character will make her debut in the final part of “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, even though her series is not airing until 2020… on DC Universe? Modern television is so fucking weird.

It is still hard to believe Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor.

There are hints of the theme from the 1989 Batman film in Blake Neely’s score, which is just fucking insane.

When Earth 90’s Barry Allen makes a major sacrifice, we are treated to a brief flashback to actual footage from the 1991 The Flash series. It is perhaps the most breathtaking surprise of the whole crossover.

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‘J.T.’ – A Tragic, Poetic and Improbably Beautiful Holiday Special that is a Must-See!

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J.T.-1969-Christmas-Special

Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today we look back at the unsung gem, J.T.

What’s it About?

Produced for a Saturday morning children’s anthology on CBS, J.T. premiered to such rave reviews, the network scheduled it again a week later in a prime time slot. The Christmas special follows J. T. Gamble (Kevin Hooks), a shy, withdrawn Harlem boy who befriends a sick, one-eyed, old and badly injured alley cat days before Christmas. Showing compassion and responsibility, J.T. secretly nurses the feline back to health.

J.T.-1969-Christmas-Special

Review

Those who have seen J.T. will never forget the emotional impact this heartfelt drama has. Nor will they have forgotten the heartbreaking moment in which the cat is hit by a car. Priceless because it catches the sights, sounds, and moods of a city that are of a bygone era, watching J.T. is like being present for the opening of a time capsule, giving us one a look back at pre-Giuliani NYC. Brilliantly written by Jane Wagner and based on her own book of the same name, J.T. will capture the hearts of many, as we witness the young boy create a wellspring of comfort for his newfound pet in an abandoned apartment complex.

Winner of a Peabody Award, J.T. is also a story of a single mother’s struggle to be independent and support both herself and her son, while refusing to allow the ghetto life to break the family’s optimism. Come the teary denouement, this story will warm the coldest of hearts and challenge even the most hard-hearted moviegoer. There is a wonderful surprise at the end when a local grocer and his wife offer the young boy a second chance. Kevin Hooks is amazing in the lead, as is Ja’Net Dubois who plays his overworked mother, who tries her best to supply for her family while slaving away and working a low-paying job. Sensitively directed and rarely over-sentimental, this touching parable will likely ravish the emotions of cat lovers everywhere.

J.T. 1969

How Christmassy is it?

There isn’t much Christmas cheer, Christmas music, holiday shopping, decorations and so on, but the special ends on an uplifting note – one that rings true with Christmas spirit. So I would say 50/50.

You May Like It If…

If you are nostalgic for the late 60’s New York City or are an animal lover.

Final Thoughts:

It stars actor Kevin Hooks as the young lead. Hooks currently works as a director for several hit TV shows including Lost, 24, Monk and Prison Break. The role of J.T.’s mother is played by actress Ja’net DuBois, who also appeared as the upstairs neighbour, Willona, on the groundbreaking 1970s sitcom Good Times.

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Before the Internet

Watchmen Podcast: Breaking Down “A God Walks into Abar”

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Watchmen Podcast A God Walks into Abar

“A God Walks into Abar” is the deeply heartfelt episode we’ve been waiting for!

The wonderfully pun-titled penultimate episode—directed by Nicole Kassell, written by Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen— is a powerful love story that spans many years, and told in a disjointed fashion to explain just how the most powerful man in the world wound up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, married to Angel Abar and with his memory wiped out. It’s an amazing hour of television—able to carefully turn a seemingly indecipherable character, into something beautifully textured, human, and meaningful— and we have plenty to say about it.

Our Watchmen podcast will see Simon Howell and an assortment of guests tackle the entire series (or at least the first season). In this eight episode,  Simon Howell , Randy Dankievitch and guest Sean Collettin take a deep dive into “A God Walks Into Abar” and note some of the more astonishing facts of the episode you might have missed.

And for those of you wondering, in order to keep things simple, we’ve decided to upload each episode to the same feed as our other podcast, Before the Internet.

Listen here on iTunes or listen here on Stitcher. 

You can also catch our show on Pocketcast and on Spotify, or simply listen via the player embedded below.

Before the Internet Watchmen Podcast Special
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