wonderyears6coverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: No
1992-93, 638 min. (22 episodes), Color
Time Life
Not rated (would be PG or PG-13 for adult themes)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: B+
Season 6 title sequence
Amazon link

Just as moviegoers watched Harry Potter grow up, so a generation of TV-viewers saw Kevin Arnold go from age 11 to 17 on the popular coming-of-age series The Wonder Years. Narrated in retrospect with an adult Kevin voiceover, like Stand by Me, it’s about as all-boy as it gets, despite plenty of female characters. So much so that my teenage daughter isn’t a fan. She doesn’t want to keep hearing what a teenage boy is thinking—especially when it comes to teenage girls.

Still, as Fred Savage (Kevin) writes in the liner notes to The Wonder Years: Season 6, families watched it together when it first aired, and now a new generation of parents are sharing it with their children. It remains the best period TV series on growing up in the turbulent sixties and early seventies, and young Bernie supporters will certainly identify with an episode this season in which Winnie catches McGovern fever and works day and night to try to help the Democratic presidential nominee get elected. Kevin volunteers too, but only because of his girlfriend, and because he’s jealous and suspicious of the local campaign boss. As for Kevin’s straight-laced, always-serious dad, Jack Arnold (Dan Lauria), he of course thinks Nixon’s the One. An episode about a friend of the family who returns from Vietnam with post-traumatic stress syndrome is also both topical and powerful.

For a TV sitcom, The Wonder Years had a penchant for telling it like it is, and episodes this final season are geared more toward a PG or even PG-13 audience. In one, Kevin leads his buddies to believe that he and longtime girlfriend Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar) “did it,” while in another a still-committed Kevin is tempted to have a fling with another girl at a wedding . . . but instead drinks an entire bottle of champagne by himself and gets totally plastered. In yet another episode he sneaks out of the house, despite being grounded, and takes his father’s new car without permission. That’s right. Kevin, though basically a good kid, is far from a model citizen.

wonderyears6screenThis season, Kevin’s mom (Alley Mills) causes a few ripples herself by announcing she’s going back to work, and whatever glow she gets from finding fulfillment is enough to prompt Jack’s boss to hit on her. Yet, the most successful episodes are often the ones that get back to what the show did well its first few seasons: focusing on interfamilial relations, with Kevin and brother Wayne (Jason Hervey) growing up too quickly and wanting to become independent, and Mom and Dad trying their best to grab whatever family time might be left. In one such episode, the three “men” drive to an old haunt deep in the woods to camp and fish and try to recapture some of that old family magic, and in “Reunion” the family returns to the mom’s family home so she can attend her 25th high school reunion. Throughout the series, Kevin and Winnie have had an on-again/off-again relationship, and this season finds them doing a little of both.

Time Life has done it up right again, packaging these 22 season episodes on four single-sided discs that are housed on plastic “pages” in a standard-size keep case, with a 16-page color booklet made to look like a high school theme book offering detailed descriptions of each episode, plus original air dates and sidebars that spotlight such things as co-star Giovanni Ribisi, The Catcher in the Rye, questions from an SAT exam, and a feature on guest actor Ellen Albertini Dow. It’s the kind of booklet you find yourself thumbing through and enjoying every minute.

One of the highlights of this series has always been the period music, and it’s all here: tunes by 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, Tammy Wynette, and more . . . .

Though the characters develop over six seasons, each season also stands alone. You don’t have to watch them in sequence, any more than you have to binge-watch Friends in order. The Wonder Years was good enough to win a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series its first season, and to hold the attention of a faithful audience for another five. Included here is the special one-hour broadcast of the season finale, plus a featurette on that final episode.

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