Wonder Years: complete on 26 DVDs

Sunday, 01 May 2016 23:00 Written by 

The Wonder Years - complete 26 DVD box set out nowThe year is 1968, the place a typical middle-class, American suburb. For 12-year-old Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage – “The Princess Bride”, “Austin Powers in Goldmember”) it is the centre of his universe as he grows up and grapples with life’s many lessons. This complete 26-DVD set, including four bonus discs, contains all 115 episodes from six seasons of the multi-award-winning show, and a staggering 23 hours of exclusive bonus material.

Kevin is not alone on his journey to adulthood, as indicated by the theme tune (Joe Cocker’s unforgettable rendition of The Beatles’ "With a Little Help from My Friends"). His parents Jack and Norma have got his back, and Kevin shares his experiences at school with best friends Paul and Winnie. His older brother Wayne and sister Karen have their own agendas, however.

After only six episodes aired, The Wonder Years won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1988. In addition, at age 13, Fred Savage became the youngest actor ever nominated as ‘Outstanding Lead Actor for a Comedy Series’. The show was also awarded a Peabody Award in 1989, for “pushing the boundaries of the sitcom format and using new modes of storytelling”. In total, the series won 22 awards and was nominated for 54 more.

The show is a huge success for a whole host of reasons, not least for the superbly witty and astute writing, rounded characterisation and engaging acting. Each episode focuses on an aspect of life which most, if not all of us, will recognise and identify with, no matter how long ago our adolescence was, and regardless of whether we have children of our own now, or not.

Stories are not everything, however, and they need to be underpinned by characters we want to follow. Kevin himself is an everyman, an affable, fairly clever, fairly sporty, fairly handsome individual who does not excel at anything but generally gets by just fine. Savage captures his essence perfectly, immediately making the role his own. Just like in real life, Kevin sometimes messes up or lets his ego get the better of him, bringing him thumping down to Earth. These flaws make him human.

Savage is assisted by narrator Daniel Stern (“City Slickers”, “Home Alone”) who expertly vocalises Kevin’s thoughts both at the time and effectively from Kevin’s future, looking back on these, his ‘golden years’.

Then we have Kevin’s family. Dad Jack (Dan Lauria – “Independence Day”, “Stakeout”) is a delightfully gruff, generally uncommunicative man who occasionally opens up and shows his soft underbelly, often to Kevin’s surprise. Jack does not like spending money and consequently insists on repairing things until they are hanging together by a thread.

Attractive and often under-appreciated mum Norma (Alley Mills – The Bold and the Beautiful, The Beach Boys: An American Family), is the one who really keeps the family ticking along. She never complains (or almost never) and toils at home whilst Jack is at work.

Brother Wayne (Jason Hervey – “Back to the Future”, “The Monster Squad”) keeps Kevin on his toes, bullying him verbally (‘Butthead!’) and physically, and generally belittling his little brother. Hervey’s bruising, force-of-nature portrayal of Wayne is hilarious but also ensures our sympathy for Kevin is near-constant.

Sister Karen, the oldest of the children, is played with airy aloofness by Olivia d’Abo (“Conan the Destroyer”, “The Assassin”). A hippy chick in tune with the troubles of the age (particularly civil rights and the Vietnam War) is a thorn in her conventional father’s side and fiercely independent. The series features new clips from the age to help set the context without laying it on too thickly.

Moving on to Kevin’s two best friends, Paul (Josh Saviano – Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) is an amusingly neurotic, highly sensitive and intelligent boy who insists he is allergic to virtually everything under the sun. Many of the series’ best recurring jokes are at Paul’s expense, and he is such an endearing character that they never wear thin. His Jewish faith is occasionally covered without straying into stereotypical cheap-shots.

Kevin and Winnie’s (Danica McKellar – Young Justice) on-again, off-again romance was one of the show’s key storylines. At times the split was practical due to McKellar’s growth spurts, which saw her towering above Savage. Their first kiss in the pilot episode was doubly awkward having never kissed anyone in real life. McKellar has since said “the one good thing about getting your first kiss on camera is that you know for sure it’s going to happen.” Both Savage and McKellar have admitted to having mutual crushes. “I was in love with her for the same reasons every other boy fell in love with her,” said Savage. McKellar said in a 2010 interview, “I’ve always been really cautious about guys who have a Winnie Cooper fantasy.”

The kids’ schooling provides a rich environment for drama, and some of the most memorable minor characters are teachers, such as Ben Stein’s super-dry, very morbid geography tutor, Robert Picado’s quirky P.E. instructor and Steven Gilborn, whose mathematics classes cause Kevin no small amount of consternation.

Many now famous actors had some of their earliest roles in The Wonder Years including David Schwimmer (Friends), Juliette Lewis (“Cape Fear”), Jim Caviezel (Person of Interest, The Prisoner remake), Alicia Silverstone (“Clueless”), Giovanni Ribisi (Friends, My Name is Earl), Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Saved by the Bell), Carla Gugino (“Spy Kids”), John Corbett (Northern Exposure) and illuminati puppet Robin Thicke (co-writer of “Blurred Lines”).

When The Wonder Years was released on digital streaming services a few years ago it caused outrage among fans as Joe Cocker’s cover of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friend”s was noticeably absent, replaced with another (far inferior) cover.

The set also includes over 280 songs as they were featured in the original broadcasts, with classics by Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds, Joni Mitchell, The Monkees, Steppenwolf, Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Cream, Simon & Garfunkel, Diana Ross and the Supremes, James Taylor, Nat King Cole, The Beach Boys, The Who, The Righteous Brothers, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Bob Seger, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Sonny and Cher, Bread, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Four Seasons, Sly and the Family Stone, Ben E King, Stealers Wheel, Grateful Dead, Tammy Wynette, Eddie Cochran and The Rolling Stones.

The soundtrack is a critical part of the show’s identity and its restoration is a key selling point. For example, many episodes feature faux home video footage of the Arnold family getting along in years gone by (a relatively rare occurrence), often accompanied by a classic tune that really brings the point home.

In summary this is a quite superb box set that absolutely does justice to such an influential series. As I worked my way through the episodes I found myself going through the full gamut of emotions, and found myself completely sucked into the lives of the Arnold family and their wider circle. Truly wonderful and with that ‘just one more episode’ hook, so it is just as well there are so many episodes to cherish.

So, here we come to the pile of Extras:

Season guide booklets crammed with notes on the show;

Highlights from The Wonder Years cast reunion (May 28, 2014) with Olivia d’Abo, Jason Hervey, Dan Lauria, Danica McKellar, Alley Mills, Fred Savage and Josh Saviano (note: Viewers are advised to not watch these discussions until after the full six seasons due to spoilers.);

Featurette: “With a Little Help from My Friends: The Early Days of The Wonder Years”;

Interviews with: Neal Marlens and Carol Black (Creators), Fred Savage (Kevin Arnold), Danica McKellar (Winnie Cooper), Josh Saviano (Paul Pfeiffer), Dan Lauria (Jack Arnold), Alley Mills (Norma Arnold), Daniel Stern (Narrator), Olivia d’Abo (Karen Arnold), Jason Hervey (Wayne Arnold), Danica McKellar (Winnie Cooper), Crystal McKellar (Becky Slater), Robert Picardo (Coach Cutlip), Ben Stein (Mr Cantwell), Wendel Meldrum (Miss White/Mrs. Heimer), David Schwimmer (Michael), Bob Brush (Executive Producer);

School Days: Roundtable with Danica McKellar, Fred Savage and Josh Saviano;

Featurette: “The Times They Are A-Changin’: The Era”;

“Hall Pass”: Roundtable with Danica McKellar, Fred Savage and Josh Saviano;

Featurette: “A Family Affair: At Home with the Arnolds”

Featurette: “ABC: Teachers That Made a Difference”;

“That’s A Wrap! Mark B Perry’s Farewell Set Tour Season 5”;

Featurette: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow: The Wonder Years Love Stories”;

One-hour ABC broadcast of the Series Finale;

Featurette: “At Last : The Final Episode”;

From the Vault: Alley Mills and Bob Brush Letters.

 

So, that’s all the extras which have been previously seen. And now the extra extras…

Deluxe Edition Bonus Disc 1:

  • “16 Years Later: The Wonder Years Cast Reunion, May 28, 2014, in Los Angeles”;
  • Pilot Episodes Outtakes: The First Kiss with commentary by Danica McKellar & Fred Savage;
  • Featurette: “When a Man Loves a Woman: Kevin and Winnie Forever”;
  • Interviews: Neal Marlens and Carol Black (Creators), Dan Lauria (Jack Arnold), Alley Mills (Norma Arnold)

Deluxe Edition Bonus Disc 2:

  • “Have A Neat Summer: The Wonder Years Cast Reunion, May 28, 2014, in Los Angeles, California”;
  • Featurette: “My Generation: The Kids Grow Up”;
  • Interviews: Josh Saviano (Paul Pfeiffer), Jason Hervey (Wayne Arnold), David M. Stern (Writer/Producer), Bruce Nachbar (Producer).

Deluxe Edition Bonus Disc 3:

  • Featurette: “Bookends: Kevin & Paul”;
  • Featurette: “Both Sides Now: The Music That Made The Moments”;
  • Interviews: Seth Green (Jimmy Donnelly), Ken Topolsky, Producer, W G ”Snuffy” Walden, Composer, David Bianculli (TV Critic), Michael Dinner (Director).

Deluxe Edition Bonus Disc 4:

  • Featurette: “I Love You for Sentimental Reasons: Fan-Favourite Episodes”;
  • Interviews: Daniel Stern (Narrator), Mahaila McKellar, Danica and Crystal’s Mom, Skip Cook, Key Grip, Alicia Alexander, Location Manager, Mark B Perry (Writer/Producer).

 

The Wonder Years – Deluxe Edition is out now on DVD (26 Discs) from Fabulous Films / Fremantle Media. It has a ‘PG’ certificate, a running time of 4,089 mins approx, and a RRP of £124.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

 

 

Clearing up the last of the music substitutions

For a time, it looked like there would still be 14 music substitutions necessary due to clearance issues on this Deluxe Edition. In fact, initial press preview copies were issued with these substitutions in place. It is with great credit to Fabulous Films that they continued to work on this issue, and are now in the position to present the entire series as originally broadcast, with all music tracks being what they should be.

For those of you into such information, Cult TV exclusively secured the details on which 14 tracks were the last to be pulled ‘over the line’. And here we are, what we could have ended up with, but only on those initial press review copies:

Season 1 Disc 2

From episode 5, "The Phone Call":

1. “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet – Soundtrack” - used replacement song “Lovers Theme/The Star-Crossed Lovers”

Season 2 Discs 1 and 4

From episode 1, "Heart of Darkness":

2. “Riders on the Storm - The Doors” - used replacement song “Children of the Night”

3. “Here Comes the Sun - Richie Havens” - used replacement song Train to Nowhere

From episode 16, "Whose Woods Are These?":

4. “Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie (1st and 2nd Movements) - Blood, Sweat & Tears” - used replacement song “Le Seunne Fite”

From episode 17, "How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation":

5. “Light My Fire - The Doors” - used replacement song “Love's on Fire”

Season 3 Discs 1 and 3

From episode 1, "Summer Song":

6. “Spinning Wheel - Blood, Sweat & Tears” - used David Clayton-Thomas version

From episode 3, "Wayne On Wheels":

7. “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet – Soundtrack” - used replacement song “Romeo & Juliet with Narration/Lovers Theme”

From episode 7, "The Family Car":

8. “Long May You Run - Neil Young” - used replacement song “Keep Your Motor Running”

From episode 15, "The Tree House":

9. “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” - used replacement song “Let's Call The Whole Thing Off”

Season 4 Discs 1 and 4

From episode 6, "Little Debbie":

10. “Tammy – Liberace” - used replacement song “Sammy”

From episode 23, "The Wonder Years":

11. “Here Comes the Sun - Richie Havens” - used replacement song “Train to Nowhere”

Season 6 Discs 2 and 4

From episode 8, "Kevin Delivers":

12. “You've Made Me So Very Happy - Blood, Sweat & Tears” - used David Clayton-Thomas version

From episode 12, "Alice in Autoland":

13. “Let's Stay Together - Al Green” - replaced with soundalike version

From episode 22, "Independence Day":

14. “The Mission – Soundtrack” - used replacement song “Pastorale”

 

 

Additional reporting by Alex J Geairns

Last modified on Tuesday, 03 May 2016 07:34

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