Lend me your ears! With the complete series on DVD, we look back at Kevin Arnold's poignant (and sometimes angsty) adolescence

By Hillary Busis
Updated October 24, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

What It’s About
As Tennessee Williams mused, ”In memory, everything seems to happen to music.” Which may explain why ABC’s Emmy-winning The Wonder Years — a nostalgic look at Kevin Arnold’s (Fred Savage) coming of age in the tumultuous late ’60s and early ’70s — leans so heavily on hits from that era. And while the series, which ran from 1988 to ’93, has been available on Netflix, it also explains why it took so long to be released in its entirety on DVD. (Songs by Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel don’t come cheap!) The wait is now over, and a new generation can watch Kevin navigate the tricky waters of junior high and high school — with a little help from his friends.

Key Players

Kevin Arnold, Fred Savage
Our Everykid hero is a so-so student, neither popular nor a social outcast. He is, however, cuter than the average Joe — and he’s got a wry inner monologue delivered by his older self (Daniel Stern, in voice-over).

Jack Arnold, Dan Lauria
The Arnold family’s world-weary patriarch is a man of few words — but there’s a big heart beneath that gruff exterior.

Norma Arnold, Alley Mills
The sun to Jack’s grumpy man-in-the-moon is a proto-Betty Draper who eventually finds fulfillment outside of the kitchen.

Karen Arnold, Olivia d’Abo
Kevin’s older sister, a strong-willed flower child who fully embraces the era’s counterculture, often butts heads with her conservative parents.

Wayne Arnold, Jason Hervey
Kevin’s immature older brother, the bane of his existence, loves to call his younger sibling a butthead.

Paul Pfeiffer, Josh Saviano
Gawky, brainy, and relentlessly loyal — even when his closest pal is being a bit of a pill — Paul is Kevin’s best friend.

Winnie Cooper, Danica McKellar
What Kevin’s dream girl lacks in personality, she more than makes up for with excellent tresses. (Cue the slo-mo hair toss.)

Seasons’ Best

Season 1, ”Pilot” Episode 1
Few series debut fully formed — but The Wonder Years is one of them. Its pilot, in which Kevin’s journey to adulthood is accelerated when he (a) starts junior high, (b) learns that Winnie’s brother has been killed in the Vietnam War, and (c) kisses her for the first time, is a bittersweet masterpiece.

Season 2, ”Steady as She Goes”/”Just Between Me and You and Kirk and Paul and Carla and Becky” Episodes 4 and 5
A two-parter in which Kevin — and young viewers — learns that dating someone just to make someone else jealous is a really, really bad idea. (”Friends? I’ll give you friends!”)

Season 3, ”Goodbye” Episode 20
This double Emmy winner (for directing and writing) is the heart-wrenching conclusion to a season-long arc about Kevin’s struggles with his eighth-grade algebra teacher, tough but fair Mr. Collins (Steven Gilborn).

Season 4, ”Heartbreak” Episode 11
Is Kevin and Winnie’s relationship strong enough to survive a year spent at different schools? Hint: Check out the episode’s title. The bookend use of the Beach Boys’ ”God Only Knows” — first as a dreamy love song, then as a plaintive plea — is a particularly devastating touch.

Season 5, ”The Wedding” Episode 22
Karen and Michael’s (David Schwimmer) groovy nuptials are both delightfully daffy (see, for example, how her hippie friend Wind introduces herself to old-fashioned Mrs. Arnold) and surprisingly moving.

Season 6, ”Homecoming” Episode 1
Sure, the series finale is poignant, but even it doesn’t pack quite the same punch as this season’s premiere, in which Wayne’s buddy Wart (Scott Menville) returns from his tour in Vietnam. (And unlike the series closer, the episode ends with Kevin and Winnie still together.)

Wonder Through the Years
The real life events that made history on the show, too

1955-75: Vietnam War
The conflict is always in the background — especially in the pilot, when Winnie’s recently drafted brother dies.
(Season 1, Episode 1)

April 4, 1968: MLK Assassination
Kevin’s teacher mounts a play about the civil rights movement, inspired in part by the reverend’s death.
(Season 2, Episode 2)

June 6, 1968: RFK Assassination
”Like about half the schools in the country that year,” Kevin says, his has been renamed for JFK’s brother.
(Season 2, Episode 1)

July 21, 1969: Moon Landing
Kevin takes us through his summer: ”I went fishing with my dad. I saw a man walk on the moon.”
(Season 2, Episode 17)

Aug. 15-17, 1969: Woodstock
Kevin’s hippie eighth-grade social-studies teacher describes her concertgoing experience to his class.
(Season 3, Episode 2)

April 11-17, 1970: Apollo 13
The Arnolds aren’t religious, but Norma goes to church and lights a candle for the imperiled astronauts.
(Season 3, Episode 18)

June 30, 1971: Carnal Knowledge
Kevin & Co. start the episode trying to sneak into the R-rated movie, featuring a sultry Ann-Margret.
(Season 5, Episode 19)

Nov. 7, 1972: Presidential Election
Winnie throws herself into campaigning for McGovern, the Democrat running against Nixon.
(Season 6, Episode 5)

Late ’60s-’70s: Women’s Lib
Kevin and his father realize that the women in their lives have been affected by the rise of feminism.
(Season 6, Episode 19)

Notable Alumni
1. Juliette Lewis
2. Soleil Moon Frye
3. Alicia Silverstone
4. John Corbett
5. Mark-Paul Gosselaar
6. Giovanni Ribisi

The Music
What would you do if The Wonder Years‘ theme seemed out of tune? If you’re like some Netflix viewers — surprised to find that the streaming version opens with a different cover of ”With a Little Help From My Friends” — you might tune out. Acquiring the series’ original music was a priority for Time Life. Objective No. 1: clearing Joe Cocker’s take on the Beatles. ”That was one of the biggest challenges,” says Time Life senior VP Jeff Peisch. ”If we couldn’t clear that, it wasn’t worth going forward.” After months of negotiations, the deal was done — and hundreds more followed over the course of about a year. Peisch’s team secured 96 percent of the original music (285 songs). So what about the others, including hits by the Doors and Neil Young? Peisch says the rights holders had one complaint: ”You’re not paying us enough.”

Total run time (including extras):
66 hrs., 5 mins.

The Wonder Years

  • TV Show
  • 6
  • ABC