I remember a house like a lot of houses, a yard like a lot of yards, on a street like a lot of other streets. I remember how hard it was growing up among people and places I loved. Most of all, I remember how hard it was to leave. And the thing is, after all these years I still look back in wonder.
— Kevin Arnold
The Wonder Years is a nostalgic semi-comedic series about a boy growing up in The Sixties - or, to be more accurate, a middle-aged man reminiscing about growing up in The Sixties, with a voiceover narrating/voicing the boy's thoughts. The series was basically a warmhearted and vivid recollection of a specific time and (inspecific) place.The boy in question, Kevin, has an abusive older brother - Wayne - and parents whom, while still in love each other, would often fight. Kevin's friend Paul is a gangly geek with frequent asthma attacks, and the Girl Next Door is Winnie Cooper (with whom affection is mutual but "She Is Not My Girlfriend").The show is one of the earliest half-hour sitcoms done in single camera format — and without a laugh track, being a precursor to the shows that are considered to launch the format such as Spaced and Malcolm in the Middle. It wasn't afraid of addressing touchy subjects and was often frank about things that happen when growing up. One episode dealt with Kevin getting to touch a girl's breast for the first time.The show aired on ABC from 1988 (when it premiered following Super Bowl XXII) to 1993; the show's continuity runs from 1968 to 1973, seventh grade through eleventh grade for Kevin and his friends.
Bittersweet Ending: The Series Finale. (Jack is revealed to have died shortly after the finale, and while Kevin eventually marries and has a son, it's not with Winnie.)
Break the Cutie: Subverted with Winnie somewhat. Considering that at the end of the first episode, her brother dies in Vietnam — and at the end of the second season, her parents get a divorce — she is still a perfectly normal teenager.
Catch Phrase: Wayne calling people (usually Kevin) "Butt-Head".
Dawson Casting: Largely averted for the main cast. One notable exception was Julie Condra, who guest-starred as a high school freshman at age 20. This made the story arc where Condra's obviously older, sexually mature character comes on to innocent young Kevin Arnold rather jarring.
Directionless Driver: Kevin's dad. His justification was that he had navigated a half-track halfway across Korea, so he certainly didn't need to ask for directions in his home state.
Did Not Get the Girl: In the shows closing epilogue, we learn that Kevin and Winnie parted ways and he married someone else.
Downer Beginning: The very first episode ends with everyone learning Winnie's older brother was killed in Vietnam.
Inflation Negation: Kevin does chores around the house as suggested by his dad to earn money to go out with his friends. Kevin's dad is a stickler though, and for all his effort he gets a dollar from his dad's wallet. There are sound effects of a safe opening and closing when his dad opens his wallet too.
Keep Circulating the Tapes: The large amount of hit songs featured in the show — and the corresponding legal and financial snags involved with licensing the rights to all of that music — make a proper, uncut DVD release of the show nigh impossible. Netflix and Amazon eventually secured streaming rights, but these still have edits to the soundtrack that include soundalikes and even an alternate version of the theme.
Loud Gulp: Several times throughout the show, whenever Kevin had an Oh Crap moment, the narrator would simply say, "Gulp!"
Mean Character, Nice Actor: The actor who played Wayne, Jason Hervey, was said to be a rather nice guy and was hurt that people thought of him as the epitome of abusive older brothers.
Mood Whiplash: Used quite often both for comedy and drama, but a rather subtle one is used in the intro to the season two finale, How I'm Spending my Summer Vacation. Adult Kevin reminisces about the Coopers' annual summer barbecue, over a very nostalgic flash-back of past barbecues. Then, in the flash-back, Winnie's brother Brian walks into frame. Brian, who had been killed in Vietnam in the pilot episode.
Out of Focus: Paul in the later seasons, after Kevin gets a bigger social circle. In the last season, Jeff and Chuck get many more episodes, and much more screen time, than Paul.
Picked Last: An early episode had the final two kids left to pick from being Paul Pfiefer and another student played by DustinDiamond on numerous occasions. The episode's main focus, however, was on Paul's love for playing basketball and sheer lack of ability, which would make him one of the most undesirable players to have on a team. Kevin's protests to Coach Cutlip about how unfair the captain system is have the adverse affect of earning him a spot as a team captain. He decides use his position to pick all of the least talented kids for his team. This also led to a kid with a noticeably athletic build being the last pick, behind a nerd who was half his size.
Pop Culture Osmosis: An entire generation now only thinks of this show when they hear Joe Cocker's cover of The Beatles "With A Little Help From My Friends".
Saw Star Wars Twenty Seven Times: Humorously used in this scene in the episode "Eclipse" where Chuck, who is uncomfortable with the creepy man who picked him up while he was hitchhiking, tries to lighten the mood by sharing how he's reminded of an Alfred Hitchcock Presents story about a man with "a big butcher knife" who was picking up hitchhikers. Getting creeped out by the man again, Chuck decides to drop the discussion, leading to the following exchange:
Chuck: Nevermind, probably didn't see the episode... Did you?
Creepy Guy: 27 times! [creepy stare]
Chuck quickly leaps out of the moving pickup truck.
Series Continuity Error: After he hit puberty, Fred Savage's voice was noticeably deeper than that of Daniel Stern, who narrated the show as Adult Kevin. It's not uncommon for men's voices to dip down during puberty and eventually middle out, but it stood out nonetheless.
The Talk: "I actually had to hear my dad say 'genitals'."
Teacher/Student Romance: Subverted in "Our Miss White". Kevin develops a crush on his teacher throughout the episode, but at the end of the episode, he notices her kissing her husband in the stage background.
Wham Episode: Shockingly done in the very first episode; it appears to be a fairly standard comedy/drama show, but at the very end of the episode, the audience finds out that the neighbors' son was killed in Vietnam.
Where The Hell Is Springfield?: The exact location of the show's suburban setting is never explicitly spelled out, although it's presumably somewhere in California. (In one episode, we see a closeup of a letter Wayne's holding, and it shows the Arnolds' address as being in California, while in another episode Kevin is shown to have a California driver's license.)
However, other episodes contradict this by hinting at a possible East Coast setting. According to the IMDB, the producers deliberately kept things vague in order to preserve the Everytown, America feel of the series.
Will They or Won't They?: Kevin and Winnie run an on-again, off-again relationship for almost the show's entire run. They spend about as much time apart as they do together.
In the end, it's revealed that Kevin ends up marrying another woman, but he and Winnie remain friends through the years.