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.
This show provides examples of:
Aesop Amnesia: In a couple of episodes, Wayne goes too far in how he treats Kevin. Although he and Kevin make up, Wayne soon reverts back to his usual ways.
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.)
In fact, many episodes have bittersweet endings.
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.
Call Back: If an episode has a scene where a TV program can be seen on the Arnold's TV, it's a safe bet that there'll later be a fantasy sequence involving that show.
Catch Phrase: Wayne calling people (usually Kevin) "Butt-Head".
Clip Show: "Looking Back", "Broken Hearts and Burgers"
Cool and Unusual Punishment: The one time Grandpa Arnold gets mad at Kevin and Wayne is when thy fight in the car on the way to a burial site. He orders them out of the car and then drives away.
Cool Teacher: Mr. Tyler in "Walk Out". He encourages the students to take part of a walk out (which involves leaving class), even after Mr. Diperna won't allow it and threatens to put it on the permanent records of any student involved, and even encourages them to go through with it after Mr. Diperna won't accept the petitions with many signatures. However, on the day of the walk out, Mr. Tyler calls in sick, though Kevin thinks he chickened out.
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 show's 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.
Early-Installment Weirdness: The first episode has a scene where 12-year-old Kevin's thoughts are heard, which is redundant with the adult narrator.
The early episodes "My Dad's Office" and "Christmas" have scenes without Kevin, who otherwise appears in every scene.
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.
Karma Houdini: Becky Slater never gets in trouble for any of the mean things she does to Kevin after their break-up. Among the things she had done to him include knocking him out, telling most of the school the mean things Kevin said about them behind their backs when they were a couple, trying to run over Kevin with her bike, pouring Kevin's milk on his lap, and punching Kevin after he beats her in a race on the track field (keep in mind a teacher was there when that happened, and she got no apparent punishment).
The cool students in charge of the yearbook in "Yearbook". They let Kevin pick funny quotes for each student, including "oink oink" for a fat student. Feeling guilty, Kevin tries to talk them into removing that quote. When Kevin points out that the principal will see it, they decide to go to fix things.... By telling him that Kevin tried to sneak that quote in, and after Kevin gets detention for it, they decide they don't need him for the yearbook anymore, and remain unpunished.
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.
During her two seasons as a regular, Karen appears very scarcely (she;s in five episodes of season 4 and three of season 5), yet is still in the opening credits. Justified a bit in her moving away for college and then for part of season 5 her and Jack having a falling-out after Jack finds out she was living with a man.
Parallel Universe: You could make the argument that the show "Sullivan and Son" is a parallel universe version of this show because:
The actor that plays the father in Wonder Years is playing the same character here.
Both were in Korea.
Some of the photos shown of Steve and his sister are almost the same as the ones in Wonder Years.
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.
In "How I Spent My Summer Vacation", Paul reveals that his family will be away for the whole summer, starting the day after school ends. But in the next episode, "Summer Song", Paul is able to go on vacation with the Arnolds. There is no mention in either episode of Paul's plans being changed or canceled.
In "Angel", the family is shown to have a color TV set. But the Christmas episode that comes a few episodes later involves the family wanting Jack to get them a color TV for Christmas.
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.