Series: The Wonder Years

"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 Arnold (Fred Savage), has an abusive older brother named Wayne (Jason Hervey), a hippie older sister named Karen (Olivia d'Abo), and parents (Dan Lauria and Alley Mills) whom, while still in love each other, would often fight. Kevin's best friend Paul (Josh Saviano) is a gangly geek with frequent asthma attacks, and the Girl Next Door is Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar), 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.

The Wonder Years has long been one of the most-requested shows for TV-on-DVD fans, but the music rights clearances were considered too expensive to make the set worth it — until 2014, when Time-Life announced a complete series release of the show that has 96% of the original music (285 individual clearances) left intact, including the show's famous opening theme (Joe Cocker's version of "With a Little Help from My Friends").


The Wonder Years contains examples of the following tropes:

  • 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.
  • The B Grade: In "Math Class Square", Paul is unhappy to get a B on his math test, saying that a B grade is "like kissing your sister". Kevin, however, would be happy to get a B, since he was getting a C average in math.
  • Big Brother Bully: Kevin's older brother Wayne frequently abuses him, beats him or argues with him. He's really a jerk, but later got some slightly redeeming moments.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • Many of the episodes have bittersweet endings. For example, in one episode the gang fight for Harper's Wood to be saved from becoming a mall. They fail, but decide to play there for one last time.
    • 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. 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".
  • Chekhov's Gun: Two occur in "A Very Cutlip Christmas". First is Mr. Cutlip sneezing, which is how Kevin finds out that the mall Santa is Cutlip, and the other is Norma's desire to buy Kevin a tie that he doesn't want.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Very few of Kevin's classmates from Junior High returned after graduation (it makes sense that the teachers would stay). These include Doug Porter, Tommy Kissling, and Becky Slater. Kevin's only classmates who went to Senior High with Kevin were Paul (after a brief stint in prep school), Winnie, and Randall Mitchell.
    • Carla Healy disappears after the third season, with no further mention.
  • Classically Trained Extra: Dan Lauria, who played Jack (the dad), is a Shakespearean actor who initially considered the role beneath him. This may, however, have helped him maintain his dour, beaten-down-by-life attitude on-screen.
  • 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.
  • Dad the Veteran: Kevin's dad, Jack, is a vet from Korea.
  • 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 first episode has Brian Cooper in it. He's introduced by the narrator as the last member of the cast, and it's extremely jarring.The early episodes "My Dad's Office" and "Christmas" have scenes without Kevin, who otherwise appears in every scene. Although the last season has a few (non-montage) scenes without Kevin. "Alice in Autoland" begins and ends with scenes at parties Kevin wasn't at, and "Eclipse" has a subplot of Chuck being left behind and finding his way to the museum. The narration in "My Dad's Office," the earliest example, makes clear that Kevin is speculating what happened after he left the room.
  • Embarrassing First Name: On the first day of junior high in the pilot, Winnie tells Kevin and Paul to start calling her by her proper name, Gwendolyn, since Winnie sounds so immature. They never do and it's never mentioned again.
  • The Everyman: Kevin is supposed to represent the life of an average teenage boy growing up in the 1960's.
  • Exact Words: In "Ladies and Gentlemen... The Rolling Stones", Kevin gets grounded for speeding, and when the parents go out, Jack tells Kevin that his car better not be an inch away from where it is when Jack gets back. They ride with somebody else, and Kevin takes his dads car.
  • First Kiss: Kevin and Winnie in the first episode. It was apparently the first kiss for the actors as well.
  • Hot for Teacher: The episode, "Our Miss White", has Kevin having a crush on his teacher Miss White.
  • The Generic Guy: Paul's girlfriend Carla Healy doesn't have much personality beyond being as nerdy as Paul.
    • Becky Slater could be this whenever she's not angry at Kevin.
  • Girl Next Door: Winnie who is a wholesome, pretty American girl. She has been Kevin's friend since chilhood.
  • Imagine Spot: Kevin frequently had these.
  • 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.
  • "Jeopardy!" Thinking Music: Plays in "Full Moon Rising" when Kevin and friends tutor Rickey for his drivers test.
  • Jerkass:
    • Wayne Arnold who apparently enjoys torturing his younger brother.
    • In one episode, Kevin is perceived like a jerk when Becky Slater tells the whole school what he says about them behind their backs. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Wayne never quite grew out of being the obnoxious older brother, but he eventually showed a Big Brother Instinct and genuine concern for Kevin as the show went on.
  • 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 about the mean things Kevin said about them behind their backs when they were a couple, trying to run over Kevin with her bike (which results in her getting a new boyfriend), 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.
    • Kevin, apparently, in "Back to the Lake". When driving himself and Paul to work, he decides to skip work and go to the lake to see Cara, against Paul's will. While we never see what happens when they return to work, Kevin continues to be employed at Mr. Chong's Chinese restaurant while Paul is never seen or mentioned to be working there again.
    • In "Ladies and Gentlemen... The Rolling Stones", Kevin gets grounded. When the parents go out for the night, Jack tells Kevin not to drive his car, so Kevin drives Jack's car. He ends up wrecking the back of the car, and fears his parents finding out when they get back... only for the person who had driven them to accidentally bump into the car before Jack could see that it was already wrecked... and then Kevin learns Norma had already wrecked it.
  • 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.
  • Nostalgic Narrator: The adult Kevin, voiced by Daniel Stern. Not the Trope Maker, but almost certainly the Trope Codifier, and thus the most parodied.
  • 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 last 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.
  • Picked Last: An early episode had the final two kids left to pick from being Paul Pfiefer and another student played by Dustin Diamond 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".
  • Present Day Past: Look behind their heads out the school bus windows. Count The '80s cars. The pilot episode (set in 1968) has Karen reading from Our Bodies, Ourselves (published three years later).
  • Psycho Strings: Plays whenever Kevin looks at his math papers that got D's in "Math Class".
    • Also plays in "Full Moon Rising" when Kevin realizes that the people in the next car whom his friends are mooning happen to be his parents.
  • Put on a Bus: Karen, after having a falling out with her father. Craig Hobson by his parents in Season 4, much to Becky's chagrin. Also all of the junior high teachers, most of whom stayed there after Kevin graduated (Coach Cutlip got transferred to a new job, but not at Kevin's new high school).
  • Real Song Theme Tune: Joe Cocker's version of "With a Little Help from My Friends".
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When one of Wayne's pranks goes too far, Kevin lets it all out.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Paul's on-again/off-again girlfriend Carla Healy doesn't seem to have much personality beyond being as geeky as Paul.
  • 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.
    • In "Heart of Darkness", Paul mentions that his mom once took him to try contacts, but he ended up being allergic to them. But then in the last two seasons he switched to wearing contacts. Maybe he got treatment for those allergies.
  • Shaped Like Itself : From the pilot. "The jockstrap, sir, is a particular type of strap that is constructed of a strap-type material, which is utilized exclusively for the purposes...of jocks."
  • She Is All Grown Up: Winnie Cooper goes from scrawny dork to "Fanservice for pre-teens" incarnate — all in the first episode.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: One of Kevin's first lines about Winnie.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Wayne's friend Wart comes back from Vietnam and has trouble adjusting.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Kevin and his older brother, the butt-headed smart-ass Wayne.
  • Slice of Life: The show is about a teenager growing up in a suburban neighbourhood during 1960's Vietnam War Era America.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Stand by Me and A Christmas Story.
  • 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.
  • íThree Amigos!: Kevin, Paul, and Winnie. Kevin is the everyman, Paul his nerdy best friend, and Winnie is his best female friend and his main love interest throughout the series.
  • Title Drop: Adult Kevin utters the phrase "the wonder years" in the very first episode.
  • Wham Episode: 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 No Parody Has Gone Before: The show had a parody of Star Trek: The Original Series where Kevin and three other boys dressed as Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty deal with girls that manipulate them with their wrist controls, as the narrator's way of explaining that he didn't understand girls.
  • 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.