I’m putting together our 2014 Holiday Gift Guides, which means publicists are sending me all sorts of amazing sets to review and include. One that deserves special mention is “The Wonder Years Complete Series,” a 26-disc collector’s set featuring all 115 episodes housed in a replica metal locker. Yes, a metal locker, just like the ones used by Kevin and Winnie at Kennedy Junior High School. It’s the coolest thing ever.
I loved “The Wonder Years” when it first aired, and it’s such fun to revisit this iconic show that paved the way for shows like “Modern Family,” “That ’70s Show” and “Freaks and Geeks.” “The Wonder Years” debuted in 1988 following ABC’s broadcast of Super Bowl XXII, and took an affectionate look at growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s in suburban America. It was unlike anything else on TV, both then and now, and for the next six seasons, America tuned in to follow the exploits of Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), as he navigated adolescence in the most memorable of ways.
Never before released on DVD in its entirety, this massive set includes 26 discs with all 115 episodes. As mentioned, the discs are housed in a replica metal locker, along with a host of extras including 15 hours of specially-produced bonus programming, including featurettes, an incredible cast reunion 16 years in the making, and never-before-seen outtakes — including all takes of Kevin and Winnie’s first kiss from the pilot episode.
It was 1968 — the year of Nixon, space walks, “Mod Squad” and Vietnam. Enter Kevin Arnold (Savage), a sixth grader at Kennedy Junior High School. Set against the suburban backdrop of Anytown, USA, Kevin sought to minimize his teenage angst while dealing with an older, noogie-happy brother, Wayne (Jason Hervey); a rebellious sister, Karen (Olivia d’Abo); a distant workaholic father, Jack (Dan Lauria); and a doting housewife mother, Norma (Alley Mills). Add to the mix Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano), his nerdy, allergy-riddled best friend, a potential love interest in winsome girl-next-door Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar) and narration by an older, wiser, wittier Kevin (voiced by Daniel Stern) to add perspective to the nostalgia, and TV history was made.
Twenty-eight million viewers tuned in to ABC for the first episode, and all it took was one kiss between Kevin and Winnie to get audiences hooked on this series created by the husband-and-wife duo Neal Marlens and Carol Black. From 1988 to 1993, “The Wonder Years” was one of the most popular shows on TV, achieving a spot in the Nielsen Top 30 for four of its six seasons. And the critical accolades and awards would follow. After only a scant six episodes, the show captured an Emmy® for “Best Comedy Series;” and, at the age of 13, Fred Savage would become the youngest actor ever nominated as “Outstanding Lead Actor for a Comedy Series.”
The series would go on to win 24 awards (and be nominated for 70 more), including multiple Emmy® Awards, a Golden Globe® and, in 1989, a Peabody® Award for pushing the boundaries of the sitcom format and using new modes of storytelling. Additionally, in 1997, “My Father’s Office” was ranked #29 on TV Guide’s “100 Greatest Episodes of All Time” and in the 2009 list, the pilot episode was ranked #43. Suffice to say, “The Wonder Years” is one of the most critically lauded sitcoms of the late 80s and early 90s.
An integral part of the show was its use of classic period music, so to release the series to the consumer marketplace, StarVista Entertainment/Time painstakingly cleared over 300 songs as they were featured in the original broadcast. Included among the hundreds of memorable, era-defining recordings are Joe Cocker’s iconic title song, “With A Little Help From My Friends,” plus songs by Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, Smokey Robinson, The Who, Aretha Franklin, Carole King and many others.
In addition to the metal locker, the set also includes colorful “Wonder Years” magnets to custom-design each locker, two notebooks, each featuring detailed episode information and production photos, as well as a replica yearbook embellished with signatures from cast members, behind-the-scenes photos and classic show memorabilia, and liner notes penned by Fred Savage, series creators Neal Marlens and Carol Black, and executive producer Bob Brush.
The TV archivists at StarVista Entertainment/Time Life have also put together 15 hours of specially-produced bonus features, including:
– The 2014 Los Angeles cast reunion, featuring all key cast together for the first time in 16 years
– Extensive individual interviews with all seven key cast members (Fred Savage, Danica McKellar, Josh Saviano, Dan Lauria, Alley Mills, Olivia d’Abo and Jason Hervey), as well as with notable actors featured as guest stars or in recurring roles, such as David Schwimmer, Ben Stein, Bob Picardo and Seth Green
– In-depth interviews with narrator Daniel Stern, Neal Marlens, Carol Black, Bob Brush and other production personnel
– Ten brand-new featurettes:
- With A Little Help From My Friends: The Early Days of ‘The Wonder Years
- The Times They Are A-Changin’: The Era
- My Generation: The Kids Grow Up
- When A Man Loves A Woman: Kevin & Winnie Forever
- Bookends: Kevin & Paul
- A Family Affair: At Home With The Arnolds
- I Love You For Sentimental Reasons: Fan-Favorite Episodes
- Will You Love Me Tomorrow: The Wonder Years’ Love Stories
- ABC: Teachers That Made A Difference
- Both Sides Now: The Music That Made The Moments
Finally, never-before-seen outtakes, including alternate versions of Kevin and Winnie’s first kiss from the pilot episode completes this impressive collector’s set, certain to be a fixture in the homes of many a “Wonder Years” fan and TV DVD aficionado.