Inside Pulse 12

DVD Review: The Wonder Years (Season Four)

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Ninth grade could be a great moment or a hellish experience based on your school district’s dividing line. If you went to a junior high where ninth graders stuck around, it was a marvelous time being a freshmen with senior authority. If you were in a system that put ninth graders in high school, you became the lowest of the low to the seniors. Kevin Arnold seemed like he’d be top of the world when he entered ninth grade at his old school. But there’s a lot of change found on The Wonders Years: Season Four. Nothing was ever that stable for the kid growing up in the early ’70s.

“Growing Up” has Kevin and his pals thinking much more differently about girls. Their bodies are finally getting the hang of going beyond puberty. Sure he still is devoted to Winnie (Danica McKellar), but she’s on the other side of town. He’s got immediate urges. The family also needs to come together since his big sister (Olivia d’Abo) is leaving for college. So they all pack up and head to dad’s company picnic. The simple cookout and field games turns traumatic. Turns out the jerk the dad (Dan Lauria) hates nabbed the vice president promotion. Worse is that his cute daughter (Punky Brewster‘s Soleil Moon Frye) is flirting with Kevin. The father-son conflict hits a massive height during a softball game with dad on the mound and Kevin at the plate. This is another amazing episode that lays out why The Wonder Years was an amazing achievement in family sitcoms. There’s a richness to the conflicts and experiences. “Ninth Grade Man” has him enter the new school year hoping he’s on top. But so much is throwing off his game including Becky Slater who will not forgive him for breaking his heart. His bully is back. And the guidance counselor is now the inept gym teacher. Kevin isn’t having an easy transition.

“Little Debbie” brings up the touchy subject of what happens when your best friend’s younger sister has a crush on you. She wants Kevin to take her to the dance, but can he handle it? “The Sixth Man” has Paul (Josh Saviano) trying out for the school’s basketball team even though little Arnold constantly posterizes him on the backyard court. “A Very Cutlip Christmas” has the school’s gym teacher (Robert Picardo) working as the shopping mall Santa. Will Kevin spoil the holidays by letting kids know that Santa is a loser? “The Candidate” has Kevin running for student body president against his old girlfriend Becky. It gets nasty. “Heartbreak” and “Denial” are two episodes dealing with the relationship between Kevin and Winnie getting rocky. Turns out she needs more than a crosstown lover. The emotional nature of the show excels on two episodes that other shows might treat as throwaway concepts. “Buster” has the family dog becoming an issue. “Road Trip” puts Kevin and Dad on the road in search of a suit sale a few towns over. Both episodes dip down into the emotional core of the family. “The House that Jack Built” has the sister shack up with a future Friends cast member. “Graduation” wraps up junior high for Kevin. He gets upset when he finds out that Paul won’t be attending his high school. Things just keep changing for Kevin.

The Wonder Years: Season Four keeps up the quality that usually hits an awkward decline after a few years. Happy Days became a normal sitcom after the first few seasons. Most of the highly praised adolescent TV shows don’t make a full season as seen on Square Pegs, My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks. The Wonder Years is so rare and needs to watched.

The video is 1:33:1 full frame. The transfers bring out the great ’70s inspired sets. The audio is Dolby Digital stereo. The levels bring out the soundtrack choices. The episodes are Closed Captioned.

ABC: Teachers That Made a Difference (36:20) reflects on all those educators that educated the young Kevin Arnold.

Interviews include Fred Savage (21:21), Robert Picardo (37:37), Ben Stein (15:09) and Wendel Meldrum (12:38) describing their wonderful times on The Wonder Years. The three teacher actors were amazed at how often they came back to Kevin’s various classrooms. Picardo relates how he had auditioned to be both Kevin’s dad and older Kevin narrating the show. They really did want him in the episodes.

The Wonder Years: Season Four captures the angst of ninth grade at a junior high.

Time Life presents The Wonder Years: Season Four. Starring: Fred Savage, Olivia d’Abo, Danica McKellar, Dan Lauria, Alley Mills, Jason Hervey and Josh Saviano. Boxset Contents: 23 Episodes on 4 DVDs. Released: January 12, 2015.

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