DVD Review: The Wonder Years - Complete Series

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Sure to be on many a TV fan’s Christmas list this year is StarVista Entertainment/Time Life’s The Wonder Years - Complete Series 26-DVD set. That’s 115 episodes spanning six seasons for the beloved half-hour dramedy that premiered back in January of 1988. Not only does this mark the first time that co-creators Neal Marlens and Carol Black’s nostalgic classic has been issued on DVD in its complete form, the set is positively loaded with supplemental features. And, for those concerned about the integrity of the classic rock and pop tunes that peppered the episodes’ soundtracks, StarVista/Time Life has gone to great pains to secure almost all of the music as heard in the original broadcasts.

Wonder Years Display (380x246).jpgThat means over 300 classic songs, including the indispensible Joe Cocker cover of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” are heard in their proper context. The series’ plotline covers the years 1968-73 and the music is, to an almost unprecedented degree, a central part of the series. Regardless of the Vietnam-era setting, the themes of growing up in a middle class, suburban family have remained timeless. The story of the Arnold family, centering on the coming of age of Kevin (Fred Savage) and his romantic interest Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar), has aged quite well more than 20 years after the show signed off. Daniel Stern’s narration, as the adult Kevin, is as much a lead component of the show as anything. While for some tastes the narration may be a little overwrought and overly earnest in delivery, as a running commentary and inner monologue it’s difficult to imagine The Wonder Years without it.

Wonder Years 1 (186x280).jpgLongtime fans don’t need to be hard sold on the virtues of the series (winner of multiple Primetime Emmys, WGA and DGA Awards, a Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy series in ’89, and a host of additional accolades). What you do need to know is just how unique and clever the packaging of this behemoth of a set is. The entire DVD collection is housed in a locker, and I don’t mean a flimsy cardboard or even plastic box. This storage case is made of heavy-duty metal, with a working, hinged door, that stands almost a foot tall. Inside are two album-style, full-color folders containing the DVDs, tricked out with episode-by-episode info and tons of photos. There’s also a hardcover mini-yearbook featuring more production photos and brand new essays written by key show participants (including Fred Savage). For good measure, there’s a sheet of series-themed magnet that can be used to decorate the locker storage case.

As for the bonus material, Wonder Years geeks will find themselves in heaven. To call the supplements package extensive is to actually undersell the amount of material assembled here. To digest it all, be prepared to invest a few full eight hour days, quite literally. My go-to, favorite featurette is the 2014 cast reunion, which boasted a gathering of all the primary cast members (apparently for the first time in 16 years). New interviews with the cast—including Savage, McKellar, Josh Saviano (Kevin’s friend Paul), Dan Lauria (Kevin’s dad), Alley Mills (Kevin’s mom), Olivia d’Abo (Kevin’s sister), Jason Harvey (Kevin’s brother)—provide perspective and insight about characters. Other key personnel are included in interviews, too, including Daniel Stern and the series’ creators. On top of that, there are a dozen newly-produced featurettes ranging in subject from Kevin and Winnie’s relationship to the aforementioned soundtrack music that “made the moments,” as the featurette says.

Wonder Years 2 (305x380).jpgNow for a critical word to balance out what is a very nicely packaged release: the episodes don’t look very good. There’s no other way to put it. Even given that DVD is a standard definition format, anyone hoping for a visual presentation that outdoes their memories of the original broadcast quality will be undoubtedly disappointed. That’s not to say they’re unwatchable. They just look more like VHS dubs transferred to DVD than a carefully remastered presentation. The other bugaboo is the fact that the discs themselves are packed pretty snugly into the album-style notebooks. Depending on your level of perfectionism, you might fight yourself pulling your hair out over the inevitable hairline scratches that are most likely already on at least some of the discs in a brand new set (and the inevitable fingerprint smudges that will soon grace each disc after it’s been pulled out of pushed back in to its pocket). If you anticipate heavy re-watching and/or lending out of these discs, you just might consider investing in sleeves or slimline cases to store the discs in.

Caveats aside, The Wonder Years - Complete Series is sure to please a legion of fans who’ve long awaited an intact, comprehensive home video presentation. Even the one-hour series finale is offered in its complete, original broadcast form as well as the two half-hour episodes it was edited into for syndicated reruns. While The Wonder Years: Season One is available everywhere as a two-disc set (the first of an anticipated season-by-season roll out), the Complete Series is available exclusively at the official Time Life website. Superfans will find additional add-ons to the set for an additional cost.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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