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Throwback Thursday - The Wonder Years - Christmas

17 Dec 2020

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Throwback Thursday is a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from the past. 

What better way to have a Throwback Thursday than to feature a show that’s exactly about memories and recalling the past, as it is The Wonder Years, and even more if we review a theme episode of this time of the year. But before getting into the episode’s business, let’s have a refresh about the show in general. The Wonder Years ran through 115 episodes, divided in 6 seasons, from 1988 to 1993 and was created by Neal Marlens and Carol Black. It was a coming of age story centered on Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), a kid growing up in an American suburb, in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and the stories of his family and friends, narrated by Kevin himself (with Daniel Stern’s voice) in his mid thirties, 20 years later. 

Kevin (adult): “That Christmas of nineteen-sixty-eight my brother, Wayne, and I fell in love.With color-TV. It was more than love. It was lust. We were witnessing a modern miracle. And we worshipped it like aborigines… From the black-and-white stone-age. It was the first thing we'd ever agreed on.” 

The episode, matter of this review, first aired on December 14th 1988 and was written by Bob Brush and directed by Steve Miner and it was set in the 1968’s Christmas. In the first scene, we see Kevin and his brother Wayne (Jason Hervey) in a store, absorbed by a color-TV that was showing a TV special of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour (that, by the way, wouldn’t air until the next year, but let’s just leave that small detail aside), later joined by their sister Karen (Olivia d’Abo) and their mom Norma (Alley Mills) showing the same awe on their faces. Then, they’re approached by a salesman that asks her if they want to buy the TV set, but mom says her husband has the last word, cut to Jack Arnold (Dan Lauria) complaining about how expensive the Christmas’ Tree he’s buying is. 

Jack: “What do we need a color TV for?” Kevin: “So you can watch things. In color!” Jack: “Watch what?” Wayne: “Bonanza!” Kevin: “Baseball! Football!!” Jack: “TV's cost money, kids. And money doesn't grow on trees. Ya know that.” Kevin (adult): “Yeah. We did know that. If there was one thing we knew, it was that money doesn't grow on trees.” 

Grown-up Kevin starts telling us how his dad’s mood in this time of the year was not the best, so trying to convince him to buy the TV would require a tactical and delicate procedure, when Wayne, as subtle as he was, asks his dad bluntly if he’s buying them the appliance. I really like how this show always managed to contrast scenes and dialogs that disrupted the flow of the moment and created a witty and humorous outcome. 

Kevin (adult): “Few things are less productive than the last ten minutes of school before a major holiday.” 

Then, we are in Kevin’s classroom where every student is only waiting for the bell to announce that the last class of the year is over. As a side note, it was nice to see that the French professor was played by Liz Torres, whom I knew from Gilmore Girls. Following with the story, Kevin and his best friend Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano), are walking through the hallway discussing who made out better on the Holidays, considering that Paul was jewish and his lasted longer. While they argue, Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar), Kevin’s neighbor and crush, approaches them to give Kevin a present, telling him that he has to wait till Christmas to open it. Kevin stays there astonished, and the only thing he can say is he has a present for her too and he’ll bring it to her house later, though he really doesn't have anything. 

Later, at the Arnolds house, they’re setting their Christmas’ Tree while they’re bringing back some family memories, like the time when Kevin played Santa in school when he was younger, a memory he wasn’t very happy to remember, but that puts a smile on Jack’s face which gives Kevin hopes about getting the color-TV, until Wayne ruins the moment again and ends up saying that mom told them they would get one, to which she answers that it wasn’t a definitive fact and she had to discuss it with Jack.

Jack: “Fact is I like color TV. Fact is, I bet I like color TV as much as the next guy. But let me ask you this...does anyone here, have any idea how much one of those sets cost?!” Kevin: “Four-sixty-nine-ninety-five! Plus tax! Minus the discount...Four-thirty-four-forty total.” Kevin (adult): “Looking back, he probably meant that question to be rhetorical.”

In the kitchen at night, Jack and Norma discuss buying the TV, and he says he can’t afford it despite how hard he works, Norma agrees but tells him that she pictured all the family gathered around the TV, sharing time together, and they can get it if they save money by making some sacrifices. Jack seems to be considering it, though he’s clearly not convinced and looks overwhelmed. I liked how they alternate moments of joy or fun with more serious topics, just like life is.

Norma: “It's just that...when I saw it there in the store - TV...I saw the kids looking at it… I saw us here, watching it, together. They've grown up so fast, Jack. Karen's almost leaving us. Honey? What the heck! Why don't we just go for it? You don't have to give me anything this year… We - we'll eat hotdogs for a month!” 

At the same time, Kevin is still intrigued by Winnie’s gift and can’t sleep, so the next day he goes with Paul to a department store to buy her the present he promised. Paul gives him some options but Kevin decides to get her a perfume, and after a lot of bottles smelled, he finds the right fragrance, the one he knows she uses but when he’s about to pay, Paul makes him doubt about giving her something she already has, so he ends up buying a paperweight with an ice-skater and swirling snow. 

Paul: “How about a book? How about one of those paperweights, with the ice-skater inside, and the swirling snow?” Kevin: “Are you kidding?! I hate those!” Paul: “Well, my mother liked the one I got her.” Kevin: “Sorry.” Paul: “It's OK.”

Christmas’ Eve is here and the Arnolds don’t seem to notice it, since everyone is minding their own business, except for Norma who’s the one that’s trying to keep up the spirit of the date, followed a bit by Kevin, who is wrapping Winnie’s gift. Wayne is keeping his 'subtle' campaign for getting that color-TV, Jack is absorbed by the newspaper and Karen is mad at Wayne for not turning down the (black and white) TV’s volume and later has a fight with her dad when she says she has a date that night and storms out of the living room, so the little Christmas’ mood that was on the air disappears.

Kevin (adult): “You had to wonder - maybe every family was given only so much Christmas cheer to begin with. Maybe this year my family had run out.” 

Kevin then goes to give Winnie her present and, after imagining a perfect moment of her greeting him wearing a ballerina dress and a sparkling tiara and kissing him under the snow, he’s struck by reality when an unknown woman appears at the door telling him that Winnie and her family decided to spent Christmas with relatives, considering this were their first holidays without Brian, Winnie’s brother that had recently died on Vietnam. Kevin is clearly upset, at first for not finding her at home and later for being reminded of something he already knew (Brian’s death) but had forgotten. Anyway, he ends up leaving his gift with the lady at the door.

Kevin (adult): “That night I thought about a lot of things. About Winnie. About Brian. About my family. About how things get lost, or messed up.”

On his way back home, he finds his family caroling with the neighbors but still not very cheerful and joins them, when it starts to pour and everyone run away except for the Arnolds who stay there with Jack that is not moving and suddenly they all start to laugh, and they take that mood home, cause we can see them still laughing and having fun while they’re drying and changing their clothes, showing us that memories can be the better gift we can get, as that’s what life is made of. 

Kevin (adult): “I don't even remember what I got for Christmas that year. But Dad gave Mom a bracelet that knocked her socks off. Oh, yeah...and he did get us that color TV...two years later.”

Finally, it comes the time for Kevin and us to see what Winnie’s gift was, and as he opens it to discover that it’s a four-leaf clover, he gives us one of those very insightful reflections that used to end every episode of The Wonder Years, and let us see how he’s growing up and leave us thinking about ourselves too.

Kevin (adult): “For me, that year Christmas stopped being about tinsel and wrapping paper, and started being about memory. At first I was disappointed. Until I learned that memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you wish to never lose. And I learned from Winnie, that in a world that changes too fast, the best we can do is wish each other Merry Christmas. And good luck”

Some final thoughts
This show did very well by making you laugh at one moment and then make you drop a few tears, cause it always left you reflecting on family, friends, love and life in general, and even when we haven’t grown or lived in an American suburb or in the 60’s, by giving us everyday stories it makes us feel identified with the characters and the situations, maybe on a different ways depending on which stage of our lives we are, just like the 80’s adult Kevin changed from the 60’s teenager, but the message keeps the same, cause we’ll always cherish our memories, good or bad, from our childhood and our formative years.

Were you a fan of The Wonder Years back in the day? Did you like this episode? Share your thoughts in the comments section.