The Wonder Years

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
The Wonder Years TV Poster Image
Nostalgic coming-of-age sitcom still charms.
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 20 reviews

We think this TV show stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The series captures what it was like to grow up in middle-class America during the turbulent late '60s/early '70s. Themes include gratitude and integrity. It underscores some of the clashing values of the time, and highlights some of the major historic moments of those years. The importance of family is also highlighted.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The Arnolds and most of their friends and neighbors are typical white, middle class folks of the era who live generally productive and socially acceptable lives. Karen's hippie lifestyle often clashes with her parents' middle-class values. Wayne likes to harass Kevin. African-American and Asian characters are occasionally visible, but references to diverse populations are made within the context of the time (e.g. African-Americans are referred to as "negroes").

Violence

Occasional pushing and shoving, usually between Kevin and Wayne.

Sex

The focus is primarily on teenage crushes and includes hugging and kissing. Later episodes include more sexualized content. These references aren't explicit but do include discussion of virginity, pregnancy, and living together without being married. In one specific episode, Kevin touches a girl's breast while making out with her. When two main characters do have sex at the end of the series' run, nothing graphic is visible.

Language

Wayne calls Kevin "butthead" on a regular basis. Other words include "damn," "hell," and "jackass."

Consumerism

Brand-name references to products like Pepsi and Fresca. News clips and scenes from popular TV shows of the time, such as I Dream of Jeannie, are visible. Music from the era is also featured, ranging from Motown to classic rock (including the show's theme song, "With a Little Help from My Friends").

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Beer and other alcoholic beverages are occasionally visible, as are cigarette and cigar smoking. In one episode, Kevin gets drunk -- and sick as a result. Later episodes also contain occasional references to marijuana.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Wonder Years is a hit '80s sitcom series that tells the story of main character Kevin Arnold's childhood, beginning with his tween years in the late 1960s. The events are told from both his adult and childhood perspectives, thanks to the show's trademark narration. The series focuses on Kevin's relationships with family, friends, dates, and so on -- many of which are impacted by the tumultuous political, social, and economic factors of the era. While early episodes are mostly pretty tame, later seasons do include some drug references (marijuana) and stronger sexual innuendo/scenarios.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 3, 11, and 13 year old Written byB H. November 17, 2016

Amazing show for older kids!

This show is just as good as it was in the 80s. My whole family enjoys the charming relationships, positive messages, and witty banter from the adult narrator.... Continue reading
Adult Written bySkier1225 December 3, 2014

Not for young kids.

I'm surprised that this show would be rated as acceptable for kids under 14 with the amount of young adult and drug use content. There are far better shows... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byfashionguru12 January 20, 2013

Ok for mature children

The wonder years is a good show but later on when the main character gets older, there is some older content that is okay for a sturdy 13 yr old. In the beginin... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byWebCriticGirl76 January 5, 2011

Successful, Wonderful, All-Age Material

I love the Wonder Years, I watch it every day. But Kevin's dad Jack uses d***, he**, and d*** it a lot. It is sweet and teaches you many valuable lessons,... Continue reading

What's the story?

Set in the late 1960s and early '70s, THE WONDER YEARS offers a funny, nostalgic look at a boy coming of age during of one of the most tumultuous times in American history. Narrated in voice-over by adult baby boomer Kevin Arnold (Daniel Stern), the show is structured as a flashback to Kevin's day-to-day life from 1968, when he's 11, until his junior year of high school in 1973. His story is told from his point of view both as an adolescent (as portrayed by Fred Savage) and as an adult. Kevin's youth is spent in middle-class suburban America with his family, including his Korean War veteran dad Jack (Dan Lauria), homemaker mom Norma (Alley Mills), hippie older sister Karen (Olivia d'Abo), and annoying older brother Wayne (Jason Hervey). Along with best friend Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano) and girl-next-door Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar), Kevin faces the trials and tribulations of growing up -- including braving a first kiss, starting (and surviving) high school, and getting a driver's license.

Is it any good?

Overall, the series is lighthearted, but it also contains its fair share of both thoughtful and dramatic moments. These moments usually present themselves when the events in Kevin's life are touched by the social, political, and economic upheavals of the era. Conflicts between Mr. Arnold and Kevin's older sister Karen are frequent, as the elder Arnold's traditional middle class values collide with Karen's hippie counterculture ideals. This tension in The Wonder Years -- in addition to concerns about the draft, losing neighborhood children in Vietnam, and putting a man on the moon -- create the backdrop for a world that Kevin and his friends must try to make sense of while growing into adulthood.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about nostalgia in the media, especially in shows like The Wonder Years. How accurate do you think TV shows and movies that look back on the past -- particularly the recent past -- are? Do people in general have a tendency to idealize certain parts of history?

  • Families can also talk specifically about life in America during the 1960s and '70s. What was it like growing up in that era? How have events like the Vietnam War and the hippie counterculture movement impacted American life today? Which of today's events do you think will have as lasting an effect on future generations?

  • How do the characters in The Wonder Years demonstrate gratitude and integrity? Why are these important character strengths?

TV details

Character Strengths

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