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