Review: The Wonder Years: Season One (DVD)

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Title: The Wonder Years: Season One
Format: DVD
Release Date: October 7, 2014
Studio: Star Vista Entertainment/Time Life
Original MSRP: $19.99
Number of Discs: 2
Language: English
Subtitles: English [CC] MPAA Rating: NR
A copy of this DVD was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this DVD is available on Episode 391 of the podcast.

Story:
The Wonder Years came along at an interesting time in the late 80’s. It was a high concept show for the time, the story of a young boy growing up in 1968 suburbia America and narrated by his older self. Punctuated by the music of the late Sixties and early Seventies, the tale of Kevin Arnold’s growth into young adulthood was a huge hit at the time.

It debuted after the 1988 Super Bowl in which Washington blew out Denver 42-10 to very positive reviews and when the next five episodes began airing nearly two months later, the show’s ratings and critical acclaim grew.

Kevin’s story, along with the series, begins in 1968 – one of the most turbulent years in American history. Major events are seen through the lens of the family giving an air of familiarity to anyone who grew up in the Sixties. Kevin is surrounded by his stay at home mom, overworked and perpetually annoyed father, his bullying older brother Wayne, a rebellious older sister Karen, his nerdy friend Paul who’s allergic to everything and “the girl next door” Winnie.

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The first season is comprised of six episodes which touch upon Kevin’s first day of Junior High, his first kiss, first school dance and a trip to his father’s office. That episode, “My Father’s Office” is one of the standouts in the season, giving Kevin an insight as to what makes his father tick and an understanding of why he’s often in a terrible mood when he gets home at night.

The shows hold up well after all these years. People watching it for the first time today probably won’t get what all the fuss is about as many television shows have done their own take on the format and TV in general has changed. At the time though, nothing like this had really been done on TV. The mix of comedy and drama, the integrated footage of real-world issues, the music, and the narration above it all, it was incredibly unique and it stood out.

This being season one, any fan of the show might be interested in when the other seasons may release and that’s the kicker. Alongside this release, StarVista Entertainment/Time Life is bringing a twenty-six DVD collector’s set in three different SKU’s. Aimed squarely at collectors and hardcore fans of the series, the DVD’s come in a metal replica Kennedy Junior High locker with magnets on it. Included are two notebooks with information and photos from all the episodes along with a replica yearbook complete with replica signatures from the cast and crew as well as over twenty-three hours of Bonus Features. It’s a great looking set, but it’ll set you back a bit at $249.99.

Complete Series FullWY Experience Full Product Shot

If you’re really into the show you can get “The Experience” along with the Collector’s Set which, for $299.99, adds the following:

  • Wildcats t-shirt and tube socks
  • Vintage Kennedy Junior High gym bag
  • Wildcats pennant and commemorative patch
  • Collectible Wonder Years pins
  • A newly produced Wonder Years CD, featuring the theme song plus classics by Bob Dylan, Diana Ross, The Beach Boys, The Temptations and many others

Is that enough for the fan in you? No? Good, because there’s even one more set available but only five hundred are being made. The “Signature Edition” will net you everything in “The Experience” and Collector’s Set and the cast members will be hand-signing the yearbook. That one’s gonna cost you $499.95.

The individual seasons will likely be released on their own, but if you’re really a fan of the show it’ll probably be cheaper in the long run to get one of the Collector’s Sets, plus it just looks cool. It really depends on your preferences, and wallet.

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Video:
This is a late Eighties television show for better or worse. It doesn’t look bad, just a little soft in places. Kept in the original 4:3 format, some of the camera tricks become a little more obvious on DVD, like in the credits. In some scenes the colors look washed out and others they look vibrant and crisp. Again, none of this takes away from the experience but it looks like there wasn’t a whole lot done to restore the video.

One of the unique things about the show was the amount of file footage inserted to highlight what was being talked about at the time, be it Vietnam, Apollo 8 orbiting the Moon or protest marches. It was all seamlessly woven in and it still works great today.

Audio:
While the series is available on Netflix, the original music has been replaced in many instances, changing the tone of the scenes at times. Even Joe Cocker’s take on With a Little Help From My Friends from The Beatles was redone with a sound-alike. All of the original music is back in this release and it’s a fan’s dream. Every last song from the original broadcasts is here and it’s the key to the whole set. Over three hundred songs from the original broadcasts needed clearance to be included in the series set and they all made it in.

I watched several of the episodes on Netflix to see the differences. While the video is certainly better on the DVD’s, the real standout difference is in the music. Even if you never saw the show when it first aired, the substitute songs don’t stack up well against the originals. The music was chosen for scenes very carefully and you’ll have a much better appreciation for the show with the original songs.

The mix between the dialogue, narration and background noise is quite good so it’s good to see there’s no problems there.

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Bonus Features:
More than two hours of bonus content on a DVD set containing a little over two and a half hours of episodes. That’s a lot of extra content. The cast reunion and information from the show’s creators are the standouts here. There’s just so much for a fan to dive into.

  • Highlights from The Wonder Years cast reunion (20:24) – From May 28, 2014 – Olivia d’Abo, Jason Hervey, Dan Lauria, Danica McKellar, Alley Mills, Fred Savage and Josh Saviano get together and reminisce about their time on the show.
  • With a Little Help from My Friends: The Early Days of The Wonder Years Featurette (24:36) – The creators discuss what it took to get the novel concept to air.
  • Interview: Neal Marlens and Carol Black, Creators (33:55) – A more in depth discussion of the show from the creators.
  • Interview: Fred Savage (Kevin Arnold) (29:26) – Savage discusses the show and its impact on his life.
  • Interview: Danica McKellar (Winnie Cooper) (12:18) – McKellar talks about her experiences on the show.
  • Interview: Josh Saviano (Paul Pfeiffer) (21:35) – Saviano recounts what the show meant to him.

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Conclusion:
Much like WKRP in Cincinnati, the music rights were the big thing holding back a proper home video release of The Wonder Years. Clearly it cost a pretty penny but having all the original music makes all the difference in how the show plays.

It all comes down to how high this show is on your nostalgia meter. For the casual fan, the gimped (in visual quality and audio substitutions) Netflix version may just suffice. For a real fan of the show however, this is the set you’ve long been dreaming of.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the movie using the Elgato Game Capture HD Pro screen capture feature. Promotional shots of the DVD sets were supplied by the publisher.

Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

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