Where on the Shelf Is...The Wonder Years: The Complete Series
Up this week is…
What Is It?
It was 1988, a time when THE COSBY SHOW and THE GOLDEN GIRLS were dealing with problems like Cliff being dragged to Clair's book club and Dorothy and the gang turning their garage into a guestroom.
But then THE WONDER YEARS came along, openly dealing with real, relatable issues: the Vietnam War, lost childhood love, an older brother who didn't think twice about sucking a hamster into a vacuum cleaner.
It captured youth and the zeitgeist through equal parts life, character and Daniel Stern narration. It was also one of those rare pieces of entertainment that had the magic of making us feel nostalgic for a time we never experienced. Most of us may not have been alive to witness Neil Armstrong step on the moon as it happened, but seeing it through the Arnold family's black and white TV in their kitchen made us think, Wow, remember that? That was something.
It also won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series after just six episodes aired. Suck on that, Huxtables.
Where Is It?:
Ask The Beatles. Or The Who. Or Bob Dylan. For THE WONDER YEARS, it's all about the music rights. Over the course of 115 episodes, more than 300 songs from over 100 different artists were heard in THE WONDER YEARS.
It's not so much trouble getting THE WONDER YEARS to DVD, it's getting THE WONDER YEARS to DVD with all of the music intact. And yes, all of the music is important. Refuse to pay for the tunes and you can't get them. If you can't get the tunes, you can't fully appreciate THE WONDER YEARS.
You may not remember "Purple Haze" as the song that plays when Kevin gets an eyeful of his dentist's torture devices, but its absence looms. What's there instead on the Netflix Instant version of that episode is a cheap, stock riff that doesn't have the same power that Hendrix's axe does. The Joe Cocker theme song--arguably the finest of any TV series this side of GIMME A BREAK!--suffered the same fate.
Do most fans remember which song plays as Kevin watches Winnie get on the bus with another boy in the season four classic "Heartbreak"? Probably not, but you'd miss it if it wasn't there, even 20+ years after it first aired. Thankfully, the song (The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows") is intact in the streamed episode, but that's far from a guarantee that it will be on any future release. (For those that don't recall this particular episode, it's the one where Paul and company go searching for John Dillinger's famed, uh, pistol.)
The music is key to THE WONDER YEARS, both for the show and for the non-existent DVD release.
When Will We See It?:
The DVD (and Blu-ray) outlook isn't very good, considering the aforementioned issues. In 2006, Steve Feldstein, senior vice president of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, said the release was "not imminent," adding, "It’s not going to be out in the next couple of months." It wasn't out in the next half-decade, either. Even next year's 25th anniversary of the show's debut won't mean much in terms of release.
Turns out, there is a huge difference between licensing your rights for TV and for DVD. With TV, Tom Jones would get residuals for each time his songs is played in reruns. With DVD, he gets one check, since there’s no way to determine how many times fans watch the episode where Norma took up pottery. And why would Tom Jones want to limit his income? He's got Grammy-winning chest hair to upkeep!
Where Can We See It?:
As stated above, streaming through Netflix is a convenient option--except the episodes are, as far as true fans are concerned, incomplete. Up until June, The Hub showed THE WONDER YEARS, but it's since been replaced by a rotation of ALF, THE FACTS OF LIFE and SABRINA, THE TEENAGE WITCH, all of which are readily available on home video if you're so inclined. But remember, kids, a vote for ALF is a vote for a foul-mouthed, racist pervert.
(Warning: The video embedded below is safe for neither work nor children of the '80s.)
Or, if you refuse to watch THE WONDER YEARS on anything but DVD, you can go to Amazon or eBay. But, of course, sellers know the high demand, and so see no harm in marking up the prices. And, of course, buyers want the product, and so see no harm in paying absurd prices. (A used copy of the 45-minutes The Christmas WONDER YEARS just went for $43, while a sealed edition of the out-of-print 71-minute The Best Of just sold for $199.99.)
Meanwhile, this November, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW is scheduled to debut to Blu-ray…How warped is the home video world when we have a high-definition Morey Amsterdam and only a bootleg Madeline Adams?