I watched a lot of M*A*S*H when I was a kid, although I admit I have no recollection of differentiating between new episodes and reruns airing in syndication. Much of the show’s serious themes went over my head, I’m sure, but I loved the characters and the snappy dialogue and the humor. (Another admission: On a visit to my grandma’s once, I tried to watch the original movie, but I lost interest when I saw that it had different actors than the TV show. I never have watched it.)
When I thought of my dad serving in Korea in the early 1970s, I always imagined it being like M*A*S*H.
I seem to remember my parents liking the show, too, so it was kind of a big deal when the final episode aired – thirty years ago today – Feb. 28, 1983. I was 12 years old, so I literally could not remember a time when M*A*S*H was not on TV.
The whole opening sequence of Goodbye, Farewell and Amen – with Hawkeye in psychiatric treatment and relating the story about the bus and the chicken and the baby – really threw me off, because it wasn’t like the M*A*S*H I was used to watching at all.
It did settle back onto more familiar ground. And this was my first “big finish” to a TV show, so I got really caught up in the emotions of all the characters saying goodbye and wrapping up their storylines, and when it was over, I felt a little sad.
OhmygoshOhmygosh, I cannot believe this still exists:
Honestly, it doesn’t match up to my memory, but then again, I’m pretty sure I was only three (maybe four) years old when mom took me to the local TV station in Lima, Ohio so I could climb into the Birthday Chair and stick my hand in the Penny Jar. I had seen other kids do this on TV – it was a locally-hosted kids’ show – and the fact that I was going to be ON TELEVISION just blew my preschool mind.
Of course, I didn’t actually get to see myself on TV, but I think I remember Dad telling me he had watched, and I tried to imagine what it had looked like on that black and white TV in our living room.
I remember only snapshots of the experience: Only the faintest memory of host Easter Straker, and over the years, the chair had morphed in my memory into something like one of those red and gold Santa thrones. I have a vague recollection of finding it odd that the studio was kind of a plain room with just this one corner decorated for the show. But I do remember reaching into that penny jar, and being disappointed that my fist couldn’t scoop up a jingling mini-pile of coins, Scrooge McDuck fashion.
My post about Giant John brought the memories to the surface again and inspired me to do a quick Google search for something like: Lima + Ohio + TV + show + birthday + chair, and I was just amazed when it returned that page from the Allen County Museum.
Better than a fistful of pennies.
Seven months passed between the end of The Wonder Years‘ first season on April 19, 1988, and Season Two’s first episode – “The Heart of Darkness” – which aired November 30 of that year. In teenage time-passage perception terms, this felt like a long time, spanning as it did the end of my junior year of high school, the subsequent summer, the start of my senior year, and my 18th birthday.
It was a pretty dynamic and busy and fun time, so I guess it’s not surprising that in the years since, I’ve always felt like this episode was further along in the series.
Season Two is also the last Wonder Years season stamped with the intangible associations of being at home in the house where I grew up.
I mostly watched these episodes from our living room couch, or one of the chairs, or while reclined on the floor, propping my head up with a throw pillow. (Digression: Is there a physiological reason that kids lying on the floor watch TV from their stomachs, while as you get older, you flip over to your back?) Mom and dad are probably there. My two younger brothers are most likely getting ready for bed. The curtain covering the sliding glass door to our back porch is closed for the night. These are episodes where commercial time still meant it was time for a quick trip to the refrigerator or the bathroom, and they air early enough in the evening that I’m likely to stay up doing my homework afterward.
I also associate these episodes with my senior-year English teacher, Mr. Hoffman. I don’t remember the specific reference he made, but I do recall him asking one day in class if anyone had watched The Wonder Years the previous night, and mentioning that he liked the show. (Adam may be able to help me out on this one. Adam?)
There are 17 episodes in Season Two, which makes sense, since the combined total with season one makes for a standard-length 23-episode season.
So: “The Heart of Darkness.”
This episode stood out in my mind for a long time, most likely because it seems like I never caught it in syndicated broadcast, and I’m not entirely certain I saw it more than once or twice (assuming they re-ran it back in the eighties) until within the past few years, when on TV showed it. I have sometimes wondered – in particular, when ABC Family was airing the series during the day – if it was due to the show’s content.
Because this is The Episode Where Kevin and Paul Smoke Cigarettes and Drink Beer.
My mom did not like this episode and specifically said she didn’t want my brothers – who would have been in late elementary school – watching it.
The episode begins with the first of several dream sequences playing on Kevin’s typical junior high anxiety and including a great soundtrack use of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” Back in the real world, Kevin’s still kind of smarting from the whole Winnie/Kirk McCrae thing, and the fact that she’s suddenly hanging out with the popular kids isn’t helping. Kevin reacts by snubbing her in the hallway and then throwing his lot in with a detention-hall regular – Gary Cosey, played by Breckin Meyer. A couple forged parental signatures here, a couple lies to moms there, and Kevin and Paul (peer-pressured along for the ride) find themselves “partying” with Gary out in the woods at night.
Of course, when Kevin and Paul bring stuff like marshmallows to the campfire, they’re stunned to find their fellow seventh-grader there with his stash of smokes and beer.
It’s clear that Kevin and Paul are hardly partaking of the alcohol and tobacco – although Paul seems to drink of the beer a little more deeply than Kevin, who barely touches the stuff to his lips, it’s also apparent that his subsequent goofiness is an effort to fit in, and he’s not really feeling any intoxicating effects. The scene is played for some laughs – as adult Kevin narrates the moment where Paul is deciding what to do with the beer in his hand, he urges his younger friend to be the level-headed one and Just Say No, only to see Paul heartily knock the can back for a swig – but it’s also fittingly uncomfortable. There’s talk of girls and girlfriends and their “honkers” (context: not noses) or the lack thereof, and the possibility of reaching second base.
Gary winds up talking Kevin and Paul into exploring a nearby “cave,” which turns out to be a storm sewer, and then turns into a full-on jackass, trying to scare the guys with tales of dead bodies and going into an obnoxious fit of ghostly moans. (This scene still strikes home: It reminds me of a kid who lived a couple streets away when I was in elementary school. We were becoming friends until he slowly squashed a tadpole to death on the road and then drove me to near tears by threatening to lock me in his family’s cellar.)
I also have to note that being the parent of a high-schooler adds a whole new layer of perspective to watching this episode. I don’t remember when I had my first illicit beer – though I can say for certain it was a shared can of Old Milwaukee that someone’s older brother had stashed out behind a tree somewhere, and it was so revolting that I didn’t have a second illicit beer for a good long time.
It’s hard for me to express exactly why or how much I have always loved The Wonder Years.
I was a junior in high school when I met Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper and their families and classmates in March of 1988, and I fell hard for the show from the very start. Maybe it was because at 17 and in the second half of my junior year of high school, I felt very much on that verge of change where childhood seemed both distant and still within reach. Maybe it was because I loved The Princess Bride, and here was a new show with that funny kid (Fred Savage) in it. Maybe it was the Christmas Story-esque character presence of the adult narrator, which gave the show its signature serving of self-aware humor and nostalgia.
Looking at it now, it’s almost kind of strange the way this show seemed to connect with so many people my age. On its surface, The Wonder Years is dead-aimed at the younger Baby Boomer audience: Kevin does his growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the music and cultural upheaval of the era are so much a part of the show that they practically play supporting character roles.
And yet I feel – and I always have – like The Wonder Years belongs definitively to my generation, bridging as it did those last few teenage years and our steps into the early 20s and adulthood. Somehow, this show, with its Joe Cocker cover of The Beatles’ “A Little Help from My Friends,” and its older-sister hippie and its backdrop of the Vietnam War and generations in conflict and NASA’s Apollo missions – managed to feel as real and relevant to me in the late 1980s as any TV program or movie set in then-current surroundings.
The Wonder Years just never felt like an era-dependent show to me – it felt much more tied to the emotions and pitfalls and joys and concrete-serious ridiculousness of growing up through junior high and high school. And there is some evidence that I’m not completely off-base in this perception: My high-school-aged daughter is enjoying the series now, and she says the whole middle-school-note-passing, hallway drama, “Please ask Girl A to find out if Girl B likes Boy C” and “Does she like you, or does she like you like you” scenarios remain very much a part of that social landscape.
The Wonder Years was the first TV show that I remember watching from the pilot to series finale. Through my senior year of high school, three-and-a-half years in college, and into that dark post-graduate period, that weekly half-hour was an escape and a ritual and a comfort. With the right friends, it was a collectively-shared joy – our freshman year at Bowling Green, it seemed like Adam and I were constantly scrambling to write down bits of dialogue or narration that hit home. And when life sucked, The Wonder Years gave me 30 minutes where it was easy to forget.
The Wonder Years last episode aired May 12, 1993 – the day my dad died. Aaron came over, and he and my brothers and I watched the series finale together. I still have the VHS tape of that broadcast.
It was in the mid 1990s, when Jenn and I lived in Orlando, that I first started trying to collect the entire series on tape. The local WB television affiliate aired The Wonder Years in syndication weekdays around lunchtime, and I began filling VHS cassettes and labeling them as I’d mentally bookmarked them over the years: “The Tomato Lady”, “Lisa Berlini”, “Winnie Sleeps Over.” The station stopped airing its reruns after I’d filled about three tapes.
After we’d moved here to Ohio, it showed up again in the mid 2000s, and I would set the DVR to record the show, then spend several hours each weekend dubbing the digital recordings onto still more tapes until I had 113 of the 115 episodes, charted on guides I’d printed from the internet, and given their proper titles.
Within the last couple years, I had begun transferring these onto DVDs, but it was a slow trial-and-error process, and I had managed to put less than a dozen episodes onto disc.
We have just one barely-functioning VCR remaining in our house now – you’re rolling the dice against the Tape-Eating Gnomes every time you insert a cassette – and I’ve been watching The Wonder Years from time to time on the Hub network, which recently added the show to its lineup.
But now that the entire series is available for streaming, as Vizzini told Inigo Montoya, it’s “Back to the beginning!” for me.
It will take some time to work through all one hundred fourteen episodes (there’s a clip show from the end of Season Four which isn’t included in the complete run, for some reason), but I’m looking forward to rewatching them with my daughter, and writing about them.
I’ll visit Season One in its entirety – it’s only six episodes long, and we’re already watching Season Two – in my next blog entry.
Update: Season One blog entry is here!
Time enough for another quick visit to June 1982, courtesy of the final edition of The Cleveland Press. Today: TELEVISION LISTINGS.
This being the June after fifth grade for me, I would have been in summer TV mode, so I would absolutely have taken full advantage of WUAB-TV Channel 43’s morning slate of The Jetsons and Battle of The Planets. (Which was not called “G-Force,” despite what some people seemed to think when we were all growed up.) Maybe even a Rocky & Bullwinkle before starting my day for real. And had this still been during the school year, I would have absolutely come home and been glued to Lost in Space at 4 p.m. Depending on the weather, etc., I may also have partaken of some Brady Bunch. (Later on, you’ll note Channel 43 was home to The Rockford Files and Sanford and Son. Until I was a teenager, this was easily My Favoritest Channel.)
Also notable: Nickelodeon’s daytime programming at the time was still the five-hour block of Pinwheel.
Just-after-dinner viewing might have included Family Feud or M*A*S*H.
Now, it’s June, so Prime Time is reruns-and-movies territory, but you can see that NBC (Channel 3) hasn’t reached its Golden Thursday era yet, with Fame still preceding Diff’rent Strokes and Gimme A Break before Hill Street Blues. (Seems weird to me that Fame was the 8 p.m. show, while the goofy sitcoms were on from 9 to 10 p.m.)
I also kind of like the large empty blocks where sations just WENT OFF THE AIR >gasp!< (Or, if they DID run informercials, they sure as hell didn’t advertise them in the listings. Screw you, Guthy-Renker.)
Because I heard the Carol of the Bells yesterday, set the wayback machine for 1989, when the marketing success of the California Raisins made Claymation cool again:
My friend Aaron – who did the best impersonation of the hammerless bell – and I wore this part of the tape out with all the rewinding and replaying.
Seriously – I love living in an age where a single phrase from an old commercial can pop through my head, and thirty Internet seconds later:
Seriously – If you had asked me if I remembered “The Toothbrush Family,” I would have said no. Even if you’d mentioned Hot Rod Harry and Susie Sponge and Flash Fluoride? Answer’s still no.
Two seconds into that video, though, and the triggers are pulled, and it all comes back.
Stuff like this fascinates me: Clearly I had the memory of this cartoon lodged in my brain cells somewhere – but if I’d never gotten to see this clip again, and I’d never accessed those memories, is that really “forgetting” the cartoon itself, or is that just losing the key to the garage, if you know what I mean? This makes me wonder how much other stuff I might still have tucked away that I just can’t quite get to without a little help.
Updated 12/15/2009 – Noticing that reuglar searches for the origin of “Smoke Up, Johnny!” and other Breakfast Club lines are bringing visitors here, I figured I’d just put the link to my Breakfast Club quote piece up here at the top to make things easier. Here you go: John Hughes and The Breakfast Club – Forever Quotable.
Yes, the new NBC show‘s just one episode in, but I can tell you this: We had to pause and rewind it twice because I was laughing so hard and enjoying it so much.
Joel McHale – Jenn and I are huuuuuuge fans of “The Soup,” and Joel’s delivery and approach to the character ring familiar without feeling out-of-place in a fictional setting.
The 1980s references: Large chunks of the pilot made me warm and fuzzy and/or nearly caused some coffee-through-the-nose snortage by loudly validating my opinion of The Breakfast Club‘s lasting relevance. Also, I may now have to elevate “Smoke up, Johnny!” to an A-level quote status. (And the closing music with the dedication to John Hughes? Don’t you make me get misty-eyed again, you genius bastards.)
The writers seem well-aware of the stereotyped characters which it half-embraces and half-mocks, and so far I think they’re doing a bang-up job of creating a stand-alone show and a light spoof at the same time.
Chevy Chase. As far as the pilot went, his performance was the biggest and best surprise. He absolutely locked in on the role of a guy who clearly wants to be revered for his past accomplishments without coming off as an ACTOR who wants to be revered for his past accomplishments. It would have been very easy for NBC to blow his role out of proportion and promote this whole thing as Comedy Legend Chevy Chase’s Triumphant Return, and frankly, I half-expected his performance to have that air of “Look at me I was FLETCH for God’s sake!!!” But he pulled the whole genuinely confused thing off marvelously understated.
Not that we’d planned to see the new Land of the Lost movie, but wow, judging by the reviews and the box office, it sounds like Kelsey and I have been much better served having spent our time watching several of the original television episodes during the Sci-Fi channel’s marathons.
What I remembered about “Land of the Lost” from when I was a kid was mostly bits and pieces: The opening credits and the theme song. Sleestaks. (Which, it seems to be generally agreed upon by people of a certain age, were utterly terrifying, what with the hissing and the creepy slinking and the big shark-black eyes and all.) Pylons and crystals that looked like giant Lite Brite pegs. Dinosaurs. That’s about it – nothing about specific episodes or storylines or the tone of the show. (I had also never realized that Dad/Rick Marshall actually escaped the Land of the Lost in the third season opener to be conveniently replaced by Uncle Jack.)
Then, while doing some homework for the GeekDad Father’s Day Gift Guide, I learned about the impressive list of science-fiction writers who’d worked on the show – Larry Niven, Norman Spinrad, Ben Bova and Theodore Sturgeon, for instance – and I was intrigued enough to set the DVR to record something like eight or ten episodes. (There’s a good 2004 interview with writer David Gerrold about season one, when most of those writers contributed, in the TV Shows on DVD archives.)
Truthfully, I didn’t have high hopes for my return down that thousand-foot waterfall. A few years back, I thought it would be fun to check out the Hanna-Barbera “Godzilla” cartoon my friends and I loved to watch on Saturday mornings in the late 1970s. It sucked. And I don’t even remember being super-attached to “Land of the Lost” in the first place – it was just another one of those Sid & Marty Krofft shows.
So watching “Land of the Lost” for the first time in probably close to 30 years, with my skeptical 12-year-old daughter along for the ride, I’m more than pleasantly surprised to find that:
The opening theme is exactly as I’ve recalled, down to the timing of the Marshalls’ scream as they plunge over the falls, and the miniatures-and-bluescreen work are also just as cheesy as I remember too.
The Sleestaks are still creepy: My daughter says so, without any prompting, and I find this strangely comforting.
For all the laughable special effects and simplistic acting, there’s actually some decent storytelling crammed into these sub-30-minute episodes, and the show’s tone is completely unlike the almost-all-for-laughs atmosphere of every other Krofft production that comes to mind. Multiple time streams, dead alien races, mind trips, travelers stuck halfway between worlds, questions that go unanswered and mysteries left that way. And while there are sitcom-esque one-liners regularly stuck in the Marshalls’ banter, for the most part, everything’s played straight: This is a bizarre and deadly world these kids and their dad (and later, uncle) are stuck in.
Kelsey & I liked this a lot more than we were prepared to, and I’m sad that we missed out on seeing most of the first season episodes, but that’s what DVD sets are for, and the summer stretches out ahead of us like a watercolor matte painting of an abandoned Altrusian metropolis.