Throughout the month of December, TV Editor Kate Kulzick and Film Editor Ricky D will review classic Christmas adaptions, posting a total of 13 each, one a day, until the 25th of December.
The catch: They will swap roles as Rick will take on reviews of classic television Christmas specials and Kate will take on Christmas movies. Today is day 17.
The Wonder Years ‘Christmas’ (1988)
Directed by Steve Miner
Teleplay by Carol Black (creator) and Bob Brush
What’s it about?
It was Christmas in 1968, and Kevin and his brother Wayne fell in love… with colour TV. It was more than love, it was lust. They were witnessing it as a modern miracle, and it was the first time the two boys agreed on something. They quickly set out and try to convince their dad Jack to buy a new idiot box for the family for Christmas. Meanwhile Kevin tries to find the perfect present for his dream girl Winnie after she unexpectedly gives him a present at school. In the end, the family doesn’t get the TV, but Kevin does learn the valuable lesson that Christmas is about more than just presents. It is about family and friends, memories, and those very special moments.
For the unfamiliar, The Wonder Years is often cited as one of the greatest half hour American drama series ever produced. Created by husband-and-wife producers Carol Black and Neal Marlens, The Wonder Years ran for six seasons on ABC from 1988 through 1993, and ranked as one of the most watched shows on television during that time. After only six episodes aired, The Wonder Years won an Emmy for best comedy series, Fred Savage became the youngest actor ever nominated as a lead, and the series also grabbed a Peabody Award for achieving two seemingly contradictory effects: “evoking a traditional family sitcom while pushing boundaries and using new modes of storytelling”.
While “Christmas” pales in comparison to some of the series’ best episodes (such as “My Father’s Office”), this episode runs with the charm that made the show a success in the first place: it takes everyday slice-of-life incidents and brings it to the small screen with warmth and sincerity. Everything rings true to reality and nothing is ever exaggerated for a quick, cheap laugh. Not much happens in “Christmas” outside of the family’s desperate attempt to convince their father to buy them a colour TV, but as with most episodes of the Wonder Years, a significant part of the episode’s appeal emanates from Kevin’s infatuation with Winnie Cooper. Seeing him so desperately trying to find her perfume as a gift, only to settle for a snowglobe is utterly adorable. Daniel Stern (who supplies the narration for Kevin), puts it best when he says:
“OK, so it wasn’t what James Bond would give Pussy Galore, but James Bond wasn’t getting by with a 50-cent allowance.”
But the standout moments in “Christmas” all come from Jack, a tough-as-nails dad, who every once in a while opens up to reveal his love for his kids. The holidays can be an especially tough time for any parent, particularly those who try their hardest to make their children happy. Not everyone is blessed with the finances to go out and purchase a television priced at $469. In a way, Jack is the complete opposite of Scrooge, as pointed out by Kevin. We see him grumble about and bargain with the cost of just about everything, but it’s not that Jack cares about money, he just can’t afford to be irresponsible with what he does with that money.
Stern’s narration gave The Wonder Years a unique feel and rhythm and a clearer look at life through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy. His narration usually offers the biggest laugh, but the funniest moment actually comes from Karen, Kevin’s sister, who tells him: “You’re backing dad in to a corner. He wants to buy a TV, but he wants to surprise us. It’s complicated.”
Few series have been able to capture the pain and triumphs of adolescence as The Wonder Years. Their first Christmas special pulls off the neat trick of affirming that money can’t buy happiness, while serving up enough tender moments to recommend it highly. Directorial, it’s excellent. Emotionally, it’s engagingly warm, funny – and manages to be sweet without getting sticky. As the family gathers in the final scene to sing Christmas carols, we are teased with the threat of the first snowfall. Thankfully for the Arnolds, it started to pour instead, and somehow under the rain, the Arnold family rediscovered the true spirit of Christmas. Jack does buy the family a television after all, only it came two years later.
How Christmassy is it?
100 % – The entire episode takes place during the Christmas holiday and features the following songs:
Performed by Glenn Campbell & Cher
“Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy”
WRitten by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
“Twelve Days Of Christmas”
Performed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
“Jingle Bell Rock”
Performed by Bobby Helme
Performed by Bing Crosby
Performed by Joni Mitchell
You May Like It If…
Anyone who likes comedy-dramas and good TV writing.
The final narration of the series beautifully summed up the experience that was The Wonder Years:
“Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you’re in diapers, the next day you’re gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place…a town…a house like a lot of houses…a yard like a lot of other yards…on a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is…after all these years…I still look back…with wonder.”
Back in 1998, there were two Wonder Years DVDs released: The Best of the Wonder Years and The Best of the Christmas Wonder Years. Recently the entire series was available to stream on Netflix.
Jay Stansfield was kind enough to send us a holiday greeting with a fantastic Christmas song which I’ve embedded below. Enjoy!