Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 10, 2016)
A much-loved “coming of age” series about life in the 1960s and 1970s, Season Three of The Wonder Years continues to develop its characters and themes. Here I’ll look through all 23 episodes from Season Three of The Wonder Years. The plot synopses come from the Time-Life website.
Summer Song (air date 10/3/89): “During summer vacation, Kevin experiences his first French kiss and the heartbreak of a summer romance.”
“Song” doesn’t soar, but it offers a pretty good little look at the stereotypical family vacation. It mixes comedy and drama in the usual way and becomes an enjoyable – though not great – show.
Math Class (air date 10/10/89): “Kevin runs into trouble when he thinks his math teacher is being unreasonable.”
At times, “Math” veers toward sappy territory, but it usually stays on the right side of that line. It gives us a good look at the struggles of school and how much one teacher can make a difference.
Wayne on Wheels (air date 10/24/89): “Kevin is obsessed with going to the mall after meeting a beautiful girl, but the only way he can get there is to catch a ride from Wayne.”
After the semi-serious “Math”, “Wheels” goes down a goofier path. That tends to be true for any episode that plops Wayne in a prominent role, as Wayne’s combination of moron and douchebag doesn’t lend toward seriousness. The episode seems a little scattershot but it has its moments.
Mom Wars (air date 10/31/89): “Kevin’s mother tries to stop him from playing tackle football, making him think she’s too overprotective of him.”
“Wars” makes me wonder if the series still wants to compensate for the more dramatic feel of “Math Class”, as “Wars” echoes the comedy of “Wheels”. Like its immediate predecessor, “Wars” opts for a little drama, but it usually finds itself on a broader path. It’s another reasonably good but not great show.
On the Spot (air date 11/7/89): “The school production of Our Town hits trouble when Winnie gets stage fright.”
This episode goes for a more dramatic, sentimental bent, and I don’t think it works. The show would do better if it offered a broad comedic take on amateur theater. Its attempts to add character emotion don’t fare very well.
Odd Man Out (air date 11/14/89): “Kevin and Paul find new best friends after they get on one another’s nerves.”
S3 improves with “Out”, a good look at the vagaries of pubescent friendships. The show largely avoids the schmaltz that marred “Spot” and comes across as believable and enjoyable.
The Family Car (air date 11/21/89): “Kevin hopes that his father will buy a new, fancier car after their old one breaks beyond repair.”
Like “Out”, this episode captures a “true to life” feel well. It goes a bit more comedic than “Out” but doesn’t fall prey to some of the series’ goofier choices. That makes it another solid program.
The Pimple (air date 11/28/89): “Kevin gets his first pimple right before family friends come to visit - with their beautiful teenage daughter.”
As one might expect of a show about facial blemishes, “Pimple” mostly plays things for laughs, and it offers decent amusement. That said, it pushes dopey comparisons to natural disasters too much of the time, and it comes with a highly predictable conclusion. These facets mean the episode seems less than stellar.
Math Class Squared (air date 12/12/89): “To try to get ahead in math class, Kevin decides to cheat on a test, leading only to bigger problems.”
Wonder Years sometimes could be preachy or moralizing, and that trend pops up here. However, it remains fairly honest, so it doesn’t overwhelm us with its themes. Instead, it gives us a pretty three-dimensional look at its topic.
Rock ’n’ Roll (air date 1/2/90): “After seeing the Beatles on TV, Kevin joins a rock ’n’ roll band.”
That synopsis doesn’t really fit, as the Beatles appearance in question took place years before this episode’s events and the show uses the band’s Sullivan spot in an illogical manner. It feels like the episode cites the Fabs for no reason other than as an excuse to show a clip of the Beatles. There’s a good comedy that could revolve around teen garage bands, but “Rock” just seems silly.
Don't You Know Anything About Women? (air date 1/16/90): “A school dance has Kevin hoping to ask his crush, Susan Fisher, but he ends up going ‘as friends’ with his lab partner, Linda.”
“Women” feels like a semi-retread of Season Two’s “Square Dance”, in which Kevin treats a girl poorly to seem cool. It doesn’t match with that show’s emotional heft and feels a bit “by the numbers”.
The Powers That Be (air date 1/23/90): “Jack gets mad at Grandpa Arnold when he comes to visit and gives Kevin a dog.”
“Powers” lacks a lot of focus, as it can’t decide if it wants to be about the relationship between Jack and his dad or about Kevin’s new dog. Neither side fares especially well, especially since it leans toward clichés.
She, My Friend And I (air date 2/6/90): “After Carla breaks up with Paul, Kevin sets up Paul and Winnie to make Carla jealous, but Paul ends up having feelings for Winnie.”
Back in high school, my best friend dated a girl on whom I had a crush. Their relationship didn’t last long, and it didn’t really bother me that much, actually – especially when I found out he was gay anyway.
I may not have experienced much angst, but “Friend” does a pretty good job of capturing the tension I lacked. It shows the natural conflicts involved in this sort of situation and portrays the circumstances well.
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (air date 2/13/90): “Kevin brings Winnie a Valentine’s Day card but it accidentally ends up in Becky Slater’s locker.”
After the fairly insightful “Friend”, “Massacre” goes for a more obvious comedic bent. That makes it entertaining but something of a disappointment, as it doesn’t seem especially sharp.
The Tree House (air date 2/20/90): “Jack and Kevin build a tree house and discover that it provides a good view of the attractive neighbor next door.”
The series went broader as it progressed. Like “Pimple”, “House” tends toward some over the top elements that can grate at times. Also like “Pimple”, this one entertains, but I think the series feels less real as it goes, and that’s not a good thing.
The Glee Club (air date 2/27/90): “ The new student teacher tries to make something more of the Glee Club but has no luck.”
Not long before this episode aired, I student-taught eighth grade Civics. I was never as idealistic as this show’s Miss Haycock. I also never worked with anyone as pretty as Miss Haycock. My inability to connect to the episode aside, “Club” offers an amusing program.
Night Out (air date 3/13/90): “Kevin and Winnie are invited to a make-out party.”
I always disliked the series’ tendency to use science lessons as an allegory, and that dimension flops here. The rest of the show has its moments but doesn’t really go anywhere.
Faith (air date 3/27/90): “It’s tax season at the Arnolds, so Jack is in a bad mood. Norma is so worried about the Apollo 13 astronauts that she loses the tax receipts and doesn’t know how to tell Jack.”
The episode’s self-conscious connection of death and taxes seems a little cutesy. At least “Faith” lets Kevin’s parents have more screentime than usual, and I like the way it integrates the Apollo 13 mission.
The Unnatural (air date 4/17/90): “Kevin is amazed that he is surviving the school’s baseball tryouts, until he finds out the coach and his father served together in the Korean War.”
I played Little League, and to be charitable, I stunk. Actually, I could hit – when I allowed myself to get close to the plate. I was so afraid of getting bonked by the ball that I stood roughly 30 feet outside of the batter’s box, so I struck out a lot.
However, on those rare occasions I made contact, the ball went far – that was the advantage to being a fat kid, I guess, as my heft added to batting power. “Unnatural” brings back some memories of those days, but it shoots itself in the foot with a contrived story about Kevin’s dad. An odd fantasy ending doesn’t help, either.
Goodbye (air date 4/24/90): “Kevin seeks tutoring help from his math teacher for a big test.”
Except for a musical choice at the end, “Goodbye” manages to be dramatic without seeming maudlin. That’s tough to do, but the show pulls it off well.
Cocoa and Sympathy (air date 5/1/90): “Paul develops a crush on Mrs. Arnold after she gives him a boost of confidence.”
Like Paul, I was pretty nerdy in my youth. Unlike Paul, I never had a crush on any of my friends’ mothers. “Cocoa” develops a decent story but it seems fairly mediocre overall.
Daddy’s Little Girl (air date 5/8/90): “Jack and Karen are constantly fighting as she is about to leave for college, and he fears he is losing his little girl.”
Karen plays such a small role in the series that when she does come to the fore, she feels more like a plot device than anything else. “Girl” has a few good moments but sputters too much of the time.
Moving (air date 5/16/90): “Kevin learns that the Coopers are moving across town, where Winnie will attend a different school.”
“Moving” brings us a more serious orientation. It still uses the deadpan science teacher for dopey commentary, but those elements stay in the minority. Instead, “Moving” offers a good look at the series’ characters and situations.