“The Wonder Years” is an apt show for this time, with its surprisingly striking parallels to our current world reality offset by its sweet nostalgia. Television has the power to provide a much-needed escape, and this classic series does that while simultaneously reminding us that we’ve been in dubious predicaments before.
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Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the coming-of-age dramedy (which you can watch on Hulu) takes place during a time of conflict, much like present-day America, where political divisions continue to run deep in the face of a public health crisis.
The tumult of the era was addressed right off the bat in the show's pilot when we learned Winnie's brother, Brian, died while serving in Vietnam. There's also a season two episode in which Kevin organizes a protest against the conflict, signaling the impact of the war on the youth during that period. And, of course, there is Kevin's sister, Karen, a hippie who runs counter to the values their dad, Jack, holds while they seemingly fail to find some sort of common ground. In many ways, Vietnam served as a background character.
Audiences fell in love with Kevin as he weaved his way through the pitfalls of adolescence in a world that made little sense for children and adults. The show did a masterful job of capturing the anxiety of youth, and if there’s one thing we can identify with right now it’s anxiety, as we grapple with this quarantine and whether we will ever again be safe and healthy.
There’s something reassuring watching “The Wonder Years” again now. It would be naïve to say it takes you back to a simpler time because it was most definitely not. It was another era fraught with uncertainty in a tense political climate that should not be understated.
Time, though, has a way of making us look at the lens of history in a different light, especially when our modern life, with its combination of divisiveness and a global pandemic, is nothing less than horrifying.
What is reassuring is identifying with the struggles of Kevin, who does his best to connect with the opposite sex, fend off his bullying brother and try to grow up. We’ve all been there, in one way or another. And if you can survive those formative years, you can look back and laugh at his exploits, so relatable to so many.
It’s odd watching a show set in a time that was so contentious and precarious, yet it holds up, especially now, as each day feels like it plunges us further and further into the depths of the unknown, a point of no return from what our society once was.
“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,” adult narrator Kevin says in the final scene of the series finale.
What will we remember from this quarantine? No doubt our own houses and our own yards, where we remain holed up until further notice, a bullying brother present or not. But how will we look back?