When it comes to the big television Christmas episodes – and I’m talking about the nigh iconic ones that are routinely put on families annual view-lists alongside yuletide films such as It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle On 34th Street and A Christmas Story – we all know the Usual Suspects, right? Rod Serling and co. delivered a corker of a Twilight Zone Christmas episode with their Art Carney five-hankie Night of the Meek; The Andy Griffith Show (which strangely enough only worked its throwback holiday magic one time in eight seasons) gifted the world with a 1960 beauty entitled The Christmas Story; heck, even those paranormal hunters Mulder and Scully got in on the holiday spirit (heh, heh) with their X-Files December 13, 1998 trifle How the Ghosts Stole Christmas. But when it comes to an unheralded Christmas classic in the realm of the boob tube, few can best the season two Christmas episode of The Wonder Years.
Quick primer for those that might not be familiar with The Wonder Years: Conceived by talented husband and wife team Carol Black and Neal Marlens, The Wonder Years took an affectionate, nostalgia-drenched look back at the tumultuous era of the late 1960s and early 70s as seen through the eyes of all-American boy Kevin Arnold. Simple enough, wot?
The 1988 Christmas chestnut offered up by Marlens and Black (with an assist from Bob Brush) for The Wonder Years was entitled appropriately enough Christmas (what did you want; Easter?), and it followed Kevin’s quest to convince his cash-strapped curmudgeon of a father with a heart of gold to buy a color television set for the Arnold clan. Thrown into the mix is young Kevin’s eternal quest to win the heart of his next-door neighbor Winnie Cooper. What to give the gal who has everything? With a little help from chronically allergic to everything best friend Paul Pfeiffer, Kevin’s determined to find out, and neither The Grinch nor Scrooge had better stand in his determined way.
A simple and straightforward of a plot is transformed into something altogether magical and, with the best of any Christmastime offering, there’s just the right balance of holiday merriment and bittersweet melancholia to keep this bouncy ball in the air for thirty exquisite minutes.
Part of the credit for the success of this Wonder Years deep-dive into the world of Burl Ives and tinsel has to go to voice-over narration provided by actor Daniel Stern who plays the adult Kevin Arnold looking back on his childhood. Stern, who knows his way around a Christmas spectacle or two (see Home Alone), provides the best beats of any line-reading I’ve ever been privy to. His timing is impeccable and this episode is probably about as close as the series ever skated into author Jean Shepherd and director Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story. That Marlens, Black and Brush tread on that hallowed ground and still manage to deliver something fresh and uniquely The Wonder Years is a high-wire act of major inspiration.
The final scene of Christmas is a thing of beauty – After getting rained out of their annual caroling, a dejected Arnold family – sans the color TV set – find reason to celebrate the holiday in spite of the setbacks, warm and cozy inside their suburban tract home. Stern informs viewers (over an appropriate bit of Christmas score) that “For me, that year Christmas stopped being about tinsel and wrapping paper, and started being about memory. At first I was disappointed. Until I learned that memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you wish never to lose. And I learned from Winnie, that in a world that changed too fast, the best we can do is wish each other Merry Christmas.”
Do yourself a favor this Christmas Eve and check out The Wonder Years Christmas episode, dear and Constant Reader…and tell ‘em Vents sent you!
Merry Christmas to all of our readers!