Eighth grade. Yuck. Middle school is usually an ugly, dramatic phase in a kidís life, and everyday young American boy Kevin Arnold (the incomparable Fred Savage) is no exception. Hereís a lad who generally means well, but always finds himself struggling in matters both social and academic, as a result of both fate and his own shortcomings. And the thing is, he doesnít always learn from his mistakes; after all, people caught in the messy throes of adolescence tend not to look inward when looking for something to blame. But in the company of characters like his best friend Paul (Josh Saviano), meatheaded older brother Wayne (Jason Hervey), and longtime flame Gwendolyn "Winnie" Cooper (Danica McKellar), things are sure to remain interesting.
So Season Three carries the same structure followed by the rest of the series; most episodes are their own self-contained stories that adhere to a slow but sure progression in both narrative and character development. This isnít Full House, where everythingís a-ok at the beginning and end of each episode. When damage is done in The Wonder Years, the scars remain visible even if theyíre not always at the forefront. And thatís part of what makes this show great; it doesnít forget, forgoing a sugar-coated lie in favor of nothing less than the truth. It can be a cold, bitter pill to swallow, but it can also be the source of pleasant memories and happy surprises. Such is life, and thatís how itís presented here.
In terms of episode arcs, The Wonder Years: Season Three is equal parts safe and bold. Youíve got the requisite girl trouble that affects the male leads, youíve got liberal Karen butting heads with conservative Jack, and of course, youíve got the growing pains of school in general. And itís here that The Wonder Years: Season Three is strongest. The writers have always found creative ways to cause friction between Kevin and his teachers (academic and otherwise), and though this seasonís prime candidate seems like it might be one-note at first, it suddenly fakes the audience out and delivers one of the most famously heartrending arcs in a comedy series.
This is not to say that the rest of the season is throwaway. Quite the opposite. While the vignettes that compose all the one-off episodes are of varying quality and creativity, they are still fun to visit in the shoes of Kevin Arnold and his circle. Compound that with the 1960s setting (the doomed Apollo XIII mission casts a rather dark shadow over one episode in particular), and things remain interesting throughout, regardless of whether youíre watching Wayne come to terms with the freedom and responsibility of his new driverís license, if youíre watching Kevin dabble in sports and the arts, or watching Paulís on-off relationship with Carla go through its ups and downs.
The Wonder Years: Season Three has a modest selection of extras that are delightful, even if there's not a ton of content. All three of these extras have been discussed in detail in my review of The Wonder Years: The Complete Series, and my stances haven't changed. The highlight of them is Hall Pass: Roundtable Discussion with Danica McKellar, Fred Savage, and Josh Saviano, which has the three leads discuss their characters and experiences in detail. The three still have the same remarkable chemistry that they do as their characters, and it might just have you wondering what if. The one-on-one interviews and the family featurette are also great.
The Wonder Years: Season Three isn't doomed to be a lesser package on the same level that Season One is; after all, there are far more episodes, and this was at the time that the show was really starting to get confident. All in all, it's a good buy.