'DWTS' Casts 'Wonder Years' Danica McKellar & Now All We Want to Do Is Relive That Show
Even though we’ve already predicted that the mega-fan favorite winner will be Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes on Season 18 of Dancing With The Stars , it doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to get excited about. I personally did a double take when I hear Danica McKellar aka Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years was going to be one of this year’s stars. Best news ever.
Since her childhood fame as the nerdy-girl-next-door (literally, Winnie and Kevin were neighbors) to a rebellious popular girl in the Wonder Years, McKellar has kept a somewhat low profile. She’s guest-starred in dozens of television shows including How I Met Your Mother, as well as a totally random spot in a music video for Avril Lavigne.
Having Danica McKellar on Dancing With The Stars will not only spur an '80s/'90s rivalry between her and Candace Cameron-Burke (DJ Tanner from Full House and author of a conservative book on marriage) — it will also, hopefully, encourage networks to play reruns of The Wonder Years more frequently because that show was the absolute best.
The family dramedy that focused on the Arnold family during the late '60s and early '70s not only perfectly captured the awkward pains of coming-of-age, but also the shifting social lens of an entire country. Here are all of the reasons it was (and in many ways, still is) better than every other family comedy around:
The perfect mix of comedy and drama
Before How I Met Your Mother or Scrubs, there was another retrospectively voice-overed show that tugged on the ole heart strings as much as it made audiences laugh. The Wonder Years was dramatic without being melodramatic, romantic without being sappy, and funny without being corny.
It really nailed the awful beauty of prepubescent love
Watching Kevin Arnold trying to ask a girl to the dance filled me with so much anxiety that I often had to cover my face in my hands to get through it. And watching Kevin fail gloriously in his many romantic endeavors was also a touchstone of my growing-up. Most of us weren’t Winnies (the perennial apple of someone’s eye) or Waynes (the popular jocks who bossed their way through life). Most of us were Kevins, just trying to navigate our way through middle school and high school alive, kiss a few people, and hold on tight to our best friends.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing
Even by its title, The Wonder Years captured our very base desire to hold on to the moments in life that were transformative, carefree, or simply good. The wonder years, or the “salad days” if you will, happen and we never actually know when we are in them. It’s only when we look back that we see those were the wonder years, and that’s what the whole show was really all about. In the series final voice over, Kevin narrates,
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.
They got by with a little help from their friends
The triad of Kevin, Paul, and Winnie was one of the best friendships in television history. They always had each other’s backs and helped one another become better people. And their relationship with one another was also filled with some of the show’s best one-liners.
The Arnolds were far from perfect and never stepped into the overly-saccharine Full House territory. The parents fought and the siblings fought, but they all loved each other deeply. The father, Jack Arnold had a bad temper, Wayne was actually mean (not just big brother mean, but sometimes really heartless, because family can actually be that way to one another), Karen was the free-spirited rebellious older sister, and the mother Norma was far from the Betty Draper housewife archetype.
Kevin wasn’t a macho man
Kevin rested between the two ends of male representation in The Wonder Years. His brother and father were more conservative, manly and mainstream while his best friend Paul was introverted, nerdy and highly emotionally intelligent. Kevin felt things deeply and it wrestled with his desires to be the guy he thought girls wanted him to be. It was really refreshing to have a central male character who, at a young age, was painted as more than a hormone-raging pimplefest.
The women in the show were complex and strong
The series was shaped by some very independent and original women. Kevin’s mom Norma became a successful businesswoman and was the emotional support and core of the entire family. Winnie was the sun to which Kevin’s entire storyline rotated around — and I have to respect the character for not just giving in to what her various boyfriends wanted from her. She saw straight through the “nice guy” crap and also didn’t want to give up on her dreams just to be someone’s wife. She may have broken Kevin’s heart in the end, but she was her own person, and better for it. And in one of my favorite episodes, “Square Dance,” Kevin gets it completely handed to him by a loner named Margaret Farquhar who would rather be herself than try to fit in with the people who teased her. A lot of wisdom for a 7th grader, no?
One of the things I loved most about The Wonder Years was how everything didn’t wrap up in a neat little package. The show wasn’t about things working out. It was about characters figuring out how to navigate their changing lives and a changing world. Kevin and Winnie don’t end up together and Kevin’s father dies an untimely death — however, we were still left feeling like the characters were okay, and that’s the most a lot of us realistically can ask for.
Images: The Wonder Years/New World Television/ABC