In the last years of her life, Holly took a certain comfort from watching the television series, The Wonder Years. At the time, I didn’t share her fascination with the show and didn’t watch it, so I recently took its availability on Netflix to finally discover what it was all about.
For anyone who doesn’t know, the series depicts the social and family life of a boy in a typical American suburban middle-class family from 1968 to 1973, covering his experiences from ages of 12 through 17. Each year in the series takes place exactly 20 years before airing (1988 to 1993), so I have been viewing the events depicted from more than 40 years on.
The show’s plot centers on Kevin Arnold, son of Jack and Norma Arnold. Kevin’s father holds a management job at NORCOM, a defense contractor, while his mother is a housewife. Kevin has an older sister, Karen, and an older brother, Wayne. Two of Kevin’s friends and neighbors are prominently featured throughout the series: his best friend, Paul Pfeiffer, and his crush-turned-girlfriend Gwendolyn “Winnie” Cooper. Storylines are told through Kevin’s reflections as an adult in his mid-30s.
Kevin is pretty much an average normal boy. Karen, his older and only sister, is a rebellious teen obsessed with anti-war sentiments. She is also a wild partying type and has a very dysfunctional relationship with the entire family. Jack is tough, hard to talk to, and somewhat reclusive from everyone. Norma is also a relatively normal mom and housewife trying her best to keep things together. Wayne, his older brother, is a bully and has quite an aggressive and rude personality.
I can see the series’ appeal to Holly (or anyone facing a life-threatening disease). I liken each episode to potato chips or other snack foods: reassuring, not especially challenging, easy-to-take. The show was popular and received many awards and nominations; it had production values that must have made the series come off at the time as a diversion that was not a total waste of time.
Of all the characters in the show, I most despised the older brother Wayne, played by actor Jason Hervey. No matter how old he was, he never seemed to change and kept up his obnoxious, thoughtless ways. In one episode, Wayne decided that he would eschew college and volunteer to join the army, and I must confess that I hoped his character would be killed off (the Vietnam War was raging). But no such luck: he failed his physical (psoriasis) and took a dead-end job in the mailroom at his father’s company. My antipathy to the character was intensified by the name the series’ writers had given him. “Wayne,” it has always seemed to me, is a name most appropriate to a serial killer who dresses in a clown suit.
Apparently I am not the only person who shares this dislike for Wayne. As Hervey explained in an interview early last year, a man who had “a little too much to drink” started a bar fight when he recognized the actor in Chicago. “He takes this bottle and, you know, cracks it over my face,” he said. “This guy who attacked me had a big brother that was just like the character. He told me how much he hates his brother and how much he hates me,” Hervey said. Hervey’s face was left bloodied and injured. It required 11 stitches.
Unfortunately for the man who started the fight, Hervey was with a few of his friends who were ready and willing to defend him. “I was out with some of my friends that made up about half of the defensive line of the Chicago Blackhawks, and let’s just say that the bouncers had a night off that night,” he said. “So as crazy as it was, I kind of ended up getting the last laugh.”
I no longer drink, and it’s been eight years since I’ve been in a Chicago bar. I like to think that I would be able to separate the reality of Jason Hervey from his imaginary character Wayne Arnold. Yet I still cannot escape the irrational feeling that he had it coming.
Groove of the Day
54° and Clear