TV REVIEW : A Poignant Rehash of Life in the 'Wonder Years' Two Decades Ago

An opening film-clip montage of civil rights marches and Chicago demonstrators being beaten by police tells you that ABC's new comedy series "The Wonder Years" isn't another "Ozzie and Harriet."

Making its premiere immediately after the Super Bowl on Sunday (expected to be about 7:30 p.m., Channels 7 and 3), the show is a bittersweet look at growing up in '60s suburbia, through the eyes of 12-year-old Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage).

In wry Woody Allen style, the adult Arnold narrates: The suburbs were "a kind of a golden age for kids," a place "where kids could go for a walk without fear of ending up on a milk carton."

It's also a place where Mom (Alley Mills) is a housewife and the family has dinner together every night at the table--although talking is risky until Dad (Dan Lauria) has his first vodka tonic. Older sister Karen (Olivia D'Abo) is a budding hippie, and the Vietnam War, dominating the evening news, claims a neighbor's son.

Like ABC's "The 'Slap' Maxwell Story" and "Frank's Place" on CBS, "The Wonder Years" is another in the growing ranks of "dramedies" that aim for as many serious moments as funny ones.

In the premiere, written by series creators Carol Black and Neal Marlens, Kevin's days of innocence are ending. No, he's not aware that his insular world is threatened by political and social upheaval--it's the first day of junior high school, and he's terrified.

With good reason.

The seventh-grader who has the locker next to him has a beard, wears a leather jacket and carries a knife. His gym teacher has "the biggest inferiority complex since Napoleon," big brother Wayne (Jason Hervey) picks on him and makes him look stupid in front of Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar)--transformed from childhood playmate to heartthrob by fishnet stockings and go-go boots.

The cast is fine and Steve Miner directs with sensitivity. There's real poignancy in the last scene between Savage and McKellar. It's a refreshingly gutsy half-hour, a look back at how things were--and weren't.

Billed as a mid-season series for ABC, "The Wonder Years" will join the network lineup as a weekly series later at a date yet to be set.

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