Friday, January 18, 2013

The Problem With: "The Wonder Years"

Last week, I introduced a new series on my blog titled "The Problem With," in which I will analyze the inconsistencies I observe in TV shows and movies that I watch. Back to the Future was the subject of the first entry, which you can read here.

I should warn you that I've been on a bit of an '80s kick lately. Back to the Future is an obvious classic from that decade. The Karate Kid is another. I've watched The Karate Kid on cable, without exaggeration, at least seven times in the past three months. I just have an odd fascination with any mid- to late-1980s film in which Elisabeth Shue plays the girlfriend of the main character.

The Hub has become one of my favorite channels, because its lineup is brimming with '80s sitcoms: Family Ties, The Facts of Life, ALF. And until recently, it aired one of my personal favorites, The Wonder Years.

I was a fan of The Wonder Years during its original run from 1988 to 1993. I didn't know it at the time, but many of the story lines would parallel what I would soon experience in my teen years: the connections I made with my family, the bonds I shared with close friends, the loves I won and lost.

Boy, I wish I could have Daniel Stern repeat that last line to me. "I didn't know it at the time" is a quintessential Wonder Years phrase, isn't it? I'm fairly certain the narrator, the adult Kevin Arnold -- voiced by Stern -- used it at least five times over the course of the series.

There was another popular phrase that the older Kevin Arnold would say whenever he recalled a life-changing moment: "And happened." You knew the show had a compelling or entertaining twist in store for you whenever the narrator said that.

The Wonder Years had a great theme. I didn't know it at the time, but it's Joe Cocker's version of The Beatles song "With a Little Help from My Friends." The accompanying intro was fun, too -- it was "home video" of Kevin, his family, and his friends, playing, arguing, fighting, and generally being in one another's company. To this day, when I hear "With a Little Help from My Friends" -- the Joe Cocker version -- I have flashbacks to family barbecues, neighborhood football games and the time Jason Hervey punched me on the lawn. (No, that last part didn't happen.)

I watched The Wonder Years quite a bit when it was on The Hub. I remember one night in particular I tuned in to the network and caught the beginning of the show's intro. And happened.

I noticed a person I'd never seen on The Wonder Years before. Jump to the 44-second mark of the video above. Kevin accepts a football from a bespectacled Winnie. They're both smiling. It's a very cute moment.

But...who is that sitting on the curb next to Winnie? I haven't the slighest clue. I have no recollection of this person from any of the episodes. Obviously, this is someone who played a role in Kevin's life, someone who is at least an acquaintance of Winnie's and somehow managed to sneak onto the Arnold family home video collection.

How come older Kevin, the narrator, never addressed this? He had to have remembered this person 20 years later. He could easily describe every friend he ever had, every girlfriend, every teacher, every vacation, every game of one-on-one basketball he played with Paul. I can name you two of my high school teachers and maybe three or four other students who were in my graduating class. Kevin's memory was flawless.

And adult Kevin told so many stories. Six seasons' worth, as a matter of fact. And not one of them addressed the mystery person in the intro. This is a glaring oversight on his part.

Who is this person? Daniel Stern, help me out here.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Problem With: "Back To The Future"

What? How?

I'm a curious man. I like to ask questions, and I do not relent until I feel I have received a satisfactory answer. I cannot accept ambiguity in my life.

You wouldn't want to watch a TV show or a movie with me. I'm constantly picking apart plot holes, character inconsistencies...whatever seems flawed, in my opinion. Whatever seems wrong.

Allow me to offer two examples off of the top of my head. I followed the 1980s sitcom Small Wonder as a kid. If you're not familiar with the show, you can brush up on it by watching this trailer for the season-one DVD release. I can raise all sorts of questions based on the trailer alone.

The patriarch of that family is called a "genius engineer." What? How? Listen closely to how his robot, Vicki, speaks. Is that really the work of a "genius"? And while I do enjoy the show for its kitsch factor, I am confident it was not a "classic beacon of '80s culture."

The second example: the George Clooney movie The Descendants. When I left a screening of the film last year, my first thought was not, That was an Oscar-worthy performance by Clooney. (He was nominated but didn't win.) I was more concerned with the fact that his character's wife was stolen from him by Matthew Lillard. What? How?

With all due respect to Lillard, who is a fine actor and I'm sure a fine human being, he has little chance of having an affair with a girl romanced by a two-time People magazine "Sexiest Man Alive" winner. A woman choosing Shaggy over Clooney? I don't think so.

There's a reason why I'm mentioning all of this. I'm starting an occasional series of posts titled "The Problem With," in which I'll write about the inconsistencies I observe in the TV shows and movies, past and present, that I watch.

I promise not to bore you with arguments you've heard many times before. So there will be no discussion of Saved by the Bell, whose track record of unresolved story lines and haphazard character development is unmatched.

With that disclaimer out of the way, it's time to address "The Problem With: Back to the Future," my all-time favorite movie. The time-traveling aspects of the entire trilogy make sense to me; it's clear the producers put a lot of thought into making sure there were no glaring flaws. If you feel differently, the DVD collection has a wonderful FAQ that will probably answer your questions.

What puzzles me about the Back to the Future series is Marty McFly's first encounter with the 1955 version of his mother, Lorraine. This is right after he is struck by his grandfather's -- his mother's father's -- car.

You may recall that it was Marty's father, George, who was meant to be hit by the car. George had fallen from a tree while watching a woman in a state of undress using binoculars. After realizing what his dad was up to, a disgusted Marty referred to him as a "peeping Tom." But he was nice enough to push George out of harm's way anyway.

Cut to a bedroom in Lorraine's house, where Marty wakes up after having been knocked out from the accident. She's there, watching him in the dark. OK, that's a little creepy, but whatever. She informs him that he's "safe and sound now, back in good old 1955." Marty is startled not only by the fact that he's 30 years in the past, but also by the fact that he has no pants on. He asks her where his pants are, like any logical man would in that situation. Her only response: "Over there, on my hope chest." What?

See, at this point, if I were Marty, I would've asked, "Why did you take off my pants?" It's a reasonable question, I feel. How would taking off his pants aid in his recovery? I'm no Doc Brown, but I don't think it would.

I've never heard a doctor say, "In the event that a friend or a loved one blacks out, you must assist them first by removing their clothes. Please don't be shy, it's all medical procedure." Had Marty known there would be even the slightest chance that he might suffer a concussion one day, I highly doubt he would've ever worn purple underwear.

Say what you will about your old man, Marty, but your mom was out of control as a teenager.