TV Review: The Wonder Years, 1×16, “The Sleepover”

User Rating: 3

After months of watching, I think I finally realized my problem with The Wonder Years: everything within the show is too obvious or convenient. Take this week, for example. Dean is upset because his friend Corey got student of the week. In addition to that, he attends a sleepover with his friends at Corey’s house and inadvertently learns that Corey’s father, Coach Long, sneaks out to go somewhere else, which the father claims is his second job. Dean struggles the whole episode to keep the secret until he cracks. There are some funny jokes about what grown folks get up to when their children are at sleepovers which is clearly a euphemism for sex or intimacy. While the concept of the joke is intriguing, it doesn’t really help you, the audience, learn about the characters who are so much a part of Dean’s education about life.

Fundamentally, this episode is entirely flawed because it’s based around the concept of Dean keeping a secret from his best friend. The audience should also be concerned that Dean keeping a secret has always been a struggle for him since the earlier episodes of the season, and be aware that he never responds well to any sort of pressure. This is a complete contrast with the fact that he’s basically a straight-A student and enjoys learning. Audiences are supposed to learn along with the main character. Instead, anyone who watches this show knows what to expect and how all the characters will behave. There is no evolution of Dean. Again this is a betrayal of the high achiever we know the character to be. This awful contrast ruins the character and takes away from any emotional investment in the show.

When I first started watching and reviewing this series, the ideas that struck me most about what I thought the show would achieve involved deep conversations about racism, bias, blending into an environment that doesn’t accept you, and how that makes you feel like a young teenager. Since I started watching and reviewing this show months ago, none of that has been fully realized within more than one episode.

The episode where this was dived into in a slightly profound manner was the previous “Black Teacher” episode. Before that point, no racial challenges had really truly been addressed beyond issues Lillian was having at her job, given that she did more work than the men most of the time in accounting. That’s two episodes out of sixteen. The writers have plenty of time to break good 22-minute stories that allow Dean to learn about the world around him, but they seem to go after the same old tropes, and it’s frequently becoming exhausting because I know the show and the concept behind it have so much promise if the writers push the envelope just a little bit. For crying out loud, one of the most mature shows on the network is a medical show.

The concept behind The Good Doctor features a doctor on the autism spectrum, and the drama aims to look at how he would function in a major hospital setting. In that show, they don’t just focus on one aspect of autism but multiple different things that can disrupt the flow of that person’s life daily. That same level of education is not present in The Wonder Years, and it should be. I don’t have any hope that the show can reach children in the proposed demographic it’s aiming for because I’m not sure those who run the show know how children of that age think in today’s world.

“The Sleepover” was a forgettable concept and one of the weakest episodes of the show and its first season. I hope the rest of the season engages the audience differently. Otherwise, they will start to turn off.

The Wonder Years airs on ABC.

Written by
Chike has been a film critic in Illinois for the last 10 years with Urbana Public Television. Most of his work can be found on their YouTube channel where his show Reel Reviews is posted. The films he enjoys most are the kind that surprise you with characters that are deeper than you could ever suspect. As much as he loves reviewing it’s the stories that are unexpected that bring him the most joy. He lives in Champaign with his parents surrounded by cornfields.

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