The Wonder Years finally had a good episode this week. The concept for “Jobs and Hangouts” changed throughout the episode. Initially, it was about responsibility, specifically Kim learning responsibility by working a part-time job. However, it turned into something completely different after introducing that concept. This story was stronger for it. My hesitation with this series has always been that the lead character isn’t strong enough to tell impactful stories.
Maybe that’s not the goal. The writers may want the audience to learn from everyone in the family, but since EJ Williams is the show’s star, the stories told from his perspective should be a defined blueprint of how he lives his life in the present. For whatever reason, the show doesn’t choose to do that. Kim takes a job in a local restaurant and tries to get her friends to come in more often to increase business. She comes into conflict with the waitress Wendy, a ten-year restaurant veteran. Meanwhile, because Dean thinks it’s cool, he starts talking to his sister’s older friends considering that he has a chance at romance.
What surprised me most about this episode was how I thought they would look at subtle racism as a theme, considering how downright nasty the waitress was to Kim. That wasn’t the plan. The fundamental theme behind the episode was to examine what friendship looks like. This wasn’t a particularly odd choice considering we always knew that Dean had friends. The audience didn’t realize that Kim didn’t have many people in her corner other than her family. She was constantly being manipulated by other people closer to her age.
This was an excellent lesson for Dean to learn. He was able to know how much his sister values him and the friendships he’s been able to cultivate. It was challenging to see Kim constantly fighting for good pay at the restaurant while feeling sad and alone because she had no one she could depend on. It’s a good lesson for someone who constantly fights to appear as though she is the most mature person. The real reason this is important is that many people in this world are very good at putting on masks, so no one has the opportunity to hurt them emotionally. Kim seems to be an expert at this tactic, and the audience gets a little insight into the loneliness she must feel from trying to fit in and not getting any long-term results.
Dean, meanwhile, continues to have to learn who in the world he can trust. Again, I’m constantly annoyed that Dean always has to find a way to look intriguing either to people he doesn’t know or in front of his friends to the strangers he doesn’t know. I’m annoyed that someone 12 or 13 feels like he needs to impress the world. Kim rightly learns that the only person you need to impress in this world is yourself. This is a powerful lesson for children to learn, but I think it will go over their heads if they are the same demographic Dean is.
Overall, this was a solid lesson for The Wonder Years to tackle, and I wish episodes had as much depth as this one. I hope next season, as Dean gets older, the lessons get more intense, so he learns how much of the world he still doesn’t understand. His journey will always be part of growing up. Let’s hope the writers work on pursuing his evolution in life a bit harder next season.