When learning that the title of the latest episode of The Wonder Years was called “Science Fair,” I incorrectly assumed that the whole premise would revolve around Dean completing a science fair project. The actual premise of the episode involves Dean’s mother befriending and being a surrogate mother to Dean’s bully at school, Michael. Michael’s mother is in a mental institution because of a breakdown of some sort. The entire moral of the episode is not to judge a book by its cover because you don’t know what that person may have been struggling with.
This episode features one of the sweetest ideas I have ever heard, but the story’s execution itself is flawed. We, as the audience, witness Dean being continually beaten up by Michael. We see that he is an angry kid that really needs to channel his emotions into something creative. As earnest as all of this sounds, none of what Michael does to Dean excuses how he behaves. He basically has a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality. Whenever he is around Dean’s mother, he’s the troubled kid who wants to do well. Any other time he is just an arrogant bully. Remind me why I should feel sympathy for him? What really should have happened with the character is that once you discover Michael’s circumstances, his bravado should have softened completely instead of continuing to do horrible things.
EJ Williams continues to try to develop the character of Dean, but he is continually whining. Do you want me to feel bad for the lead character who does nothing to stand up for himself, and because he feels invisible in his own family, he lashes out at the one person who probably needs the most support? None of that makes any narrative sense. The writer literally traumatized the victim of neglect by allowing Dean to reveal that Michael’s mother was in an institution. That is fundamentally disrespectful for a Wednesday night comedy on ABC. It’s supposed to be a family show and what you’re teaching children is when somebody hurts, you hurt them worse.
For the second time in a row, Dean’s mother proves to be the strongest character in the entire cast. Saycon Sengbloh showcases warmth better than anyone I’ve seen so far. The earnestness with which that character is played blows me away from week to week. I’m blessed to have a mother like that, and Dean can definitely learn something from her kindness. For The Wonder Years to succeed, I need to see continuous growth from Dean and more stories about his sister as well. This is the first weak episode in a while, so we’ll see where the show goes from here. Some experiments fail, but it’s how you adjust the chemistry that gets you the result you need. Hopefully, the show can figure that out.