The Netflix Files: October 6, 2011

 The Netflix Files works to find the hidden gems of Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature, the films and TV shows that have gone largely unnoticed by the streaming community. We understand that no one has a Netflix account anymore, but we’re worried we can’t come up with another column name as good as “The Netflix Files.”

Netflix knows it needs to make some big plays to win back our loyalty. Early next year, they will launch their first original series — “House of Cards,” a Kevin Spacey vehicle directed by David Fincher. If they can snatch up the new mini-season of “Arrested Development,” they’ll be back in the good graces of millions of potential subscribers (all in the 18-34 demographic, all possessing impeccable senses of humor).

Their first appeal for our affection, however, came about last Saturday, when they officially released all 114 episodes of “The Wonder Years” on Watch Instantly.

The beloved show, which aired on ABC from 1988 to 1993, is perhaps better known to our generation as the Nick at Nite staple that we all tuned into right before bedtime. It’s also very likely the best coming-of-age drama to ever air on network television. 

The series tracks the suburban adolescence of Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) from sixth grade in 1968 to high school graduation in 1973. Kevin’s weekly rites of passage were accompanied by wistful voiceover from his adult self — cheesy now, but an awesome narrative trope in 1989. The heart of the show hinged on Kevin’s will-they-won’t-they romance with Winnie Cooper, the doe-eyed girl-next-door.

In its day, “The Wonder Years” was a highly-rated, well-received piece of programming. Its first season won both Emmy and Golden Globe awards for Best Comedy. Yet it has never been released on DVD or been available to the public in full outside of reruns. Until now.

This was partly due to issues over music rights — the theme song, Joe Cocker’s iconic rendition of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” has been replaced by a similar-sounding artist on each of the 114 episodes. But the rest of the soundtrack remains intact.

While it’s a bit ambitious to cycle through the full 114, it’s worth it to at least check out Season One. Because it took a mere six episodes for the show to win the Emmy (suck it, Designing Women).

A brief breakdown of what’s good:

The Pilot (1×1) revolves around the death of Winnie’s older brother in Vietnam. Kevin briefly contemplates mortality before macking it with Winnie in the woods.

This incredible, series-defining scene with Coach Cutlip and Rufio, from Swingers (1×2):

My Father’s Office (1×3), which humanizes Kevin’s conservative, often-pissed father. Ranked #29 in TV Guide’s 100 Best Episodes of All Time list (thanks Wikipedia!).

The Zack Morris cameo, coming in to swoop away Kevin’s date to the school dance, from Dance With Me (1×6).

Enjoy for now, and in a few weeks we’ll do a comprehensive Top Ten list of the series’ best episodes.

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