Now that The Wonder Years is finally streaming on Netflix Instant, I am all smiles—well, some smiles, lots of tears. Because while the classic nostalgia-fest of a series is one of the greatest ever, it’s also one of the most poignant. Full disclosure: I have cried more at The Wonder Years than at any other TV show, ever. Kevin and Winnie and the lot are just really moving, especially for someone who grew up in the turbulent ‘60s. Which I didn’t, but I can imagine.
But not all episodes of The Wonder Years are created equal, and some are more liable to make you weep openly than others. With that in mind, here’s a list of the most emotion-inducing episodes. Let’s hope I can make it through this without breaking down. Wait, no, already getting teary-eyed at the titles.
1. My Father’s Office (Season 1)
Jack Arnold is one of the most believable TV dads—he’s always well intentioned, but he’s also kind of an asshole. And this is the episode where we learn why, as Kevin sees the shit his dad has to put up with at work. When we’re younger we think of our parents as superheroes: learning how hard they really have it is one of life’s cruelest lessons.
2. On the Spot (Season 3)
This one’s kind of cheap, because the most emotional moment doesn’t really belong to The Wonder Years: it comes from Thornton Wilder’s iconic play Our Town. But whatever, as soon as Winnie launches into the “goodbye, Grover’s Corners” speech, I start to lose my shit. Close-up on Kevin, tears streaming down his face. It’s too much.
3. Faith (Season 3)
And again, this could be considered a cheat—the emotional impact of “Faith” rests on the real-life Apollo 13 failure. But there’s so much more to this episode: the weight of our personal problems in light of national tragedy, the fear that we’ll die without leaving our mark on the world, the strangely comforting power of prayer. Houston, we need a tissue.
4. Good-bye (Season 3)
Anyone who ever had one of those “very special” teachers can relate to Kevin’s experience with Mr. Collins, the math teacher who sees his C-student’s potential. Of course, most of us didn’t have to deal with the trauma of said teacher suddenly dying, but hey, now we can live vicariously through Kevin’s pain!
5. Daddy’s Little Girl (Season 3)
Wow, Season 3 of The Wonder Years was a heartstring-tugging doozy. I’m not a father or a daughter, but just the phrase “daddy’s little girl” makes me misty. (I might be hormonal?) I love Karen, the free-spirited Arnold daughter, and all of her big moment episodes make me mushy inside. Also, Jack leaves the porch light on for her. Crying.
6. The Ties That Bind (Season 4)
Oh, boy, it’s a Thanksgiving episode. What is it about ritualized feasting that makes us feel feelings? Jack finally gets the promotion he wants, only to discover that his new position means he’ll be spending more time on the road. He’s going to miss Thanksgiving, you guys. Is work more important than family? (Spoiler alert: no.)
7. Graduation (Season 4)
I remember my graduation well. We talked all night about the rest of our lives, where we’re gonna be when we turn 25. OK, that’s the Vitamin C song. The point is, it was a very emotional time, and TV graduations always do me in, too. Yeah, it’s only junior high, but the school is named for Robert F. Kennedy, and that’s pretty sad, right?
8. Grandpa’s Car (Season 5)
I don’t have a great first-car story, but naturally Kevin does. (Seriously, how could anyone survive a childhood this poignant?) In addition to teaching us the important lesson that old people are still kind of cool—even the scary ones who shouldn’t be driving!—we learn that Kevin’s first car was his grandpa’s last. Because aging. Because death.
9. The Wedding (Season 5)
Another episode about Karen growing up? Sorry, she just does it for me. Or maybe I’m crying out of jealousy that she got to marry David Schwimmer. Jack and Norma get the double-whammy of seeing their daughter wed, then learning that she and her hubby are shipping off to Alaska. It’s OK—they’ll never really let her go. Sunrise, sunset, sobbing.
10. Independence Day (Season 6)
I know The Wonder Years’ season finale has some detractors, and I get it. It’s maudlin and predictable, but damn it, it works. This is the episode that did me in more than any of the others: I’m talking body-shaking, snotty devastation. The moment Kevin starts telling us what happened after, from Jack’s death to—oh, God, I can’t go on. But I will always look back on this episode … with wonder.