The Wonder Years S03E04 – Mom Wars

If we get an Alley Mills-centric episode every season, I will not object. I rarely remember to cite her excellence in these recaps, but she’s just as consistently impressive as Dan Lauria, Fred Savage, or Josh Saviano.

Here, she does a gerat job capturing a mother’s unease about her youngest son getting to that point where he wants her to lay off and not baby him. It’s hard to blame Norma for being uneasy about this — she’s had a little kid to look after for seventeen years now. But it’s also hard to blame Kevin, at least for his basic impulse to have some independence.

As this is a Todd W. Langen script, we know it’s going to address an inevitable loss of growing up, tinge it with regret, and give us a somewhat downbeat ending. Mom Wars attacks the chism that grows between moms and teenage sons, and gives Kevin the opportunity to make some slightly regretful decisions. He spurns his mom, he clearly just wants to see him safe, at least three times during the closing act of the episode, and clearly hurts Norma more than he needs to in the process.

Mom Wars doesn’t do as much to advance Norma’s character as last season’s Pottery Will Get You Nowhere, but it does a great job tackling that fundamental dilemma between growing boys and parents: How much parenting is the right amount? To its credit, Mom Wars doesen’t give us a clear-cut answer, it just shows the hurt that can result from taking the question to either extreme.

Neither Coda nor Square Dance — Langren’s two other scripts — were particularly funny, but Mom Wars has its share of fantastic and hysterical moments on the fringes. One favorite is the dressing room scene: “Boy, tell one lousy fib about pizza on your shirt, and what do you get? Pants.” with “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas on the fringe. Fantastic.

The episode flirts a little bit with making Paul too neurotic and cartoonish — his concern about cold and overuse of sweatshirt was amusing but over the top — yet gives him some utterly fantastic moments and lines. My favorite might have been when he told his block of wood to get ready to meet its maker. But Paul also had some heroic moments in here, too: Particularly when he forced the goup to call its game after Kevin hurt his hand.

But the best and funniest of scene in the episode — and the funniest scene for Dan Lauria yet in the series — is the scene where Kevin approaches a bewildered Jack right as Jack gets home. It’s a nice callback to the pilot, where everyone leaves Jack alone until he’s unwound after work. His immediate self-contradiction “You heard your mother,” was incredibly written and incredibly played by Lauria.

Mom Wars, like every episode so far this season, is very good even if it never quite reaches great. I continue to love Langen’s melancholy take on The Wonder Years, and I appreciate any episode that lets us learn more about Norma.

A few other thoughts:

  • Square Dance gave us the entire school belittling Margaret Farquar and anyone who associates with her. Mom Wars gives us that little yit who keeps showing up, whatever his name is. Clearly, Langen is okay showing younger people as less than endearing individuals.
  • I played tackle football as a middle schooler. Came home sore all the time. My mom didn’t care a bit.
  • Of course Karen thinks that football is barbaric.
  • I guess the extended opening was not a one-time thing.

Dan S.

Dan is the editor of Earn This. He co-founded the site in 2009.

One thought on “The Wonder Years S03E04 – Mom Wars

  1. I kind of thought this episode was underwhelming. The “things would never be the same” narrative seems to be an excessive one, and a bit over-dramatic. While I understand Norma’s reasoning for what she’s doing, she annoyed the hell out of me throughout the episode. I almost feel like the show loses its footing for the span of a few episodes before getting back on track, as I haven’t been overjoyed with season three since “Summer Song.”

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