The Wonder Years S03E15 – The Tree House

After a couple of episodes of The Wonder Years at its worst, the show rebounds with an excellent outing. The Tree House works for a few reasons. One is that it focuses on Dan Lauria (third time this season!), who is maybe the show’s most reliable presence (aww, who am I kidding, Josh Saviano is my favorite). Another is that the episode tackles a topic the show hasn’t visited in awhile — sex — and tells a unique story with it that really builds off of well-established characters. A third reason the episode works is that it’s very funny.

We start the episode with Doug Porter traumatized after receiving the talk from his dad (“I actually had to listen to my dad say ‘genitals'” — hilariously repeated at the end of the episode). Sexual awareness is slowly rising around school; that little imp Hobson in particular thinks he has it all figured out. (It’s all about the magazines as far as he concerned — women as curiosities to be admired.)

Meanwhile, Jack has off from work and Norma, tired of his fidgety presence, tasks him to undertake one of Kevin’s childhood dreams of building a treehouse. This leads to one of the best moments of the episode, when Future Kevin, Kevin, and Jack all skeptically retort “A treehouse?”

But Kevin and Jack agree to begin building the treehouse, except it’s Jack who does most of the building. At least until Kevin speaks up and shows he can hold his own with a power-saw. Then, to Kevin’s delight, he manages to enter into his dad’s sacred bubble. Jack’s handiwork seems to be one of the few places he can really be himself, so when Kevin enters that world, he briefly connects with Jack as an equal.

And then… tomatoes lady. The moment when Jack and Kevin spot tomatoes lady for the first time is one of the best unspoken scenes of the series yet. Jack’s amusement and guilty pleasure clash with Kevin’s utter horror at the “tomatoes” below.

Jack and Kevin become acutely aware that maybe they’d been acting as if Kevin was a little bit more grown up than he was. It’s actually the opposite dilemma as the one in The Powers That Be; there, Jack’s emasculation pushed him to treat Kevin like an irresponsible baby. Here, their bond over building the tree house allowed him to treat Kevin like a grown man.

While the The Powers That Be ended with Jack making a conscious decision to treat Kevin a bit differently, The Tree House doesn’t give Jack the chance; his temporary bond of equals between he and Kevin crashes and burns due to the awkward disconnect in sexuality between a man who’s had three children and a boy who hasn’t even had “the talk” with his own dad.

The episode is only halfway done at that point, but the new stasis is quickly set: The two are equally aware of the terribly uncomfortable situation in front of them, and they silently agree steer clear of that danger zone of awkwardness. They try to avoid it for as long as they can, but ultimately that barrier keeps rising.

The best line of the episode is”Look at the size of those tomatoes, Jack!” when, once and for all, Kevin and Jack are faced with the uncomfortable truth that Kevin will soon be growing up — not just in the sense that he can use a power tool, but he’ll have a sex life. It’s an amusing moment, compounded with other amusing moments (like when Norma gets the wrong idea about exactly why Kevin and Jack enjoy staying up in the tree working on the treehosue), but the biggest success of the episode is its exploration of the tenuous father-son relationship that uncontrollably steers into uncomfortable territory.

In all, a very decent episode to bounce back from a pair of the weakest the show had done.

Other thoughts:

  • No mention of the fact that Kevin’s dating Winnie now? Or are they even dating?
  • I’m a big fan of both Doug Porter and Hobson. Glad to see them both used to good effect here.This show is not particularly innuendo heavy. I think the “tomatoes” line is about as severe as the innuendo has gotten.
  • This is  great soundtrack episode. My favorite music moment of the episode was “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”

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