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'Wonder Years' box a TV marvel

Here's an impossible mission: Find something, anything, not included in the new complete-series DVD box of the beloved coming-of-age series The Wonder Years. (Now shipping from TimeLife.com at $250; Season 1 in stores at $20.)

The box set's 26 discs are slid into the pages of two vintage-design "binders," each with its own fact-packed "composition book" detailing the Vietnam-era episodes, then-current events and musical selections. There's also a hardcover replica yearbook with behind-the-scenes photos, call sheets, even (printed) cast signatures. It's all packed inside a foot-tall metal school locker (with magnets to affix).

Of course, the main attraction is all 115 episodes of ABC's 1988-1994 half-hour hit, depicting a group of baby-boom kids, with the parents and teachers who guided them. This set so delves into the show's background and impact that on-disc extras add up to nearly 24 hours. The entire cast talks, in a dozen themed featurettes and in raw interview footage, from onetime child star Fred Savage to guests Ben Stein, Seth Green and David Schwimmer. Because those reflections come 20 years later, co-creator Neal Marlens says, "you do have a whole new perspective on it." And it was this look-back perspective — distilled in the grown-up narration by Daniel Stern — that lent The Wonder Years insight into its convulsive era. The episodes and extras together feel even more potent.

What would The Wonder Years be without those sonic touchstones? Joe Cocker's With a Little Help From My Friends ran over the opening, while dozens more songs struck emotional chords for adolescent Kevin Arnold and his running buddies. The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, The Temptations, Linda Ronstadt, Iron Butterfly, James Brown, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, The Grateful Dead, Steely Dan — 285 songs were cleared for DVD release. (Wondering why the show took so long to hit disc? There's your answer.)

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