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Then & Now: Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar)

11.16.2012by: Salacious Crumb

Time: The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole. Wouldn't it be great if you could jump into a Delorean (or phone booth) and explore the boundaries of time and space? You could see the first Olympic games, or prevent senseless wars, or better... you could visit all your favorite movie hotties from any point in cinema history. You could visit the set of SOME LIKE IT HOT and "accidentally" stumble into Marilyn Monroe's dressing room. You could hang by the pool from FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and watch Phoebe Cates remove that infamous red top. The possibilities are endless, though most of us would probably go back and change something from our past, to benefit our future lives (invest in Google, keep Star Wars merch neatly packaged, etc.). Maybe give our younger self some personal, cautionary advice, back when we didn't know what was good for us. You know, those fuzzy, naive, "most important years of our lives". The wonder years. Hey, that's the perfect fake segue into this week's subject, Winnie from "The Wonder Years", played by Danica McKellar.


A couple weeks back, we looked at another one of Fred Savage's onscreen companions, Jenny Lewis from THE WIZARD, who's still rockin' and rollin'. Savage and Lewis's uncomfortable romantic chemistry, of course, reminded me of Danica McKellar and Savage with their "too young to make much sense" love connection in "The Wonder Years". This is a show my dad constantly played for me when I was really young, so even though I was just 5 grades lower than the characters, I didn't understand the love story. Winnie was one of the first characters on television to help me grasp that "concept" of having a crush, before I ultimately developed one on the school nurse (oh, how I miss that hairy bosom). Let's go over some of the highlights, shall we?

In the pilot episode, we meet Kevin (Fred Savage), a remarkably average kid who's about to enter the mysterious world of Junior High. The story is told from the point of view of Kevin all grown up (voiced by Daniel Stern), who provides humorous, insightful commentary, and often makes fun of himself. It's a lot like A CHRISTMAS STORY, as there are also fantasy sequences involving parodies. The second character Kevin introduces us to is Winnie, who picks up a basketball Kevin fails to catch during a game. Already off to a bad start, but she's dressed like a dork, so no harm, no foul, right?

Yeah, what a nerd. That is until later in the episode when she walks up to the bus stop, glasses gone, hair undone, and in some brighter clothes, causing Kevin and his geeky friend Paul to drop a deuce in their pants out of surprise. From then on, Kevin's apparent friendship with Winnie wilts away, and she runs off with the "popular crowd", leaving Kevin wishing and wanting from afar. This could be considered the factor that drives the show, as Kevin is constantly contemplating his manhood, comparing himself to Winnie's guy friends. It doesn't help that his archetypal nerd friend Paul seems to keep hitting off with different chicks. This show make Junior High School seem like some kind of Player's Ball, which is weird. When I was in 7th grade, girls still laughed and threw lemonade in my face when I offered them a dance, and I had always just assumed they still believed in cooties. Oh, well. 

At least one girl thinks my ALF pog collection is cool.

So, as the show progresses, we see Paul grow 5 feet, we see Kevin bond with his father through making car repairs, we see Kev's older brother Wayne tease him with old "stop and go" car trick, and we finally see Kevin and Winnie get together. And we see them break up. And get back together. This is the kind of thing you see in plenty of other series when their driving force is the romanticism; if it's not kept interesting the show goes stale, and eventually you've just gotta make it or break it already.

They don't have too much time left on this Earth. 

And now here comes my rant about "The Wonder Years", a show filled with life lessons and Beatles music/references galore. Even though I didn't understand some of it as a youngling, it stood the test of time, and I still find it clever and entertaining. The program is about 20-years-old, and it takes place about 20 years earlier than that. It's observes the ridiculousness of an entire generation with love, but also with frustration. Without it, we might have ever had "Freaks & Geeks" or "Malcolm In The Middle", two other shows that spoke to the youth of a certain period of time. It taught me the value of thinking for one's self, and not letting the self-righteous shovel shit into your brain. However, there is one solid, subliminal message: "All you need is love". Yeah, whatever. Get a haircut, ya' hippy.

After "The Wonder Years" finished its 88 episode run in 1993, Danica surfed the TV waves for a while longer, appearing in several TV-movies, and big-name shows like "Captain Planet and the Planeteers", "Babylon 5", and "Walker, Texas Ranger". Hey, speaking of the legendary "Fistbeard", she even starred in a karate movie alongside Chuck Norris and Jonathan Brandis called SIDEKICKS (get it??). Before this drags on and gets weird, what do you say we just move on to what is up with Danica McKellar today? It's far more interesting, anyway...

If that didn't just take you back to the late '80's, your cocaine habit must've taken a toll on your memory. Yes, 37-years-old Danica reassures us that she is one stunning spectacle. I'd take her, glasses or no glasses. Pigtails or no pigtails. When "The Wonder Years" were over, Danica entered adulthood, and you'd think she would've blown up into a bigger success. Unfortunately, her fame bubble deflated a little instead. She has several "guest spots" scattered across her filmography. In the 2000's, Danica seemed to be active in the independent film world, in unheard-of flicks like GOOD NEIGHBOR, BLACK HOLE, REALITY SCHOOL, RAISING GENIUS and more. It's a damn shame she fell out of the Hollywood circle. Unless her diabolical plan to resurface was to do a bunch of sexy photoshoots in skimpy attire. Who say what now?

How gratuitous. So her looks may be made to impress, but her brain has also proven to stay strong. Danica graduated UCLA in 1998 with a degree in mathematics. She's received many kudos for writing The New York Times bestselling book Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail. She's also published Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who's Boss, Hot X: Algebra Exposed!, and Girls Get Curves - Geometry Takes Shape; all geared towards girls grades 7-10 (two of them are also bestsellers). I'd like to have her to teach me a lesson or two.

I wonder what HER dress would look like 75% off!

Wowzers. I hope I'm not being obtuse, but she's acute girl. I guess Danica really was a nerd after all, beauty and brains. You don't know exactly how awesome that is for us until you've seen what she wears out to comic book release parties.

I don't know what to comment on. The buns on her head or the heads on a stick... I'd like to have those buns on my head.

This may seem like useless information, but in March, 2009, Danica married a composer named Mike Verta. The two had a kid in 2010, named Draco, and then divorced in June, 2012. That means she's back on the market folks! If you think you can bring that Fred Savage brand of "ladykilling" to the table, I'd say take your shot. Despite her success with children's educational literature, Danica has continued to act in whatever she can. In 2008, she starred in the Sci Fi Channel original movie HEATSTROKE, as well as HACK!, which was released in the UK. She also kept riding that "TV guest spot" bandwagon for longer than ever thought possible, recently appearing in episodes of "The Big Bang Theory" and "How I Met Your Mother". I don't know about you, but I'm very pleased with this outcome, and it's nice to know she can stimulate both our hearts and our brains. Nice to see you again, Danica McKellar! You're sweeter than 3.14!

Tags: then & now


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