Two long-running series fade away after this week: The Wonder Years (ABC, May 12, 8-9 p.m.) and Knots Landing (CBS, May 13, 9-11 p.m.). During its first season (1988), Wonder did a marvelous job with a paradox: Its hero was an innocent 12-year-old, Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), entering junior high in 1968, a year in which innocence was fast disappearing. But after that opening season, Kevin’s wide-eyed guilelessness began to seem as self-conscious as that of the soothing narrator voice of the adult Kevin, provided by Home Alone’s Daniel Stern. Wait a minute: Does this mean that Kevin grew up to be one of the two criminals that Macaulay Culkin is always bashing?
By contrast, Knots Landing, the longest-running evening soap, had no innocence to corrupt. Conceived as the housing-development version of Dallas, Knots turned into a poker-faced satire of big business and pre-AIDS sex.
Though I tuned in occasionally to keep track of whatever would inspire William Devane’s shark grin, I haven’t watched the show as a truly obsessed fan since its watershed sixth season, 1984-85, when Alec Baldwin played a murderous religious con man who whiled away many a suburban afternoon licking the perfect navel of otherwise talentless rock singer Ciji Dunne (Lisa Hartman, before she moved to Malibu Road). That the same series served as a glowing showcase for both Julie Harris and Nicollette Sheridan is a testament to this flexible Knots, as is its trio of great female performances: TV’s canniest shrew (Donna Mills’ Abby), TV’s ditziest innocent (Joan Van Ark’s Valene), and TV’s noblest sufferer (Michele Lee’s Karen). Someone’s got to say it: Do, Knots, go gentle into that good night.