The Wonder Years is back with a twist. The original ABC family sitcom airing from 1988-1993 and starring Fred Savage as Kevin Arnold, was the coming-of-age tale about a teenager growing up in a suburban middle-class family in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This time around, the same tale will focus on the growing pains of Dean, an imaginative 12-year-old growing up in a Black middle-class family in Montgomery, Alabama.
The reboot stars Don Cheadle who narrates the series as adult Dean Williams (Elisha “EJ” Williams). Dulé Hill stars as Dean’s father, Bill Williams, and Saycon Sengbloh stars as Dean’s mother, Lillian Williams. Laura Kariuki plays the role of Dean’s sister, Kim Williams.
Many are excited to see the show from the lens of a Black family, but the cast promises they will deliver much more than a pop of color. For Hill, he’s excited to bring forth a family sitcom with Black patriarchy highlighted positively.
“What attracted me to The Wonder Years is the idea of showing the African American family in that time. Often times I think people forget that we’ve been a unit, we’ve been here, it’s not something new,” Hill told Shadow and Act in a recent interview. “The story oftentimes is fathers being absent, but no, fathers have been there. We have always been there and we always will be there...in the midst of the challenges that we go through, whether it’s today or whether it’s back in the '60s, we connect through love, we connect through unity and we press on through. How do we find our own Wonder Years?”
The younger stars admit to having to do some research for the project, considering they weren’t alive during the time period the show hones in on. But they found the research process exciting, learning more than they bargained for.
“A lot of people ask me am I learning more than I thought I would and in ways, yes and no,” Williams said. “I didn’t really need to be brought up to speed as much because I’m fortunate to have a lot of my up-in-age relatives still alive. My grandmother was a little kid when Dr. King [and the Civil Rights Movement] was alive in the '60s. And her mother, my great-grandmother, she was an adult when it happened, as well as a lot of other things before then. I’ve had stories that just helped me.”
Kariuki is excited to showcase that the '60s represented more than Black plight. “I’m excited for people to see that Black people had joy,” she said, referencing the Civil Rights Movement era. “We were happy and not always just in pain and fighting and sad, and I feel like we show that so well and so I am happy for people to be able to see the balance.”
Sengbloh says the music serves as a soundtrack for the time-piece period and beyond. “The music that you’re going to hear on the show" is a central theme of the series, she said, adding that Hill’s character is also a music professor. “That’s the thing about music...all that good music that came out of that era could not have come if there were not a strong and beautiful people attached to it.”
The show also stars Julian Lerner as Brad Hitman, Amari O’Neil as Cory Long and Milan Ray as Keisa Clemmons. Lee Daniels, Saladin K. Patterson, Fred Savage and Marc Velez are executive producers on the reboot. The Wonder Years premieres on ABC on Sept. 22.
Watch the interviews below: