“The Wonder Years” was not only a ratings hit for ABC when it launched in 1988 and ran for six seasons but it garnered high praise from critics. The series that offered a nostalgic look at the late ‘60s and early ‘70s picked up the Primetime Emmy as Best Comedy Series that initial season.
Another cast and crew will be looking for the same kind of success with viewers and critics when the new version of “The Wonder Years” debuts 8:30 p.m. Sept. 22 on ABC.
The updated version uses the same format as it focuses on a middle class family trying to deal with life and love. Just like the original, this “Wonder Years” will feature a narrator who will help guide viewers down the path of nostalgia. What makes this version different is that it deals with a middle class African-American family.
Not only will they deal with similar family issues as seen through the eyes of a love-struck young man but the change in race opens up a host of stories dealing with politics and social issues.
Both shows turned back the clock to the ‘60s. Executive producer Saladin K. Patterson explains setting the show in that time period was important because they wanted to offer a different perspective in the Black middle class.
“Usually, when you talk about the late ‘60s, it’s talking about the struggle in the civil rights movement and things like that,” Patterson says. “They are very valid and a part of our story as well. But the perspective of the Black middle class during that time specifically was something that I know stood out to (executive producer) Lee (Daniels) and then stood out to me as well when we first started talking about even doing a reimagining of this show.”
Patterson and Daniels agreed that there were more story possibilities and a broader avenue for humor by setting the series in the ‘60s rather than making a 20 year leap to 2001.
It also gives them the chance to offer a more realistic look at the Black middle class in the ‘60s.
Daniels says. “I think that when you think of this time period in Black America, you don’t really think of middle class Black people. You think impoverished; you think of what the media portrayed us to be.”
Taking on the role that made Fred Savage a star in the original version is Elisha Williams who plays Dean, a young teen with a lot of hope in his heart and love on his mind. The narration is provided by the adult version of Dean as handled by Don Cheadle.
Should Williams need some help, Savage is one of the executive producers on the new series. The star of the original “The Wonder Years” has no problems with this being a show about Dean and not Kevin.
“There’s a lot of elements of this show that feel very comfortable and familiar to me and to an audience as well,” Savage says. “We’re maintaining a similar tone, a similar blend of comedy and truth, the same idea of a narrator looking back on his youth kind of with the wisdom of age.
“But there are things that are incredibly unique about this show, and the fact that it’s a brand new family, brand new characters I think allows us to maintain some of the things we loved about the original while also telling a wholly unique and new story with new people.
Dean will get all the attention but the center of the household is the work of Dulé Hill who plays Dean’s father, one of the coolest men on the planet. It is a 180-degree change for Hill after playing the very neurotic Burton Guster on “Psyche” for so many years.
Hill is happy the new series is also set in the ‘60s. The opportunity to look at major events such as the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. shows that as much change has gone on in the world, so much remains the same.
“There is still so much tragedy that has gone on between now and then, and it’s still happening right now,” Hill says. “So, what’s interesting to me about even exploring this world in this time period is you see the trauma, you see the hurt, you see the strength of the people during that time.
“Then you reflect on where you are now, and you see that same strength, that same power, that same fortitude to press on forward that has always been there for people who look like me.”The cast of “The Wonder Years” also includes Saycon Sengbloh as Lillian Williams, Laura Kariuki as Kim Williams, Julian Lerner as Brad Hitman, Amari O’Neil as Cory Long and Milan Ray as Keisa Clemmons.