The Wonder Years title screen
(image courtesy ABC)

Upcoming ‘Wonder Years’ Reboot to Focus on 1960s-era Black Family

ABC has announced plans to reboot the beloved late 1980s coming-of-age dramedy The Wonder Years with a Black cast, setting the new series in 1968 in Montgomery, Alabama.

When the original Wonder Years debuted in 1988, critics celebrated the way it broke all kinds of television barriers and established a new benchmark for not only the kinds of stories that TV could tell but also the way they could be told — developments that continue to live on in our current streaming era. 

Rolling Stone has reported that the groundbreaking series was one of the first-ever to feature a narrator. It also relied on the use of a single-camera perspective, similar to films, vs. a multi-camera format that was more typical of TV shows at that point in time. Most importantly to its overall cachet, The Wonder Years was one of the first Hollywood projects to ever look back on Baby Boomer nostalgia, reminiscing over life in the 1960s and including much of the music and pop culture milestones that made the era special to so many.

The series went on to win numerous awards, launched the careers of several actors and ultimately became one of the most popular and well-received TV shows of all-time.

It’s against that backdrop that ABC has decided to revisit the series, maintaining its 1960s setting, but this time focusing on a Black family and tracking their story through the start of America’s first turbulent civil rights era.

CNN’s Sandra Gonzalez has reported that the revival will star Elisha “EJ” Williams as the story’s central protagonist — the role played by Fred Savage in the original Wonder Years. The son of basketball legend Harold “Lefty” Williams, Elisha will be playing a character named Dean, who the network described as “an inquisitive and hopeful 12-year-old” who is “coming of age in a turbulent time” and “trying to figure out his place within his Black family and the world at large.”

“Though a little insecure, a tad awkward and a bit self-conscious, he is determined to make his mark on the world around him,” the network added.

Savage will be a producer of the new series along with Lee Daniels, who has worked on numerous acclaimed projects exploring the Black experience including Precious, The Butler, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and the Fox series Empire.

The Wrap has reported that Psych and The West Wing alum Dule Hill has been tapped to play Dean’s dad, with newcomer Laura Kariuki set to play Dean’s sister. Other major roles are still being cast.

Originally announced and put into development in the summer of 2020, following the turmoil from George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s death and the protests for social justice. The rebooted series is now officially going into development with production set to start later this spring and an airdate possibly occurring as early as fall 2021.

During its original announcement, the network said it had hoped that by setting the reboot in the same tumultuous period as the original series and focusing on a middle-class Black family, it would give the network the chance to explore the lives of another set of characters, to make sure “it was The Wonder Years for them, too.”

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