'The Wonder Years' Reboot Shows 1960s Black Family Life Rarely Depicted on TV

The nostalgic reimagining of the coming-of-age dramedy "The Wonder Years" takes viewers to the Civil Rights Movement era South, showing the meaningful experiences of Black preteen Dean and his family.

An image from the show, The Wonder Years.
Photo: Courtesy of ABC/Disney.

The '60s are back just in time to transport audiences to "The Wonder Years" all over again. This nostalgic reboot, however, is ready to tell a very different story than its predecessor.

Similar to the original 1988 series by Neal Marlens and Carol Black, this ABC reboot is a coming-of-age dramedy about a young boy growing up during an iconic time in American history.

Yet this time, instead of the white suburban Arnold family, we meet the Williams family, a Black, middle-class family living during early racial integration in 1960s Montgomery, Alabama. Through the point of view of 12-year-old Dean (played by Elisha "EJ" Williams), viewers will see how he navigates "locker rooms, bullies, and girls," as Dean says in the trailer, along with the adversities of racism.

Staying true to what helped give the original its distinct charm, the reboot is narrated by Dean as an adult. His story will undoubtedly be one of self-discovery. He unearths finding his place as the youngest of three and being an awkward Black student at Jefferson Davis Jr. High who, according to his music professor dad, "doesn't have rhythm—yet."

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This recapturing of a familiar yet unique story still tugs on the brooding heartstrings of puberty and social awkwardness that "The Wonder Years" is known for. In the same tone as shows like "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Malcolm in the Middle," "The Wonder Years" feels like a combination of quirk and quintessential school life along with the complexities of "police talks" and "racial divides" that are unique to Black identity.

With the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., the controversial election of President Kennedy, and the brutality of protests and sit-ins amidst the Civil Rights Movement, this reboot exceeds the intersections of the first series to form a complicated narrative about Black youth.

The reboot stars Saycon Sengbloh (Lillian Williams), Dulé Hill (Bill Williams), Laura Kariuki (Kim Williams), Julian Lerner (Brad Hitman), Amari O'Neil (Cory Long), Milan Ray (Keisa Clemmons), and Allen Maldonado (Coach Long). 'The Wonder Years' premieres tonight, September 22, at 8:30 pm ET on Hulu and YouTube Live TV as part of ABC's 2021 Fall TV lineup.

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