It has been more than thirty years since we were first given a glimpse at life with the Arnolds, an all-American family living through the 1960s and 70s. For many viewers at the time, the 1960s still had a magical allure that gave the show its appeal. For this reason, in particular, The Wonder Years is an excellent example of why a reboot was necessary. That era meant one thing for white audiences. Still, the 1960s meant something entirely different for Black families, and it’s a subject that the show’s creator Saladin K. Patterson doesn’t shy away from in the new iteration of The Wonder Years.
Set in Montgomery, Alabama, during the late 1960s, this version of The Wonder Years follows Dean Williams, a relatively typical middle school student. His life is narrated by Don Cheadle playing a grown-up version of the youngster. Dean’s family life and upbringing are reasonably straightforward, but given the time and place, he’s headed into some of the most turbulent times of the decade that would go on to define the Civil Rights Movement.
The first two episodes of The Wonder Years deal with the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, JR. and what makes them so refreshing and informative is how the show handles serious topics in a way that can still amuse. For example, Dean is struggling with discovering that his best friend kissed the girl he likes, but everyone else, from his teachers to his father, believes Dean is sad about the death of Dr King.
The series touches on many different topics during its first three episodes, not all of them as serious as Dr King or Dean’s older sister Kim’s involvement with the Black Panthers. The addition of these issues shows the importance of keeping The Wonder Years within the same time period as the original. The series illustrates how the ’60s was a golden time, for sure, but for Black families, there was a lot of added weight that white families could ignore. A fishing trip between Dean and his father sees Dean’s father give a powerful speech about the anger and frustration he feels after Dr King’s death and how white people could look past it.
The Wonder Years has plenty of moments of good sitcom entertainment that are just as affecting as its more serious themes. Episode 3: The Club is probably the funniest of the three that I watched and truly one of the funniest episodes of TV I have seen in a while. Without spoiling a brilliant episode, it centres around a sex talk given to Dean by his mum. It’s a hilarious discussion about sex and porn, the narration throughout is perfect, and the interaction between mother and son adds depth a complexity to both characters.
The Wonder Years is a captivating series that will appeal to fans of the original series and a new generation of fans alike. The cast has incredible chemistry, and I have a feeling they could well be on their way to becoming your next favourite TV family.
“The Wonder Years” Streaming December 22nd New episodes stream weekly on Wednesdays.
The story of the Williams family during the late 1960s, all through the point of view of imaginative 12-year-old Dean. With the wisdom of his adult years, Dean’s hopeful and humorous recollections of his past spotlight the ups and downs of growing up in a Black middle-class family in Montgomery, Alabama, and the friendship, laughter and lessons along the way.