The Wonder Years is a reboot of the pathbreaking 1988 TV series about a American suburban family, and fondly looks back at the teenage years of a middle-class Black boy in Alabama
Story: Set in 1968, The Wonder Years traces the life of tween Dean and his eclectic and loving family, consisting of a musician father, an accountant mother, an older, popular sister and an athletic brother.
It seems studios and networks are in no mood to stop encashing on their IP libraries, and if reboots like The Wonder Years are being offered as a result, there is no reason why the audiences should complain. Indeed, the reboot of The Wonder Years, which streams on Disney+ Hotstar in India, is the perfect example of how to mine the popularity of its predecessor to present a new story in a familiar spiritual universe.
Like the widely popular 1984 series, The Wonder Years (2021) is a story of middle-class suburban life in 1968. Only this time, the story unfolds from the perspective of a Black tween trying to navigate what appears to him as the most crucial years of his life — puberty. The youngest in the family, twelve-year-old Dean (Elisha Williams) ponders about his own journey into adolescence, which he decidedly says begins now.
He is born into a family of overachievers - father Bil (Dulé Hill) is a musician and a professor, mother Lillian (Saycon Sengbloh) is an accountant. His older brother is working in Vietnam and sister Kim is a budding revolutionary.
Much like Jane: The Virgin, The Wonder Years has another key player — the narrator of the show, a grown-up Dean (voiced by Don Cheadle). Thus, in the opening minutes of the episode, we hear Cheadle ruefully declare, “I’d never be as popular as my sister, or as athletic as my brother, as smart as my mom, or as bad as my dad,” while staring at the tall trophy cabinet.
In this tenderly crafted mood piece, Cheadle’s Dean fondly retrospects on the formative years of his life in Alabama suburbia. The times are turbulent — the Black community is routinely subjected to racial injustice, there’s been a pandemic and “a presidential election had created a racial divide.”
The parallels with current times are deliberate and cheeky, but like all good comfort TV, the show is more interested in recreating a happy past than hammering home present realities. It is not a show on race or the pandemic, it is about a family that happens to be Black at a particularly fraught time in history.
So when Bill tells his kids to “be cool” in any tense situation, like when the police car pulls ahead on the driveway, it is almost endearing and amusing. Or when the news of Martin Luther King’s assassination breaks, Dean is heartbroken, but mostly because he sees his school crush kissing someone else. He convinces his sceptical sports teacher to let their all-Black baseball team play with a team with all-white boys because his Jewish buddy is in it.
Ultimately, it is a story about a naive boy and his loving family, told with affection, innocence and generous doses of dewy-eyed nostalgia. It is not kitschy-cool like WandaVision, but it’s as wholesome. The Wonder Years is also an unabashed homage to the 1984 TV classic. As a matter of fact, Fred Savage, the actor who played the precocious protagonist Kevin, has directed the pilot episode and is also one of the producers on the show.
Verdict: If you have missed out on the original show, and the pandemic makes you crave good ol’ comedy, The Wonder Years is a show that you should not skip. It is ruminative and rooted in history, yet aspirational and comforting.