1980s-1990s ‘The Wonder Years’ reboot features all African-American cast, brings new perspective to life in the ’60s

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Image used with permission from ABC

Dean Williams (left), played by Elisha Williams, and Cory Long (right), played by Amari O’Neil, bond over a fishing trip. The ABC TV series, “The Wonder Years,” will make a grand return to the entertainment industry with its reboot set to premiere Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 8:30 p.m.

Kate Yang

Six seasons. 115 episodes. One family. 

From 1988 to 1993, “The Wonder Years” stole thousands of viewers’ hearts centered on the life of a young teenager, Kevin Arnold, who narrates the series as an adult looking back on the peaks and pickles of his life during the roaring ‘60s and wild ‘70s.

To the delight of some long-time “Wonder Years” fans at Sunny Hills, the ABC TV series will return to audiences Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 8:30 p.m.  

Centering on the life of a young African-American teenager, Dean Williams, the reboot shifts the focus from an all-white family living in an all-white neighborhood to an all Black family living in a predominantly white neighborhood.

According to ABC, the show will dive deeper into more daring topics such as the prevalence of racial segregation and discrimination, something absent from the original series. 

Spanish teacher Vanessa Lara, who watched the original series as a middle school student, remembers “The Wonder Years” as a time for generations to connect, learn and laugh and looks forward to seeing the reboot accomplish the same, if not similar, things.

“I personally believe that it helped bridge two generations, maybe even three,” Lara said. “It definitely allowed our parents to sit down and spend time with us as kids to watch the show because it was reliving their adolescence, their childhood, when they were in school.”

She enjoyed the comical, satirical aspects of the original show, but with the reboot’s inclusion of somewhat sensitive subject matters, the instructor who also teaches at La Habra believes audiences will feel emotions much deeper.

“First and foremost, just the idea [of the original show] is brilliant to bring families together [and] to make that connection, but also now to see in a point of view of a different sociocultural group,” said Lara, who will tune in for the premiere. “I think it would make someone more open-minded and more empathetic to their surroundings and different cultural groups.”

English teacher David Wolf, who remembers watching “The Wonder Years” as a college student, believes the show may garner some resentment from long-time fans questioning the shift in angle. Nevertheless, he said the reboot could draw support from new audiences. 

“I can see the show upsetting a lot of people who might say, ‘Why do they have to focus only on this?’ ” Wolf said. “Whereas now, it is focusing on an African-American family; I bet African Americans are going to find it much more interesting, so it will probably gain as many viewers as it loses.”

As much as he loved the show growing up, Wolf said he does not see himself tuning in for the premiere because of his disinterest in network television as an adult; however, he still appreciates the program’s decision to focus the series on a different race. 

“I think that a lot of people, especially white people, when they think back on time, they remember a Norman Rockwell America,” he said.  “If you were an alien, and you landed here, and you just started watching television, you would think America was all white because you hardly saw people of color.”

Wolf hopes the reboot will shed light on how different historic events affected Americans of a different race, culture and background and educate the younger generations of today. 

“Since they’ve already done it with white people in the earlier version, I think this would be a good alternative to see because [Black families] were not living the same life,” said the English teacher, who now prefers to watch such TV series as “The Simpsons”. “I’m sure Martin Luther King’s assassination affected Black families much differently than how it affected white families, and I’m sure it was terrible for everybody but not the same.” 

Lara roots for the reboot’s success to not only make audiences smile, but also spark change within communities unaware of the harsh realities some ethnic minorities faced in the ‘60s. 

“I can only hope that it will provoke something positive,” she said. “I can only hope that it gives people more of an idea and perspective of what Black families went through and possibly what they have to go through because they always say history repeats itself.”