The mythical series returns to Disney+ this Wednesday depicting the life of an African American family
Nostalgia is a powerful weapon, and few channels can resist, especially in times of crisis, to recover their greatest successes from the past. Series like The Wonder Years, in which Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) recounted his adolescence in the suburbs of a large American city in the late sixties. The award-winning eighties show returns to television to portray American society in profound transformation from another point of view: that of a middle-class African American family from Montgomery, Alabama.
This new version premieres on December 22 on Disney+ will deal with the lives of the Williams family through the eyes of Dean (Elisha Williams), a 12-year-old boy with a great imagination who now an adult, narrates his youthful memoirs (using Don Cheadle’s voice). His story, in the style of Cuéntame, begins with the assassination of Martin Luther King, April 4, 1968. Just like that of Kevin Arnold, Dean Williams’ adolescence is full of enlightenment, teenage friends’ adventures and first loves, but also of concerns that never even raised their heads in the original series. In this version, Dean’s parents, Bill and Lillian Williams (Dulé Hill and Saycon Sengbloh), not only suffer for the fate of their eldest son (Spence Moore II) in Vietnam, but also for the rebellion of the youngest, Kim (Laura Kariuki), the middle sister, an activist against racial discrimination. They even fear, in such troubled times, for the safety of little Dean when he fields for his baseball team against white opponents.
Both the creator of The Wonder Years, Saladin K. Patterson (The Big Bang Theory, Psych), and the principal director, Lee Daniels (Empire), seamlessly move adeptly between nostalgia, complete with Joe Cocker’s version of The Beatles’ With a Little Help from My Friends from the original series, the portrayal of family and social criticism. There’s even room for comedy, I mean, who would have imagined that Martin Luther King’s demise would help Dean go from a pass grade to an A? Well, so far, we have 22 episodes to help us become attached to our new family.
Although they coincide on the temporal frame, the worlds of the Arnold and Williams families do not intersect, at least for the moment. Of course, Fred Savage returns to the world of The Wonder Years, the series that watched him grow up, back here as executive producer and director of several episodes.
Complete with the racial pirouette, this return of The Wonder Years also seems to reflect Hollywood’s willingness to approach minority stories that, until relatively recently, had no echo on the small screen, despite a recent study from Nielsen consulting firm which reveals that 39.5% of the population in the United States are of other races besides white, they barely represent 26.7% of television characters. African Americans (14% of the population), however, are the only group fairly represented (18% of the characters), at least quantitatively. That said, the debate not only revolves around how many African American characters appear on TV, but also what roles they are cast in. And yes, also behind the cameras, progress is made to make television a more faithful reflection of what we were and are.