The Wonder Years (2021)

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
The Wonder Years (2021) TV Poster Image
Gentle nostalgia, keen insight in race-flipped reboot.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 2 reviews

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Strong, cohesive, sensitive points about racism and class are made through visuals (two White kids back away from water fountain after they see Black classmate using it) and dialogue (two boys call each other "free lunch," insinuating poverty). Messages of integrity and gratitude are clear through struggles to live an authentic life. Gratitude for such things as loving family and good friends. 

Positive Role Models

Characters are strong and complex; each is given an inner life and storylines that treat them with respect and dignity. Characters vary in terms of age, race, body type, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc. Family members may argue but are there for each other when chips are down. 

Diverse Representations

Show centers on a Black middle-class family with mom, dad, three kids. Black characters have non-stereotypical jobs (musician, teacher, coach) and, though race plays a part in storylines, it's not the most important thing about each character. Many aspects of period-correct (late 1960s) Black culture are on display: "ashy" elbows, a teen's wish to ally herself with Black Panther party. Religion and race are discussed honestly, like when a classmate says that Dean is attempting to assuage his own social discomfort by making others feel similarly uncomfortable, which is "the most Jewish thing" he's ever done. 

Violence

Young characters scuffle, like when a bigger bully hits Dean for "acting White," and a girl puts a boy in a headlock for repeatedly touching her when she's said no. Historical violent incidents are mentioned: Vietnam war, assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. We see footage from riots in which men are sprayed with firehoses. 

Sex

Characters are interested in romance: Dean hopes to have his first kiss and asks a classmate to teach him how, using a pillow. References to dates and make-out parties. A teen girl is seen kissing her boyfriend passionately in a car; a married couple dance and kiss in their living room. Boys talk about "wet dreams" without knowing what it means.

Language

Language is infrequent: "hell," "ass." The offending word in "s--tting his pants" is bleeped.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Dean references "the funny way Dad's studio smelled after a rehearsal," a nod to surreptitious marijuana use. Characters drink at dinners and get-togethers or have a drink routinely at home, but no one acts drunk. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Wonder Years is a remake of the 1988–1993 series of the same name, centering this time on the Williamses, a Black family living in Montgomery, Alabama, in the late 1960s. As in the original, the tone is nostalgic and warm, with an older man looking back on his coming-of-age with affection. Violence is slightly more prominent in this remake, as there are references to historical events such as the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Vietnam War. A young character is interested in the Black Panther party; we see an image of her holding a gun in the style of Black Panther members. Young kids scuffle with each other at school; no one's actually hurt. Sexual content includes lots of talk of dating, kissing, make-out parties, and similar middle school romantic topics. We also see a character kissing her boyfriend passionately in a car. We see characters drinking, but no one acts drunk; a character refers to "the funny way Dad's studio smelled after a rehearsal," a nod to surreptitious marijuana use. Language is infrequent: "hell," "ass." Characters are strong and complex, with storylines that give them individuality and dignity. Racial and social topics are tackled frequently: intolerance, integration, race's intersection with poverty. Black characters have non-stereotypical lives, and race is just one of the aspects of their characterization. Family members are close and loving, if sometimes argumentative; messages of integrity and gratitude are clear. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCharla_parent3 October 15, 2021

Not for kids!

I was very disappointed in episode 4 where Dean comes into some “racy literature” and shares it with his classmates. I was very disappointed in how this topic w... Continue reading
Adult Written bylisancandice September 27, 2021

OUTSTANDING!!

This was a wonderful show. We loved it. I remember the old one that we used to watch every week and I was so happy to hear it was being remade. The characters a... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old October 15, 2021

Ok show with a good bit of iffy material...

This show is just ok but the amount of iffy stuff was suprising. I started watching this show because an actor I like is in it, but then the show started talki... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byJohhnyTest September 25, 2021

It's okay

Just... okay.

What's the story?

Based on the series of the same name that ran from 1988 to 1993, THE WONDER YEARS is set in the late 1960s like the original, but now focuses on the Williams family: 12-year-old Dean (Elisha "EJ" Williams), his professor/musician dad Bill (Dulé Hill), career woman mom Lillian (Saycon Sengbloh), and popular yet troubled teenage sister Kim (Laura Kariuki). In their Montgomery, Alabama, home, times are changing, and the Williams family is changing right along with them -- sometimes for better, sometimes worse. As Don Cheadle narrates, an older Dean looks back at his coming-of-age with affectionate nostalgia. Speaking of nostalgia: The star of the original Wonder Years, Fred Savage, directs the pilot of the reboot. 

Is it any good?

Warm, lovely, and as suffused with gentle nostalgia as the original, this remake of the iconic late-'80s series recaptures the same sentimentality yet adroitly slips in modern cultural commentary. For although the Williams family exists in the same era as the Arnolds of the original, the experiences of the two families are distinctly different. The original Wonder Years spent surprisingly little time focusing on race despite its period setting during a tumultuous time for people of color in the United States; the reboot weaves insight about race and intolerance adroitly into stories about how one particular 12-year-old Black kid might feel. And with sweet, funny, well-meaning, and wide-eyed Dean as our avatar for late-'60s tumult, it all goes down very easily indeed. 

“One thing about being 12 that hasn't changed over the decades is that it's around 12 that you figure out what your place is in the world," says narrator Don Cheadle in the first episode. True, and Dean's trying to carve a place for himself in a family where everyone seems like a superstar: His brother is an athlete and now a (Vietnam) war hero, his sister is a politically aware hipster who's also one of the popular kids, his mom is a smarty, his dad is a musician. Just where does Dean fit in? And how will a backdrop of charged racial incidents affect how he handles terrifying-enough-on-its-own adolescence? While it's curious that the new Wonder Years chose to focus on the same era as the original (creator Saladin K. Patterson is in his late '40s; if we were looking back at his high school experience, we'd be somewhere in the late '80s), it's interesting to have what amounts to a truly different take on a similar story -- one that centers on a young character with more on his mind than just his first kiss and fights with his family. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about nostalgia in the media, especially in shows like The Wonder Years. How accurate do you think TV shows and movies that look back on the past -- particularly the recent past -- are? Do people in general have a tendency to idealize certain parts of history? How does The Wonder Years' focus on a Black family change what events are spotlighted and how? 

  • Families can also talk specifically about life in the United States during the 1960s and '70s. What was it like growing up in that era? How have events like the civil rights movement, Vietnam War, and hippie counterculture movement impacted American life today? Which of today's events do you think will have as lasting an effect on future generations?

  • How do the characters in The Wonder Years demonstrate gratitude and integrity? Why are these important character strengths?

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love comedy and Black lives

Character Strengths

Find more TV shows that help kids build character.

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