A lot or a little?
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.
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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?
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