The more things change, the more they remain the same. That truth is certainly showcased on the new reboot of “The Wonder Years,” which debuted on ABC this past September. (The series is also streaming on Hulu, as is the 1988 original of the same name on which it is based.) Created by Saladin K. Patterson (who was behind “Psych”) and co-executive produced by OG “Wonder Years” star Fred Savage and Lee Daniels (of “Monster’s Ball” and “The Butler” fame), the reimagined coming-of-age tale takes place in Montgomery, Alabama, in the late 1960s. But instead of centering on the Arnolds, this time the story revolves around the Williams, a middle-class African American family headed up by Bill (Dulé Hill), a music professor by day/funk musician by night, and Lillian (Saycon Sengbloh), an account executive for the Department of the Treasury.
Narrated by Don Cheadle and told from the point of view of the Williams’ charming 12-year-old son, Dean (Elisha Williams), episode one begins with these sobering words, “Growing up, mom and dad gave me the police talk about how to handle yourself around cops. There was a presidential election that created a racial divide. And there was a flu pandemic that they said would kill a million people around the world. But it was 1968 and that’s the state our country was in. Yep, even the flu part!” Of those rather unsettling parallels with today’s world, Patterson told D23, “If we can look at the turbulent, divisive late ’60s as ‘wonder years,’ then one day, a future generation will look at the 2020s as their ‘wonder years.’ That means we can have hope that the turbulent, divisive issues of today will be solved in our collective future—just like they were solved in our collective past.”
Drawing on those parallels, the series also highlights the universality of adolescent strife. Despite the Arnold and Williams families’ vastly different backgrounds, young Dean faces many of the same woes as Kevin (Savage) did before him, including bullies, trouble with friends and the pain of unrequited love for the girl down the street.
While set in Alabama, filming largely takes place in the Atlanta, Georgia area, namely DeKalb County. Production designer Korey Washington, who was tasked with creating the look of the show’s pilot episode, expressed to the Decide DeKalb Development Authority, “After reading Saladin Patterson’s script, I knew DeKalb County, with its engaging four-sided brick homes and charming parks and neighborhoods, would be an ode to our southern community.” Location coordinator Girly Daniels furthered, “I can honestly say there is something very unique and special about DeKalb. It’s the people, the neighborhoods, even the businesses we worked with — we found almost everything we needed here.”