Its new incarnation follows the Black middle-class Williams family in Montgomery, AL, during the turbulent late 1960s. Dean Williams (Elisha “E.J.” Williams) is the 12-year-old at the center of the coming of age story and Don Cheadle narrates as the voice of adult Dean.
His family consists of his parents, Bill (Dulé Hill) and Lillian (Saycon Sengbloh), and siblings Kim (Laura Kariuki) and Brad (Julian Lerner).
The series will fold real moments from history from the era like the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Fred Savage, star of the original The Wonder Years, directed the premiere and executive produced on the new The Wonder Years, alongside creator Saladin K. Patterson, Lee Daniels, and Marc Velez who are also EPs.
“Being able to look back at that time and learn about it and then reenact it—I’m not gonna lie, I cried,” said Elisha “E.J.” Williams during the show’s panel at TCA on Thursday. “Dean’s perspective and me learning were two different situations. For me, it was hard to process even though I’ve already learned about the era but when you’re deep into a situation you think of things you’d never have thought of before like the death of Dr. King.”
Added Hill, “What sticks out to me is, as much as things have changed they’ve stayed the same. As tragic as Dr. King’s passing there’s still so much tragedy that’s gone on between now and then that’s still happening right now. That’s what’s been interesting to me about exploring this time period: if you see the trauma and you see the hurt, you also see the strength of the people from that time and you reflect on where we are now and you see that same strength, that same power, and the same fortitude to press forward that has always been there for people who look like me.”
Allen Maldonado also joined the cast in July in the role of Coach Long, an affable guy who takes his job coaching a pre-teen baseball team very seriously. Both Long’s son Tony and Dean play on his team. It is as yet unknown if Long is Afro-Latino like Maldonado.
“What I’ll say about casting is that we really wanted to represent the diaspora of Blackness for sure,” Patterson shared. “And some of that is in appearance and looks but some of it is just in the background and those individual stories that come from those mixes of cultures. He certainly fits into that tableau that we want to set. What was most important in the casting of Allen is that he’s a fantastic comedic actor who can also handle the grounded moments and the gravitas that we need as well.”
It was also revealed on Thursday morning that Savage and his fellow original The Wonder Years castmates Danica McKellar and Dan Lauria will make guest appearances in The Conners, Home Economics, and The Goldbergs, respectively, on Oct. 13.