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The team behind the The Wonder Years — including Don Cheadle, Dulé Hill, EJ Williams, Saycon Sengbloh, Laura Kariuki and showrunner Saladin K. Patterson — turned out at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on Sunday evening for a FYC screening of the season one finale and panel after the show. The cast remained tight-lipped regarding the recent firing of series executive producer and director Fred Savage, but showrunner Patterson spoke briefly with The Hollywood Reporter about how the cast and producers have been feeling since Savage was let go.
“It was very difficult,” Patterson told THR. “But it’s something where we just have to focus on moving forward. As heartbreaking as that was, we are focusing on the fact that the show is bigger than any one person, me included, cast included, and focus on continuing to put out into the world the love and positivity from the show that we’ve been doing since day one.”
Savage was fired nearly two weeks ago following an investigation into misconduct, where he faced three separate allegations.
“Recently, we were made aware of allegations of inappropriate conduct by Fred Savage, and as is policy, an investigation was launched,” Wonder Years producer 20th Television said in a statement at the time. “Upon its completion, the decision was made to terminate his employment as an executive producer and director of The Wonder Years.” And though there were references to Savage made throughout the evening, the rest of the team stayed mum on the situation.
EJ Williams who plays 12-year-old Dean Williams, said he didn’t pull much from Savage’s character Kevin Arnold from the original Wonder Years which premiered in 1988. “I didn’t feel like I had to because it’s a reimagining, you make it your own,” Williams said.
During the panel, the cast and producers discussed how 1968 was a contentious time for Black families in America, and the importance to depict the ways in which middle-class Black families lived their own wonder years during this era as well. “Lee Daniels recognized that you have all the great stories we’ve seen on TV and movies about Black people,” said Patterson. “When it came to stories during the Civil Rights Movement, it was always about the struggle, which is a part of our story and is a very important part of our story. But he recognized that we had really not seen the story from the perspective of the middle class Black families during that time. And The Wonder Years represented that as a brand.”
Sengbloh, who plays the hard-working and stylish matriarch of the family, Lillian Williams, followed up regarding the importance of exploring this fresh perspective of the show with, “Black people deserve not to struggle. And it’s important that you see us not struggling, that you see Black boy joy. I think it’s really important that you see the day to day, in and out trials and tribulations of what it’s like to be this type of family because in that era, in 1968, people were not only fighting for civil rights, but they were still getting married, they were still going to the prom, they were still trying to figure out where they were going to get their next paycheck, life was continuing to go on as these major shifts and changes were happening.”
“I know that the people were hungry and thirsty for this type of material,” Sengbloh told THR on the carpet. “People need to see people that look like us doing the things that we do on this show. And it’s right on time.”
Cheadle narrates the show as the adult voice of Dean Williams, just as Daniel Stern did for Kevin Arnold’s character in the original series. While he’s an integral part of the show, he’s not on set for the day-to-day shooting and has no plans to make an onscreen appearance. “I wouldn’t want to violate it,” said Cheadle. “I think it would feel like a stunt. I think there’s such an equilibrium and a balance and a beauty to what has been created. I don’t think we want to start jumping the shark until season seven, and then I’ll show up as an uncle or something.”
After Savage was let go, ABC renewed The Wonder Years for a second season and the cast was buzzing with excitement to get to work showing the world what’s next for the Williams family.
In its return, viewers will see the Williams family navigate life on the road, and continue to juggle family life in Montgomery, Alabama. “For season two, I’m most excited to see if Dean gets the girl,” Sengbloh joked.
Dulé Hill, who plays the jazzy cool-cat family patriarch Bill Williams, added, “I’m most excited about whatever Saladin Patterson has in that brilliant brain of his. Whatever he writes, I’m going to be very excited about doing because he’s a brilliant writer, brilliant showrunner and I love the stories that he crafts.”
Sengbloh agreed, “The writing is bomb!”
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