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Imagine Black Kevin Versus White Kevin in ‘The Wonder Years’ Reboot

ABC / Wonder Years

The Wonder Years seems like a very strange series for a reboot. Originally airing beginning in 1988, it was set 20 years earlier in 1968 and told the story of Kevin Arnold as a young adult in the late 60s and early 70s, mainly focusing on his young love with Winnie Cooper

That isn’t very far in the past relative to the present: The Goldbergs, a show with a somewhat similar premise that’s currently airing on ABC takes place in the 1980s, roughly 30 years before the show started. If you started developing a sitcom today and set it 20 years in the past, by the time it made it to air it would be entirely set after 9/11, and The Wonder Years would have ended a decade earlier.

Nevertheless, ABC is producing a pilot of a rebooted version of The Wonder Years, once again set in the late ‘60s, which is now over 50 years ago and starring an African-American family who lives in Montgomery, Alabama.

To give you an idea of what the show might be like, let’s take a look at some of the most popular episodes of The Wonder Years and talk about how they’d be different if Kevin Arnold were African-American instead of Fred Savage.

Goodbye

This Emmy-winning episode deals with Kevin growing close to a math teacher who tutors him because he believes C-student Kevin isn’t applying himself. When the teacher suddenly calls off their tutoring sessions and takes time off, Kevin grows angry, fights with the teacher, and intentionally flunks his midterms. When he goes to the teacher’s lounge to apologize the next day, he’s told the teacher, Mr. Collins, has died.

Had Kevin been a black student in 1969, it’s doubtful his white teacher would have taken a special interest in him or wanted him to succeed. In fact, he may have had to have been escorted to school by the National Guard while white adults called him the n-word.

The Ties that Bind

In this Thanksgiving episode, Kevin’s father Jack asks for a raise at work because he needs money to replace a broken stove. He receives not only the raise but a promotion, though his new position causes him to miss Thanksgiving with his family.

Had the Arnold Family been black, it’s unlikely they’d have been able to afford a new stove even after getting a promotion and a raise because at the time, black workers only made roughly 65% what white workers made for doing the same job. Also, Jack was a defense contractor, and do you think defense contractors were in the habit of giving black men promotions they hadn’t even asked for in 1970?

Summer/Independence Day

Ah, the season finale. Kevin and his on-again, off-again girlfriend Winnie Cooper get jobs on the other side of the country for the summer. They fight, Winnie kisses someone else, Kevin loses all his money playing poker and the show ends with them getting back together and going home, only for the voiceover that wraps up the series to explain they didn’t stay together and Kevin married someone else.

I’m not even going to get into what would happen to an African-American Kevin if he followed his girlfriend to a strange town where he publicly fought with her in 1972, but it ends with a police officer being acquitted by an all-white jury and news reports that stress “he was no angel, he had been gambling.”

As talented as Lee Daniels is, I’m doubtful that The Wonder Years will get picked up to series. Shows like The Wonder Years, That 70’s Show and The Goldbergs rely on audience nostalgia to do a lot of heavy lifting to bring in the audience and television executives do not care about viewers in their 60s and 70s at all, and those are the only viewers old enough to remember the time period this show will be set in.

I know TV needs more black voices, and it’s good that ABC is trying to bring some to the screen, but does anyone really care about The Wonder Years anymore? When is the last time you thought about it? When is the last time you thought about it that was it inspired by Danica McKeller showing up in a guest role on a show and you looked up who she was on IMDB and went “oh yeah…”?

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