The cast of ABC’s The Wonder Years, which premieres Wednesday, said the historical drama transported them back to both happy and sad times.
Dule Hill and Saycon Sengbloh play parents in 1968, and the first episode deals with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“You see the trauma, you see the hurt, you see the strength of the people during that time,” Hill said on a Television Critics Association Zoom panel. “Then you reflect on where you are now, and you see that same strength, that same power, that same fortitude to press on.”
The Wonder Years is a remake of the ABC series that ran from 1988 to 1993. The original series depicted the Arnold family in the ’60s.
Hill and Sengbloh play Bill and Lillian Williams, who are raising their children, Dean (Elisha “EJ” Williams) and Kim (Laura Kariuki). Sengbloh said reliving tragic history got to her.
“I try to keep my makeup from crying off of my face when we’re doing these serious scenes,” Sengbloh said. “We feel it.”
Hill, 46, and Sengbloh, 43, were born after the events they are portraying on The Wonder Years. The young Williams said playing scenes was more powerful than learning about Martin Luther King Jr. in history class.
“I’m not going to lie, I cried,” Williams said. “It was definitely hard to process, even though I’ve already learned about it.”
The original series starred Fred Savage as Kevin Arnold. Savage was 12 when The Wonder Years began. Now 45, Savage directed the pilot and additional episodes of the current The Wonder Years. Savage also executive produces with creator Saladin K. Patterson and Lee Daniels and Marc Velez.
Patterson and Daniels said it was important to them to portray a Black middle class family in the ’60s. Daniels said the media tends to ignore the middle class when reflecting on the Civil Rights era.
“When you think of this time period in Black America, you don’t really think of middle-class Black people,” Daniels said. “You think impoverished. You think of what the media portrayed us to be.”
The Wonder Years is Hill’s return to series television after Suits. He also continues to play his Psych role of Burton Guster in a series of movies for the Peacock streaming service.
Sengbloh also appears on the OWN series Delilah and as Aretha Franklin’s sister, Emma, in the movie Respect. The Wonder Years is Williams’ first lead role in a live-action series.
Recreating 1968 brought back joys of previous generations, too, Hill said, adding that he prefers fashions of 1968 to modern-day wardrobes.
“The way you had your hair made a statement, the suit that I have on makes a statement,” Hill said. “It didn’t matter how much money you had in your pocket or not. You always walked out the door looking right.”
Sengbloh said she also is a fan of vintage clothing.
However, The Wonder Years wardrobe proved to be a bigger adjustment for Williams.
“The thing that I would probably never get over is how tight those pants are,” Williams said. “I can’t deal with it.”
The Wonder Years airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. EDT on ABC.