ABC’s The Wonder Years is back for its second season. As the reboot of the classic show from the 1980s of the same title, the coming-of-dramedy narrated by the adult version of Dean Williams (Don Cheadle) as he recalls the glory days of his adolescence. Unlike the original, the reboot captures the highs and lows of growing up in a middle-class Black family who lives in Montgomery while exploring a range of circumstances and emotions as it relates to the time period.
Shadow and Act spoke with E.J Williams, who stars as Dean Williams, and Dule Hill who stars as his father, Bill Williams, and the two went on a deep dive into the new season, with Williams sharing his experience as a 14-year-old working on the show and Hill sharing his favorite episode from the new season.
We spoke last season about and fans of the reboot are so happy it’s back. I want to start off by acknowledging that there was such a positive reaction to the first season and fans’ outcry was major for it to return. Dule, how did you take that all in and why do you think that the desire for a second season was so strong?
DH: Well, one, I want to appreciate everybody who has supported this show and have stayed behind this show to continue to help us to continue to have life. I think why there’s such a fan base for the show really is because we don’t have [a show like this] in the landscape of television. We don’t have another show out there that I can think of right now that shows a Black family dealing with all the challenges of being a Black family in America, but at the same time loving each other, having normal family, family moments, moments of laughter, moments of sorrow and everything in between. There is power in seeing yourself reflected on the screen. That aspect of Black life has not been shown or is not being shown right now may have had something to do with why people have really desired to see this.
E.J. were you excited to jump back into the role and really get to do more the second time around? With the second season, we can delve into more character development and deeper subject matter.
EW: Definitely. Working on this show has definitely been a blessing. I’ve just been able to, one, get my craft work every day. It’s a consistent thing. So being this character has meant a lot to me because I love film and acting is something I’m very passionate about. And, more so, it’s not every day that you get to tell a story like this. So it’s important for me to showcase that because you never know who wanted or needed to see what it is that we’re doing it. So from an audience aspect, it’s definitely exciting. I’m working with some great people. I’m learning a lot. The whole cast has just been great to film with.
We were excited to see all of the guest stars for this season. My personal fave would be Ms. Patti LaBelle, the queen of my hometown, Philadelphia, who plays Bill Williams’ mother on the show. Dule, how was it having her integrated into the show?
DH: I was overjoyed when I found out that Ms. Patti was going to come and join us. We did a Broadway show together back in 2013/2014 called After Midnight, and so the opportunity to be able to work together again with her was really something that I was looking forward to. And she’s an icon, a legend. She has really created a lot of space in this landscape of show business. So to have her come in and join our family really just is like the cherry on top to what is already well what has already been a phenomenal journey. This is like the next level to it.
The show has the opportunity to delve into the deeper subject matter, especially with this reboot because it’s set in the segregated South in the ‘60s. So there’s a lot to tackle for the both of you. E.J., what were some of your favorite storylines to delve into this time around?
EW: To be honest, the storylines have been normal case scenarios. I think the only thing that was different was, as you said, the time period – because I think a lot of things that some people forget and I was even blind to see before having this information was just because it was within that time frame years ago, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t have normal lives. For me, I personally love to see lifestyle and the fashions, because I think that’s a storyline within itself. If you look at how much we’ve grown as people in as stylists. And even with the whole MLK storyline, and hearing about him, you say certain things that were going on during that time. So you learn a lot just from reading the scripts and acting out. It means a lot.
DH: And I would say for myself, there are two things to sort out that I really appreciate. One is, in the first two episodes, seeing Bill and Dean in New York for that period of time because you see how cultures are different in different parts of the country and what is familiar for some, may be unfamiliar for others. And what can happen when we’re not people who have different experiences and different journeys sit down and take the time to talk and communicate how bridges can be filled, how gaps can be filled.
The other storyline that I think is going to be I’m very excited to have come to the air is the one with Donald Faison where we are looking to integrate a white neighborhood, because that’s something that gets into a lot of the underlying factors of real estate and value and wealth within different communities. And I think this season does a great job of telling that story in a very entertaining and comedic way.
I love that E.J. spoke about having people during that time period having normal experiences despite the circumstances that they may be enduring. And that’s one of the things that obviously the show captures so well, even within its title. It’s a coming-of-age story that showcases one’s wonder years. So how are you guys going about maintaining your own “wonder years” in your own lives in and off of the show?
EW: I think for me personally, still being a kid the different normal experiences. Even with my own life, I’m still wondering what it is that I can do as a person. So my wonder years is trying to figure out school at home while going to a regular job at 14 years old. So it’s definitely an experience. As my parents like to say, it’s just one big science experiment. So you never really have one answer or have it all figured out. So definitely I think when I think wonder years are always where we are questioning and wondering what’s going on and what’s next. I think that’s definitely been my life in real life as well, as far as trying to balance the two. And I think I’ve managed pretty well.
DH: I try to enjoy the stages in the phases of life and not look too far ahead and also not yearn for yesterday. I really try to stay present where I am. When you think about the wonder years, if you look at each moment with wonder, then you can find the beauty of it. The beauty and the laughter. The beauty and the pain. The beauty and the sorrow. Just before I came down to start doing these interviews, my daughter, who is in college, called me to say hello while my son, who is four years old, is getting ready. And he was having a challenging morning. So he was crying. He was having some tears coming down his face. But through it all, there is beauty in that. There is love that is that is flowing. And so really, for myself, that’s really what I try to do is just stay present and enjoy the moment for what it is.
New episodes air every Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST on ABC. Season 1 is available to stream on Hulu.