Reboot, Reuse, Recycle

Cara O'Connor, Staff Writers

It’s hard to find a reboot that isn’t an exact copy/paste of its original, so I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across the new “Wonder Years.” In this installment of Reboot, Reuse, Recycle, I will focus on “The Wonder Years,” a sitcom that ran from January 1988 to May 1993, and its reboot which was just launched on ABC in late 2021. To me, a reboot should keep the essence of the original to draw in the original audience but also bring something fresh and different that makes it more relevant and relatable for new viewers. This reboot is ideal because it truly meets my criteria of what a remake should be.

The original “Wonder Years” was about 11-year-old Kevin Arnold, a kid growing up in the suburbs in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. In the original series, Kevin’s best friend is Paul Pfiefer who is “allergic to everything,” as he puts it. His other friend is Gwendolyn (Winnie) Cooper, who, despite his older brother’s teasing, is not Kevin’s girlfriend. He has no interest in dating her . . . or so he says.

The ABC reboot definitely has some similarities but is also incredibly different from the original. The main character in the new version is 11-year-old Dean, an African American boy growing up in the same time period as Kevin. But, while Kevin’s family lives in the suburbs,  Dean resides in urban Montgomery, Alabama. Seeing the world through Dean’s eyes gives the viewer a completely different perspective of the late ‘60s. It shows the contrasting African American perspective. In the reboot, Dean mentions “White Flight,” when white families fled cities for the suburbs after schools were integrated and urban areas became more racially diverse.

The main character’s relationships with his friends are similar to those of the original. While Kevin’s best friend is “Paul,” in the original, Dean’s best friend is Cory, who, unlike Kevin’s best friend, is much more popular than Dean and has more dating experience.  And while the female lead in the original was “Winnie,” in the new version that character is Keisa, on whom Dean openly has a crush. Some elements of Dean and Kevin’s life are very different; however, both Dean and Kevin have supportive families and are struggling with the typical issues of being junior high students.

The main conflict in the first episode of the original “Wonder Years”is that Winnie’s older brother, Brian, is drafted into the Vietnam war. At the end of the episode, Winnie’s family finds out that Brian was killed in combat. This has a strong impact on the two families and the neighborhood. In the reboot, Dean’s family deals with a tragedy as well. Dean’s family mourns after Martin Luther King Jr’s assasination.

The respective endings of the pilot episodes reveal a final major difference, how the pilots end. The original leaves the viewer feeling positive and hopeful for the coming episodes, while the remake leaves the audience feeling shocked and eager to see what will happen next.  In the original, Kevin and Winnie connect over Brian’s death, and end up sharing their first kiss. In the reboot, after Dean finds out about Dr. King’s murder, he sees his best friend Cory kissing his crush Kesia. This exacerbates Dean’s pain and potentially sets up a conflict for future episodes. The difference in the endings of the two pilots leaves the audience feeling two very different emotions. While the original sparks a feeling of optimism and satisfaction, Dean’s story ignites feelings of resentment and hatred toward Cory. The latter leaves fans on the edge of their seats.

 In addition to the social aspect of the boys’ lives, music plays a big role in both of their childhoods. So it feels necessary to mention the soundtrack to both of the versions of the show. The original included the songs “Both Sides Now,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” “Come Softly To Me,” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.” All but one of these were written and performed by white artists. This can help to show the viewer the kinds of music that Kevin grew up around, and how this playlist could’ve impacted his upbringing and emphasized his family’s isolation from the Black community. The remake included the songs “Green Onions,” “Step Back,” and  “A Change Is Gonna Come.” All but one of these were written and performed by Black artists, which contributes to the overall progression and sense of Black culture that the new version of the show has and the kind of environment that Dean grew up around.

I really like the new version of this show; it gives the viewer a new perspective on life in the same time period and differs strongly from the original. It shows great cultural awareness by explaining problems that Dean has that Kevin doesn’t as a privileged, white teenager. For example, Dean’s parents explain to him what to do when a cop pulls him over, which would never happen in Kevin’s neighborhood. It was important to offer a different perspective of the late ‘60s, one that showed the impact of Dr. King’s passing on the Black community and the constant struggle to attain equality. Sadly, these issues persist in today’s society. These characters are faced with very believable, real world problems, this helps the audience to truly understand how hard it was to be Black in the ‘60s.  

I highly recommend this reboot. I would give five Megatrons out of five.

Remember, be kind and rewind!