TV veteran Dulé Hill has taken up residence on the reimagined ABC comedy The Wonder Years. He plays the patriarch of a Black family in Montgomery, Alabama, circa 1968, quite a way from the California beach town he inhabited in Psych or the Bartlet White House in The West Wing. The writing of this new Wonder Years offers fresh perspective on the original show, and Fred Savage, who was the child star of the original, has directed multiple episodes. Hill says it was a “no-brainer” to take the role.
No hesitation about reviving a TV classic like The Wonder Years?
I jumped at it. It’s bringing laughter, joy and humor to the viewing audience but also has a lot of heart, makes us reflect a little bit, enlightens us to an experience beyond our own. We can see things that are similar along the journey but also see how experiences can be different for people. It’s exactly the type of material that I desire to do.
This reboot is set in Montgomery, Alabama, in the late 1960s. Race is at its center. Did it make it easier or harder to say yes to the part?
I’d known Saladin K. Patterson [executive producer and showrunner] for quite a few years. We worked together on Psych. I know the brilliance that comes out of his mind. I had no doubt if Saladin was going to be the one reimagining this world that it would be something that could be interesting and profound and also entertaining.
You are a father in real life. How does that experience help you play Dean’s dad?
It connects the dots that much more; it helps me understand the love that Bill Williams has for Dean and for Kim [his kids]. I can understand the concerns he has for them, the wish he has for them to have the best opportunities to exceed further along life’s journey than he has been able to, because that is deeply ingrained inside of me when I look at my daughter, Kennedy, and my son, Levi.
Let’s talk about the original Wonder Years.
I’m a child of the ’80s so that was right there. I would always say it was water fountain talk because in schools you didn’t have watercoolers. Everyone had a crush on Winnie Cooper; everyone connected with Kevin Arnold or someone inside the show. I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey so there was a lot that I could relate to. I was also very aware that I didn’t see myself reflected in the show so there was always that thing.
Tell the truth: Is comedy, like Psych, or drama, like West Wing, your preference?
My ideal situation is somewhere right in the middle. I love the idea of comedy, of bringing levity into people’s lives and letting people exhale for a little bit. I do appreciate the drama because it inspires you to think beyond yourself. I hope that I will continue to do both. I don’t want to always do comedy; I don’t always want to do drama. I also don’t always want to do just dialogues. Sometimes I want to sing and sometimes I want to dance.
You tap-danced your way through the pandemic stress in your garage. What if Dancing With the Stars came calling?
I wouldn’t want to be in the competition, that I know. I would definitely come and dance [on a results show] but let me just call a couple friends and come on there and have a good old time. I’m a tap dancer, so I love to dance. Just give me some tap shoes and some wood and I’m good to go.
What about your kids?
If you can expose children to the world outside of them, it helps them to see their experience is not every experience; it will have them realize they are part of something bigger than themselves. If we can do that, that will keep them rooted. It shouldn’t just be about staying in these little pockets, doing what all your friends are doing, in this town called Hollywood.
Watch The Wonder Years Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET, ABC
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