The good years. ABC. Wednesday September 22, 8:30 p.m.
In a fall TV season of mostly remakes and scams, The good years sounded like absolute nadir – a racially inverted remake of a 40-year-old show about growing up in the 1960s, just as the baby boomers it’s all about are starting to die in staggering numbers. But no matter how the new Years of wonder turns out to be a financial bet / Nielsen, it’s not a cynical ploy. It’s very funny, quite charming and … well, Well.
Produced and written by Saladin K. Patterson, who worked on both Frasier and Psychic, and with the original Years of wonder the star Fred Savage attached to the project as a director, WY2 take it WY1 conception – a 12-year-old taking his first steps into the adult world in 1968 – and confuses him a bit. We’re still in the epicenter of the 1960s madhouse: burning greeting cards and bras, political assassinations all around us, Broadway actors stripping on stage and Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley fighting over time. antenna to television.
But instead of a show about how this was experienced by white families in the “suburbs” (it was never clear whether WY1 was happening in California or upstate New York, but it was definitely a place where people swam and played tennis rather than mumbling and playing craps), WY2 is in a nice black urban neighborhood in Montgomery, Alabama. And young Dean Williams (Elisha Williams, Puppy Parts) receives talks from his parents that Fred Savage character Kevin Arnold never dreamed of: What to do when the cops stop you. And never to embarrass yourself and race (“show your ass”) in front of white people.
On the other hand, it seems that being 12 transcends racial lines. Dean’s parents shouted response to questions about money, sex, or the smell of funny cigarettes from his father’s jazz-cat friends – “Stay out of grown-up business !!!” – might as well come from Kevin Arnold’s mom and dad. Other facts of college life – the puzzling ways of the girls, the chorus to admire “ooooh “ after a cutting joke with your mom, and the bloody and humiliating havoc caused by bullies – also seems universal. (Although the bully’s explanation for a beating – “you even brought a lunchbox to school like you white” – defies categorization.) “One thing about being 12 that hasn’t changed over the decades, ”observes narrator Don Cheadle as an adult. Dean, looking back, “is it about 12 when you figure out what your place in the world is.”
Not that the other characters have understood everything in their lives. Dean’s best friends, a little more hip Cory and Jewish nerd Brad (children’s actor-characters Amari O’Neil and Julian Lerner), are, of course, as ignorant as he is. Dean’s professional mom (Saycon Sengbloh, Scandal) and musician dad (Dulé Hill, Suit) are engaged in a slight push and pull on integrationist politics and black separatism. Her sister Kim (Laura Kariuki, Black Lightning) loves Black Panther T-shirts and sighs in frustration when her father insists she needs to go to college instead of the barricades: “I’m sure the revolution will need a good dentist or accountant. ” (Dad might be a little less optimistic if he saw the cache of photos of Kim in which she poses with a very little dental shotgun.) Another brother is invisible; he went into the jungle in search of Charlie.
Not that any of these people get much help from American history as recited by the narrator. The flight of white people from downtown to the suburbs began in the 1950s in response to court-ordered school integration, not the widespread race riots of 1967. America’s “race divide” did not not caused by the election of Richard Nixon but, well, by slavery. And when Kim sets aside her SAT study guide for a copy of Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, I couldn’t help but wonder how she was going to accept Cleaver’s assertion that raping black women is good practice for the truly revolutionary act of raping white women.
Yet the gelatinous story of WY2 shouldn’t sink the show any more than he did WY1, in which every person in America except Richard Nixon was furiously anti-war. The show isn’t a college textbook, but the story of a family awash in a time of tumultuous change, and it touches on the big themes, if not the details. And its main point – the loneliness of being young and adolescent – is poignantly and painfully clear. “I feel different everywhere I go,” Dean ruminates. Most of us too, kid. Honestly, it’s getting better.