Note: The following contains spoilers from “The Wonder Years” Season 2 Premiere.
This is what an ally looks like! “The Wonder Years” star Dulé Hill celebrated the introduction of a queer character into the Williams family’s 1960s-era world and hopes the storyline will spark conversations and empathy amid renewed anti-drag and anti-trans rhetoric in America today.
Wednesday night’s Season 2 premiere of the ABC comedy series followed Dean (Elisha “EJ” Williams) heading to New York City with his father, after Bill (Hill) got a once-in-a-lifetime songwriting gig for the summer. The father-son duo befriended their neighbor Lonnie (Tituss Burgess), a performer who dresses as a woman both on and off the stage.
The first time Bill and Dean saw Lonnie in a dress, Bill was resistant to engage. Dean was confused but unmoved. Later, Lonnie sat with Dean after he was locked out of the apartment he was sharing with Bill and they all agreed to have dinner together after Bill got home. After a heartwarming conversation (and some “primal screaming”), Bill and Lonnie were able to look past their differences and forge a friendship.
“What I appreciate about the first episode is that we expand the lens when we say, men dressed as women have always been here. They exist. They are valued. They thrive in the world. They own their space and it’s not something new,” Hill told TheWrap ahead of the episode’s debut.
“This country has never been a monolith. We’ve always been a group of diverse, unique, valuable people and the more we can show that and honor that then I think the better things will be,” he added.
He recommended the show for showing how Bill—a character from Montgomery, Ala., who viewers know to be set in his beliefs—and Dean both grow to understand and build a friendship with Lonnie through their conversations.
“My hope is that audiences can receive that and apply that to where we are today,” Hill said. “Instead of looking at people as being foreign, or passing judgment, maybe lean in and engage and maybe you might find some ways that you can truly relate to each other and make all of us have a better existence in the world.”
“The Wonder Years” returned with its two-episode premiere after more than a year off the air, after the comedy was held to midseason, and again to ABC’s summer schedule in the aftermath of Fred Savage’s exit from the series. The show also stars Saycon Sengbloh, Laura Kariuki, Amari O’Neil, Julian Lerner and Milan Ray.
Not much changed for the cast as far as production however, with filming taking place last fall. But the world within the show is certainly growing this season, with the introduction of characters like Lonnie, Lillian’s (Sengbloh) sister Jackie (played by Phoebe Robinson) and the upcoming introduction of Bill’s mother, played by the legendary Patti LaBelle.
“A lot of Season 1 you’re really spending time learning who these characters are in the middle of their enclosed world,” Hill said. “I think it’s enjoyable for audiences to go on the journey with these characters as the world expands. That’s what is interesting about storytelling, seeing how these people you know react as the story goes on and their world grows.”
“The Wonder Years” airs Wednesdays at 9 pm ET/PT on ABC. Episodes are available to stream the next day on Hulu.