SPOILER ALERT: The following reveals important plot points from Wednesday night’s episode of The Wonder Years.
ABCs The Wonder Years has a connection to the original 90’s series, which was revealed in tonight’s episode titled “Love & War”, and it was gripping. The scene can be seen above.
In the episode, Dean’s (EJ Williams) big brother Bruce (Spence Moore II) returns home from Vietnam wounded and with a secret – he has a girlfriend and she is an older woman. While convalescing at home, the family wanted to know all about Tammy (Yvonne Orji), who is later revealed to be a divorced, single mother.
Things go fast between Bruce and Tammy, much to his mother Lilian (Saycon Sengbloh), and Dean’s annoyance. Dean is not ready to share his brother with Tammy’s son Joey, and he’s even less excited to be his babysitter.
Bruce, a former sports star, is trying to get a handle on his life and faces few opportunities. As a black veteran in 1960s Alabama, the best job opportunity he has available is a janitor position that leaves Bruce frustrated.
During dinner, it was accidentally revealed that Bruce had been awarded the bronze star for bravery in battle, a fact he preferred to keep hidden away in a drawer. At this point, his challenges and the guilt of survivors convinced him that he had to hurry back to work to support his own family with Tammy.
When Bruce proposes, Tammy kindly refuses, but they agree to keep dating.
When he returns home, Bruce finally finds the courage to open up to his family about what happened in Vietnam that gave him the medal. He and his men were at the receiving end of the enemy’s fire, three were already down. He and his friend Brian went back to save them, leaving Bruce wounded and Brian dead.
Bruce revealed that they had made a promise to each other that if anything should happen, they would write to the other’s family. When he finally sets out to correspond with Brian’s family, it is revealed that Brian is Winnie Cooper’s (Danica McKellar) big brother who died in Vietnam in the original series.
Series creator and executive producer Saladin K. Patterson spoke with Deadline about the big revelation, how executive producer Fred Savage felt about it, and whether McKellar knows about the expansion of her character Winnie’s story.
DEADLINE: What insight can you share in the decision to give Bruce this effective story?
SALADIN K. PATTERSON: When Lee Daniels, Mark Velez and I first talked about who we wanted the Williams family to be and how we wanted them to be different from the Arnold family, we decided we really wanted to shed light on what that would have affected black families in a unique way.
We knew we wanted to tackle things like civil rights and the Vietnam War. We decided early on that Bruce would come back, but we wanted to show how hard it was for black soldiers and all the extra luggage they had with them. Bruce says he felt more racism at home than when he was in the military abroad, which is why he resigned.
But we would also talk about the sacrifices that all soldiers make, to their minds and their bodies.
DEADLINE: And there’s the element of survivors’ guilt for Bruce that leads to a powerful revelation.
PATTERSON: Yes, the big revelation of the episode is when Bruce shares with his family that he has dealt with the guilt of survivors. It helps the family understand why he is making what on the surface seems like a drastic decision, like jumping into a relationship.
The affiliation with the original with the Brian Cooper character, that’s something I hit ABC when we originally pitched the show for the pilot. It was something I said I would love to have as part of the Bruce character’s backstory and as a tribute to the original series in a very respectful way.
If there was to be any overlap or an Easter egg between our two series, I thought this was a really respectful way to tilt my hat to the original. It also makes a statement to the characters of our world because Vietnam was the first war in which black soldiers served as leaders of white troops.
DEADLINE: Do you have any plans to continue with Brian’s story?
PATTERSON: For now, the plan is to have it just as a nod. We have no plans for the overlap, but that does not mean it does not. We want it to live in itself so far.
DEADLINE: How did Fred Savage feel about how you connect the two shows?
PATTERSON: He thought it was a very powerful and respectful way to get the family to overlap. Fred and I were both very protective to ensure that this re-creation of The Wonder Years has its own narrative and can stand on its own two feet. Fred also would not feel that we were revisiting things he had done before. But we also both acknowledge that we inherit a lot of the tone and the feeling and what was great about the original, and we would like to show respect for that.
We made the decision early on that there would be no crossover guest stars and that sort of thing because it felt like it would not be true for our world.
DEADLINE: Did you give Danica her head?
PATTERSON: Yes we did. Danica has been supporting us since day one. She previously reached out to Milan Ray, who plays Keisa, to in a way pass on the baton metaphorically.
So when we knew we were going to make this Easter egg, we reached out to her to make sure she would be okay with it. She said right away that she thought it was a wonderful idea and was very supportive and she was more than happy to get us to use her image.
DEADLINE: Yvonne Orji did an amazing job as Bruce’s girlfriend, Tammy. Will we see more of her this season?
PATTERSON: It was great to have Yvonne on the show, she’s a great actress. She can handle both the grounded reality, the drama in it and the humor. We really wanted to give her an opportunity to show all the tools and skills that she brings to the table. We would love to have her back.
The Tammy character is mentioned again later in the season, but due to schedules we were not able to get her back, but we left it on purpose on purpose. They are still in a relationship. We would love to have Yvonne back and play with us again in season 2.
The interview is edited and compressed for length and clarity.