Jackie (Phoebe Robinson) and Kim (Laura Kariuki) laugh as Lillian (Saycon Sengbloh) dances in a scene from ABC’s The Wonder Years.

The Wonder Years Returns with A-list Guest Stars, a Disneyland Adventure, and More

By Zach Johnson

The summer of ’69 is full of fun and surprises for the Williams family.

Forget the typical barbecues, games, and road trips. In Season 2 of The Wonder Years, Dean (Elisha “EJ” Williams) is living in New York City, where Bill (Dulé Hill) is working on new music for Marvin Gaye. Meanwhile, back home in Montgomery, Alabama, Lillian (Saycon Sengbloh) receives a surprise visit from her sister, Jackie (guest star Phoebe Robinson), which leads Kim (Laura Kariuki) to see her mother in a new light. Viewers will see it all play out during a special one-hour premiere on Wednesday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, on ABC—but, before then, the cast is previewing what’s in store for the Williams this season.

The coming-of-age comedy is inherently nostalgic, and Season 2 will lean further into that notion. “Summer, for a child, is always the most memorable time,” Hill says. “Hanging out with your friends, getting into mischief, the unexpected happens. Joyous moments happen.”

Urban living is eye-opening for Dean, whose knowledge is limited to what he’s seen in movie musicals. Take, for example, Dean and Bill’s new neighbor, Lonnie (guest star Tituss Burgess). Unsure of what to make of the “guy in a dress”—the likes of which he’s never seen before—Dean comes to realize that they have more in common than he anticipated.

In turn, Bill recognizes that he, too, has something to learn from Lonnie. “Dean is seeing Bill learning and growing, and children mirror what they see,” Hill says of the father-son dynamic. “This is a time when Bill is in a new stage of life; he’s not comfortable where he is. Dean has always seen him in Alabama, where Bill knows the world. Seeing how his father adjusts and learns to navigate a new place and new people is empowering for Dean. For Dean—and for Bill, as well—seeing a man in a dress is not something that is familiar to him. As the story goes along, they will find connection and find a relationship through conversation, through engagement. What I love about the first episode is that it shows it’s not always just a race thing that can be a divide. It can also be a cultural thing. If we can communicate, if we can exchange ideas, if we can let go of preconceived notions, if we can look at what’s in front of us, then we can find powerful relationships and powerful moments.”

That’s certainly true of new relationships, but what about old ones? For Lillian and Jackie, who seem diametrically opposed, that realization may take time. “It’s great to juxtapose those characters—especially in the second episode with the straitlaced sister vs. the party sister,” Sengbloh says. “I think people are going to really love it.” Working with Robinson made it easy to develop a sisterhood that feels nuanced yet universal, she adds. “Phoebe is hilarious, OK? She has a whole generation of followers who love her type of humor,” Sengbloh says. “I love how the writers were able to weave it in. It’s the ’60s, but it’s current.”

Lonnie (Titus Burgess) locks the door as Dean (Elisha “EJ” Williams) and Bill (Dulé Hill) exit their New York City apartment in a scene from ABC’s The Wonder Years.

Additional Season 2 guest stars include Donald Faison, Patti LaBelle, Jack McBrayer, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Bradley Whitford. “I was so excited to work with Patti LaBelle,” Kariuki says. “She is an icon—the icon. Seeing how she works and getting to play a character who’s related to her was amazing.” Sengbloh knew the two would get along, as she had previously worked with LaBelle on Broadway. During that time, the entertainer treated Sengbloh and their castmates to a few of her legendary sweet potato pies—so when Sengbloh learned LaBelle would be guest starring in The Wonder Years, “I thought, ‘Is Ms. Patti going to do the food thing again?’” she says with a laugh. “She didn’t do it for the show, but she brought her sweet vocals and her sweet acting. That’s as sweet as a Patti pie!”

There’s another guest star the cast was excited to work with: Mickey Mouse! Much to Dean’s delight, the family visits Disneyland Resort for the first time this summer. “It was a joyous experience,” Williams says. “The best part is that it didn’t feel like work.” It was also exciting for Kariuki, who had never visited Disneyland Park. “Getting to go there for work was dope,” she says. “They took us back in time with the props, like the popcorn buckets and the ears. It was wild to see it from both a current perspective and a 1969 perspective.”

Hill had so much fun filming in Disneyland Park that he’s plotting a return in Season 3. “Hopefully we get a chance to go back to Disneyland,” he says. “I’m going to pitch that to [executive producer Saladin K. Patterson]. Maybe Dean wants to want to take another trip!”