The Wonder Years Showrunner Shares How Danica McKellar And Fred Savage Felt About That Huge Winnie Cooper Connection

Winnie and Kevin sitting close on couch on The Wonder Years
(Image credit: Hulu)

Spoilers below for the latest episode of The Wonder Years, so be warned if you haven’t watched!

Even before The Wonder Years made its debut on ABC with its current iteration, fans were already pondering whether or not the Dulé Hill-starring dramedy would feature any direct connections to the original ‘90s series. At least, beyond having former lead Fred Savage as an executive producer and frequent episode director. Well, that answer came in a huge way during the episode “Love & War,” which delivered a meaningful and somewhat heartbreaking callback to the very first episode of The Wonder Years that aired 34 years ago. And to be expected, Savage and former co-star Danica McKellar had thoughts about this newly introduced connective tissue.

For those who didn’t watch, “Love & War” was a big episode for Spencer Moore II’s Bruce, who returned home to recover from injuries sustained in combat in Vietnam, for which he earned a Bronze Star. Bruce was initially keeping a secret from the rest of the family, in that he’s dating a single mom divorcée named Tammy, as portrayed by Yvonne Orji. But the bigger bombshell for audience members came late in the ep, as the character emotionally shared that his survivor’s guilt was inspired by the tragic death of his friend and fellow soldier Brian, who was revealed to be none other than Winnie Cooper’s older brother. The same brother whose whose death gave The Wonder Years’ original pilot episode its emotional heft. 

The current iternation’s creator and showrunner Saladin K. Patterson talked to Deadline about linking the two worlds so directly, and how Brian Cooper was part of the original pitch to ABC as part of Bruce’s narrative evolution. When asked if the creative team reached out to Danica McKellar, whose Winnie Cooper was devastated to learn of her brother’s death, he said they definitely gave her notice, saying:

Yes, we did. Danica has been supporting us since day one. She reached out previously to Milan Ray who plays Keisa to sort of pass the baton metaphorically. So when we knew we were going to do this easter egg we reached out to her to make sure she would be okay with it. She immediately said she felt it was a wonderful idea and was very supportive and she was more than happy to have us use her photo.

It’s awesome to hear that Danica McKellar was so enthusiastic and encouraging about the way Saladin K. Patterson & Co. wanted to use Brian Cooper as a means to dovetail the two series without falling back on guest stars and less logical crossover moments. And for those who didn’t watch, the episode ended on the pic of Winnie and Brian seen below.

Picture of Winnie and Brian Cooper in the Wonder Years

(Image credit: Hulu)

Obviously, Fred Savage was fully aware that The Wonder Years was going to take on that heavy link to his original series, and it probably would have been strange if he’d been adamantly against doing it. Thankfully, Patterson said Savage was very much behind the idea, in part because it wasn’t glaring and hackneyed. In the showrunner’s words:

He thought it was a very powerful and respectful way to have the lineage overlap. Fred and I were both very protective of making sure that this reimagining of The Wonder Years has its own narrative and can stand on its own two feet. Fred also didn’t want to feel like we revisited things he had done before. But both of us also recognize that we are inheriting a lot of the tone and the feel and what was great about the original and we wanted to pay our respects to that.

It’s unclear whether or not viewers can look forward to other nods of the sort, the showrunner did confirm that Bruce’s girlfriend Tammy would not be returning this season, due to scheduling conflicts during filming. Though she will get mentioned, and the character isn’t necessarily gone from the show altogether.

While fans shouldn’t expect to see O.G. stars in the new series, ABC did feature a full Wonder Years-flavored night earlier in the season, with Dan Lauria guesting on The Goldbergs, Fred Savage making a return to The Conners, and Danica McKellar popping by Home Economics. Those who want to see McKellar more frequently can catch her on GAC, where she signed an exclusive deal after leaving Hallmark.

The Wonder Years airs Wednesday nights on ABC at 8:30 p.m. ET, in between new episodes of The Goldbergs and new episodes of The Conners, which has featured callbacks to its own origin series this season. While waiting for more, remember new episodes of the ‘60s-set dramedy are available next-day for Hulu subscribers, and our 2022 TV schedule will keep you up to date with all the new and returning shows popping up soon.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.