Few post-Super Bowl TV debuts have made a more impressive splash than The Wonder Years and its ensemble cast. Hitting ABC’s airwaves after the Washington Redskins defeated the Denver Broncos, 42-10, in Super Bowl XXII on January 31, 1988, the show about a family maneuvering life in late 1960s/early 1970s America spanned just six episodes its first season.
But the Arnolds — gruff dad Jack, nurturing mom Norma, flower child oldest sister Karen, obnoxious middle child Wayne, and sensitive little brother Kevin — charmed audiences with their sweet and funny portrayal of family life with all its ups and downs, including nods to the political and cultural turmoil of the time, as the country headed into a new decade.
Much of the focus of the series fell to Kevin, played by 12-year-old actor Fred Savage, who had been recommended to series creators Neal Marlens and Carol Black by five different casting agents. Savage’s performance of Kevin’s coming-of-age story with friends, school and sweetheart Winnie resonated with viewers, and those first six episodes earned The Wonder Years an Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy.
The series also drew viewers with special touches like the narration of adult Kevin (voiced by Daniel Stern), which was inspired by A Christmas Story, and, as it did in that movie, added to the poignancy of The Wonder Years cast.
Take a trip with The Wonder Years cast then and now:
Fred Savage as Kevin Arnold
He had already won a Young Artist Award for his memorable performance as the adorable grandson in The Princess Bride when Chicago native Savage was cast as 12-year-old Kevin. For his work as the suburban American everyboy in the series’ brief first season, this member of The Wonder Years cast became the youngest actor ever to earn an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.
After Years’ six-season run ended in 1993, Savage went on to graduate from Stanford with a degree in English. While continuing his acting career with starring roles in TV series like Working and The Grinder, and guest roles on Modern Family and younger brother Ben’s Boy Meets World, Savage has become primarily known for his role as a TV director, earning four Directors Guild of America nominations and helming dozens of episodes of shows like The Conners, Black-ish, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Modern Family, and the recent two-season remake of The Wonder Years.
And, though Kevin didn’t end up with his childhood sweetheart in the end, Savage did: he and wife Jennifer Stone grew up together in Chicago. They lost touch when the Savage family moved to Los Angeles, but reunited as adults and were married in 2004.
Dan Lauria as Jack Arnold
Dan Lauria, a former gym teacher at the New York high school he graduated from, is a Vietnam War Marine veteran, and it was his idea to make Jack a military vet. He learned about the role as gruff, laconic, but loving Jack while guesting on another ABC sitcom, Growing Pains (whose female lead, Joanna Kerns, he was dating).
Post-Wonder Years, his career has featured several roles in which his characters are military men, including the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day. He also had memorable appearances on Party of Five and This Is Us, and has guest starred on The Goldbergs, remakes of MacGyver and Fantasy Island, and The Good Doctor.
And in a tie-in to the movie that helped inspire The Wonder Years, Lauria played narrator Jean Shepherd in the 2012 Broadway limited run of A Christmas Story, The Musical!
Alley Mills as Norma Arnold
Mills, who had starred in The Associates, a CBS legal comedy that co-starred Martin Short, early in her career, played a classic TV mom as the less conservative, much warmer Arnold parent, housewife Norma, who finished her college degree in the latter part of the series, and entered the corporate world.
Mills followed her years as a primetime supermom with the role of Marjorie Quinn, sister of Jane Seymour’s titular heroine on the CBS western Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and guest roles on shows like NYPD Blue, Touched by an Angel, and Girlfriends. She also has an active daytime career, playing quirky Pam on The Bold and the Beautiful, and winning a 2023 Daytime Emmy as Guest Performer in a Drama Series for her recurring role as General Hospital’s Heather Webber.
Jason Hervey as Wayne Arnold
Hervey had roles in Back to the Future and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, and the NBC sitcom Diff’rent Strokes before playing Wayne, the big brother who lived to torment Kevin. This The Wonder Years cast member said he sometimes took real-life inspiration for his exploits; when Wayne obeyed his mom’s orders to take Kevin to the mall only to drop him off as far from the front as possible? Happened to Jason, who shared the experience with the show’s writers.
Wayne had mellowed out and matured after high school, even taking over Jack’s furniture-making company after Jack’s death. As for Hervey, he has focused his showbiz efforts on voiceover work (he and Savage voiced brothers Dove and Hawk on the Cartoon Network superhero series Justice League Unlimited) and as a producer of professional wrestling series and reality TV shows, including Finding Hulk Hogan, Big Easy Brides, and I (Heart) Nick Carter.
Danica McKellar as Winnie Cooper
Danica McKellar had a close rival for the role as Kevin’s girl-next-door sweetheart Winnie: her sister, Crystal. The two were neck and neck when it came time to make the final decision, so producers ultimately chose Danica because they thought her dark hair complimented Savage’s dark hair more perfectly than Crystal’s blond hair.
Kevin and Winnie get a happy ending, though maybe not the one viewers would have liked. Post-Years life has been good for Danica, too. This The Wonder Years cast member not only is a queen of Hallmark Christmas movies like Christmas at Dollywood, Christmas She Wrote, and You, Me & the Christmas Trees (which co-starred Jason Hervey as a tree farmer named “Dwayne”), but the UCLA mathematics graduate has published multiple books, several bestsellers, that encourage young readers to study, and enjoy, math.
Crystal McKellar as Becky Slater
Becky was Kevin’s junior high girlfriend, briefly. But when he broke up with her as he realized Winnie was his true love, Becky became his recurring nemesis. Crystal had so impressed the show’s producers that, though she didn’t land the role of Winnie, they were determined to create a place for her in the cast.
The all grown up Crystal, the youngest of the McKellar sisters, graduated Magna Cum Laude from Yale in 1999, and followed that with Harvard Law graduation in 2003. She worked at firms in New York City and San Diego before moving to San Francisco to work as a venture capitalist.
Josh Saviano as Paul Pfeiffer in The Wonder Years cast
Saviano dabbled in acting before The Wonder Years, but his signature role remains that of Paul, Kevin’s sweet best friend, who eventually went to Harvard and became a lawyer.
In real-life, Saviano went to Yale and became an attorney, moving up to partner in a New York City firm, then founded a celebrity branding consultancy company. He also made a brief return to acting in 2014, for a three-episode arc on Law & Oder: Special Victims Unit, playing a defense attorney named Don Taft. At no time, despite persistent internet rumors, has he ever been known as or played (or even represented the legal interests of) shock rocker Marilyn Manson.
Daniel Stern as Adult Kevin Arnold/The Narrator
Using a narrator in the series is one of the inspirations Wonder Years creators Marlens and Black took from A Christmas Story, and Stern’s soothing voice as adult Kevin was practically its own character.
Stern, who performed his other best-known role, that of bumbling “Wet Bandit” thief Marv in the first two Home Alone movies, during The Wonder Years, has had a prolific career in the years following, including voicing Dilbert in an animated series, starring as Aidy Bryant’s father in the Hulu comedy series Shrill, and playing a NASA administrator in the Apple TV+ sci-fi drama For All Mankind. This The Wonder Years cast member, whose son is California State Senator Henry Stern, is also an accomplished bronze sculptor, and in 2009 was awarded the country’s highest recognition for volunteer work, the Call to Service Award, by President Barack Obama.
Olivia d’Abo as Karen Arnold in The Wonder Years cast
Karen was Kevin’s older sister, a rebellious hippie whose opinions and dreams often clashed with those of her father.
The all-American Karen was portrayed by British actress d’Abo (her cousin is Bond Girl Maryam d’Abo from The Living Daylights), who has a lengthy TV resume that has included voice work and guest and recurring roles on Party of Five, Alias, Psych, Jane the Virgin, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, where she played a serial killer. This The Wonder Years cast member is also a singer and songwriter (her father, Mike d’Abo was a member of the 1960s British rock band Manfred Mann). She has worked with Bon Jovi, Seal, and Julian Lennon (who she was engaged to in 1990), and she released a debut album in 2008, titled … Not TV.
David Schwimmer as Michael in The Wonder Years cast
Schwimmer joined The Wonder Years cast as Michael, the boyfriend Karen cohabitated with in college, leading to a major falling out with her dad. Eventually the two got married, had a baby, and moved to Alaska, where Michael proved to Jack he was capable of getting a good job and working to take care of his family.
After Wonder Years, you may have heard of this little sitcom Schwimmer starred in called Friends?
Giovanni Ribisi as Jeff Billings in The Wonder Years cast
The Wonder Years is not the only TV comedy stop of Ribisi’s child star career. He also starred on My Two Dads and The New Leave It to Beaver and guested on Married … with Children. Jeff Billings and his divorced mom moved to Kevin’s hometown in season six, and Jeff befriended Kevin at a time when Kevin and BFF Paul had grown apart a bit.
Ribisi went on to make his own mark on Friends, playing the goofy, but sweet half-brother of Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe. He also starred in movies like Lost in Translation, Selma, and Avatar, and TV series Sneaky Pete, The Offer, and the Waco: The Aftermath miniseries. He and Schwimmer are also part of a line-up of future-famous actors who guest-starred on The Wonder Years, which also includes Alicia Silverstone, John Corbett, Juliette Lewis, Robin Thicke, Soleil Moon Frye, and Mark-Paul Gosselaar.
Robert Picardo as Coach Ed Cutlip in The Wonder Years cast
Coach Cutlip was Kevin’s gym teacher, the one he and his friends disliked because he made them climb ropes, run laps, and do sit-ups. But in one memorable episode, thoughtful Kevin saw the very human side of Cutlip when he learned his teacher was moonlighting as a mall Santa, partly because it gave him the chance to interact with kids who saw him as a kind figure.
The Yale drama grad is also an accomplished singer, and in addition to The Wonder Years, is best known for his roles in the Star Trek projects Voyager, Deep Space Nine, First Contact, Renegades, and Prodigy; and the Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis series.
To catch up with more beloved casts, keep reading!