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Revisiting 'The Wonder Years' Sexual Harassment Lawsuit During the MeToo Movement

By Dustin Rowles | TV | January 29, 2018 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | January 29, 2018 |


Over the weekend, Alley Mills — who played the Mom in one of the best — if not the best — coming-of-age series of all time, The Wonder Years, told Yahoo that the series was cancelled in 1993 because of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Fred Savage (16 years old at the time) and Jason Hervey (20 years old), who played Kevin and Wayne Arnold on the show, respectively. Mills said of the lawsuit, filed by the costumer on the show, that it was “ridiculous,” and that Fred Savage “is the least offensive, most wonderful, sweet human being that ever walked the face of the Earth.”

For many of you, this is the first time that you’re hearing about this lawsuit. On the other hand, over the past 23 years, I have thought about this lawsuit a lot. Wonder Years is one of my all-time favorite shows, and it would be a wild understatement to suggest that the show was hugely instrumental in my life. I’ve mentioned many times before, but I didn’t have much of a home life. Television was my parent, and my personality was shaped considerably by this series.

In fact, I am loathe to mention this, but it is pertinent here: I was briefly married to my high-school sweetheart back in the late 1990s (shut-up. It was Arkansas), and that entire marriage was basically built upon a story I wrote inspired by The Wonder Years. It was, and remains, one of the most romantic things I have ever written, and that story kept two people, who had no business being married at that age, together for much longer than we should have been. That goddamn story formed the basis of my proposal, and no matter how terrible our relationship was, we would always call back to that stupid story. It was a powerful romantic intoxicant and whenever we’d sober up and recognize how incredibly ill-suited we were for one another, we’d call back to that story and get drunk on it once again. Still, two decades later, whenever I hear Bob Segar’s “We’ve Got Tonight,” it all comes flooding back (some of you may remember the scene I am talking about from The Wonder Years).

This digression is merely my way of saying that I have long felt a very personal investment in The Wonder Years. I have felt very protective of the show, and yet I have long been bothered by the lawsuit. And the thing is, the myths surrounding the suit are much worse than what actually was alleged. There were myths — urban legends — for many years that Fred Savage had assaulted Danica McKellar, or that he’d raped Crystal McKellar (Danica’s sister, who played Becky on the show). None of that is true.

What is true is that a 32-year-old costumer named Monique Long filed a lawsuit claiming that Fred Savage had pestered her to go on dates with him and tried to hold her hand, confessed his love to her, and tried to get her to have an affair with him (she also alleged that Dan Lauria — who played the father on the show — teased Long about how she should take Savage’s virginity). Hervey was accused of more lurid behavior, along the lines of what you might expect from the guy who played Wayne Arnold: He allegedly hit on her inappropriately and simulated sex acts around her.

Basically, what Savage and Hervey were accused of amounts to 1) typical jack-ass behavior from dipshit teenagers, and 2) obvious sexual harassment.

But I never believed the allegations, and you know why I didn’t believe them? Because the network discredited Monique Long. They said she was a disgruntled employee who had been fired and was seeking recourse. A crew member alleged that she often fell asleep on the set. A state welfare worker, who was required to be with Fred Savage at all times under California Labor Law, dismissed the allegations, saying “It’s absurd. If Fred said anything, 20 people would have heard it — he was miked most of the time.” What Alley Mills said at the time echoes what she said over the weekend: “This lawsuit is beyond ridiculous. Fred is the purest young man I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.”

I didn’t believe the allegations at the time because I loved the show, and Alley Mills had given me a reason not to believe them right there in People magazine, and People magazine would never act as a PR front for a television show, would it?

But it’s 2018 now, and that’s why I hate this story. That’s why I hate that Alley Mills has brought it up again. It’s because I am forced to confront what I previously believed to be true. Maybe — OK, probably — I bought right into what the network and Alley Mills were selling at the time.

Let’s look at this now from the other side, which is what I should have done a long time ago: The suit went away. Why did it go away? Probably because it was settled. But if it wasn’t a big deal, why did ABC cancel the show because of a minor, no-big deal lawsuit? Is it possible that Lauria, Savage, and Hervey had created a hostile work environment on the show? Is it possible that the network, and Alley Mills, and Savage’s attorney smeared this woman’s reputation in an effort to discredit her lawsuit and keep the show’s reputation intact?

Absolutely. In fact, that’s the typical Hollywood playbook, the one that they have been using for fucking decades. I cannot believe I so willingly fell for it.

“He has a heart as big as the Empire State Building. Sure, he’s full of piss and vinegar, but he would never do anything to harm or humiliate a woman,” Mills said of Jason Hervey back in 1993. That sounds an awfully lot like “Boys will be boys,” doesn’t it?

Goddamnit, Alley Mills, you just had to re-open this old wound, didn’t you?

It’s 2018. It’s too little too fucking late, and not that anyone is asking, but: I believe Monique Long. I believe that Jason Hervey — who is, like, best friends with Scott f**king Baio — behaved as you’d expect his character to behave (Hervey was never much of an actor — he was basically playing himself). And I believe that Fred Savage very well could have had a monster crush on a woman twice his age and tried to get her to date him. I believe, in the sort of environment that existed at the time, that Dan Lauria probably teased Monique Long about Savage’s crush and didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. I believe that all of this was humiliating for Monique Long, that it made her feel small and uncomfortable, and that it’s quite possible that it affected her job performance, and that maybe the producers used that as cover when the lawsuit was filed.

I was wrong to believe Alley Mills at face value for the last 23 years, and I was definitely wrong to believe all those who tried to discredit Monique Long. It’s probably why this lawsuit has sat heavily with me for so long, why it’s often the first thing I think of now when I look back on The Wonder Years. Because I fucking knew better.

Last year, Fred Savage starred in a Netflix sitcom called Friends from College (I liked it, though I am in the minority). During the promotion for the show, the cast mentioned a few times that Fred Savage never hung out with them outside of the set. That after the day’s work ended and everyone went out for drinks, Savage would go straight home to be with his family. Fred Savage confirmed that account on Conan.

This is purely speculative on my part, but when I heard that story, my first thought — again — was the sexual harassment lawsuit. If there’s any consolation, I like to believe that 40-year-old Fred Savage has corrected the behavior of 16-year-old Fred Savage, that he learned from the lawsuit, and that he’d never put himself in a position to make someone uncomfortable again. That he plays it safe and goes home to be with his wife and kids. Sixteen year olds are dumbasses — and sixteen year olds with their own shows? I can’t even imagine. But I hope, at least, that he learned from the lawsuit that his alleged behavior was absolutely wrong, no matter how “sweet and wonderful” his TV mom thought he was.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.