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'The Wonder Years' at 30: Remember when David Schwimmer played Karen Arnold's boyfriend?

Jon San
Supervising Producer, Yahoo Entertainment

To celebrate 30 years of The Wonder Years, Yahoo sat down with a few cast members to look back on the iconic show. Daniel Stern, who provided the voiceover narration as the adult Kevin Arnold, recalled how he was initially fired from the show and wasn’t in the pilot, which debuted Jan. 31, 1988, on ABC. Meanwhile, Olivia d’Abo, who played Kevin’s carefree hippie sister, Karen Arnold, reminisced about one of her onscreen boyfriends — played by a pre-Friends David Schwimmer — as well as some some of the on-set pranks she’d pull on her small-screen sibilings (Kevin Arnold) and Jason Hervey (Wayne Arnold).

Schwimmer appeared in four episodes of the show over the fourth and fifth seasons. He’s initially introduced as Karen’s “roommate” to avoid making her parents freaking out over their daughter living with a boy (this is the ’60s, after all). But, as you can imagine, he’s quickly revealed to be her beau, which sets in motion a contentious relationship between him and Karen’s dad, Jack (Dan Lauria). Schwimmer’s run on the show ends (spoiler alert!) with him marrying Karen in a truly far-out wedding ceremony, and the two of them moving to Alaska.

Karen Arnold (Olivia d’Abo) married her boyfriend Michael (David Schwimmer) in a fittingly hippie-themed ceremony in Season 5 of The Wonder Years. (Photo: Everett Collection)

D’Abo recalled how executive producer Bob Brush pitched Schwimmer to her. “I remember Bob going, ‘This character, he’s going to stick around for a while,’” she said. “He’s like the actor that we found reminds me of Nicolas Cage. He’s kind of got these big, puppy-dog eyes; he’s kind of dopey — a little goofy, but not too goofy; he’s still a guy … and lo and behold, it was David Schwimmer.”

Schwimmer had not yet become a household name: The Wonder Years ended in 1993, and Friends debuted the following year. Despite his relative anonymity, d’Abo said she wasn’t surprised by his rise to fame.

“What was interesting was that he wasn’t ‘David Schwimmer’ when I met him,” said d’Abo. “I knew that he was on the road to bigger and better things, and I had the utmost faith that he’d get to where he is today.”

Friends fans might see Michael as a sort of proto-Ross — both have their sad-sack moments, and often end up being punching bags for the rest of the cast. D’Abo agrees with the similarity.

“With somebody as special as David, it’s almost like the more of who he is that can come through the better,” said d’Abo. “He was just immensely castable, and so I did feel like [as Ross] he’s kind of playing the character that he was playing on The Wonder Years but he just got a much longer stretch to really define that character.”

Karen Arnold (Olivia d’Abo) and her boyfriend Michael (David Schwimmer) at the birthday dinner for her dad, Jack Arnold (Dan Lauria) in the Season 5 episode “Dinner Out.” (Photo: Everett Collection)

While d’Abo only had four episodes to get to know Schwimmer, she had a lot more time to get to know her Arnold siblings, played by Savage and Hervey. And all that time was spent learning each other’s weaknesses — to hilarious effect.

“They would team up on me. They would find ways to really get under my skin right before a take,” said d’Abo. “If I had a boyfriend at the time, they would find out who it was and they wouldn’t let me know that they knew who the boy was until I was on set, and then they’d go, ‘So what about this Brian?’ They’d let me have it right before the take … and I’d have to put on my best face.”

D’Abo frequently got her revenge, though. “I’d do the same thing,” she said. “I’d do research on who they were going out with or what math test they failed. It was a banter back and forth.”

But endless ribbing wasn’t the only go-to activity between takes; freestyle rapping was also a popular hobby. Hervey would beatbox and d’Abo would lay down the rhymes. Sadly, a joint album never materialized.

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