Jewish Journal

Water Years

Fred Savage lends his voice to an octopus in the new animated series "Oswald."

by Michael Aushenker

Posted on Oct. 18, 2001 at 8:00 pm

Fred Savage

Fred Savage

Remember Hanna-Barbara's "Squiddly Diddly?" Well, a new cartoon cephalopod has come to town, and his name is Oswald the octopus. Voicing the title character on "Oswald," Nickelodeon's new addition to its children's line-up, is a Valley boy who has been a popular actor since childhood, Fred Savage.

Savage had captured the hearts of millions of viewers on the nostalgic ABC series "Wonder Years" (1988-1993), with his vulnerable portrayal of Kevin Arnold, a boy just trying to make sense of growing up. Now 25, Savage sees "Oswald" as an opportunity to do it again, albeit with a much younger audience in mind.

"I knew more of what I didn't want Oswald to be," Savage told The Journal. "I didn't want the show to talk down to kids."

"Oswald" centers around the cartoon's eponymous eight-tentacled hero, a sensitive, positive-thinking big blue octopus who, with canine companion Weenie and friends Henry (a penguin) and Daisy (a flower), goes on adventures in Big City. Plots include the search for an ice cream truck, flightless Henry's dream to fly and Daisy's flirtation with the bongo drums. The series stresses themes of teamwork and tolerance.

Savage's greatest challenge on "Oswald" might be refraining from going off the scripted page, playing opposite talented cut-ups David Lander (Squiggy of "Laverne & Shirley" fame) who voices Henry, and Laraine Newman ("Saturday Night Live") as Madame Butterfly.

Originally from Chicago, Savage and his family moved to the Valley when he was 12, after he landed the "Wonder Years" part. While Savage was growing up, his family attended Stephen S. Wise Temple for holiday services, and he participated in activities at the campus Hillel as a student at Stanford University.

Savage still stays in touch with former "Wonder Years" castmates, including Danica McKellar (who played love interest Winnie Cooper). McKellar went on to become a brilliant mathematician in real life. So, was it unnerving playing opposite a genius for five years?

"I think if I were in math class with her, it would have been more intimidating," said Savage, who directed episodes of TV shows such as "Boy Meets World" and, this year, "All About Us."

While he portrays an octopus on TV, Savage won't be acting like one on any blind dates. He's been dating a "nice Jewish girl" from Chicago's North Shore. Savage said that his friendship with this woman, a former childhood acquaintance, has blossomed into his first serious relationship.

Sounds a lot like the plot to a "Wonder Years" reunion special. "Oswald" airs at 10:30 a.m. weekdays on Nickelodeon.

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