LOS ANGELES -- The actor who captivated adults as 12-year-old Kevin Arnold on ''The Wonder Years'' is back on television, this time captivating children as the voice of Oswald the Octopus, star of Nickelodeon's newest cartoon series.
Fred Savage, who played the chubby-cheeked boy passing through the trials of adolescence, now gives life to a character who's blue and round, with a tiny black derby he keeps precariously perched on his head with one of his eight arms.
With his beloved dog Weenie by his side and his best friend Henry the Penguin never far behind, Oswald goes to great lengths to be a good guy in everything he does, whether it's relentlessly trying to give away an umbrella on a sunny day or strapping on two pairs of roller skates to rescue a runaway baby carriage.
''I like Oswald's honesty. I like his honesty and his openness to new things and to people,'' say Savage, who previously came back to TV with the late '90s sitcom ''Working.'' ''He's very accepting of people who are sometimes ostracized because they're different. I love his open-mindedness and his confidence in himself. I think he's going to be a great role model for little kids.''
The actor, now 25, who recently earned a degree in English from Stanford University, was looking to use the connections he'd established as a TV star to segue into a career as a director when ''Oswald'' came along. (It airs weekdays at 10:30 a.m. Eastern.)
Although he wasn't looking for more roles, Savage says, the chance to do ''a cool kids' show'' was just too good to pass up.
''When I was a kid we didn't have cool kids' shows,'' he says by phone from a studio where he's been busy polishing ''Oswald'' episodes.
So he's somewhat chagrined to admit that, along with ''Sesame Street'' and ''The Electric Company,'' one of his favorite shows as a youngster was ''Taxi,'' the adult comedy about cabbies in New York.
Oswald lives in a city that looks somewhat like New York, if one overlooks the giant gum ball machines, bags of candy, rocket ships and musical instruments interspersed among the offices and apartments.
There, he and Henry (voiced by David Lander, who creates a sweeter but not unrecognizable version of the eccentric Squiggy character he played in the 1970s sitcom ''Laverne and Shirley'') take off on one gentle adventure after another.
It rains on Oswald's camping trip. He can't find Johnny Snowman, the ice cream vendor, when he is craving a swizzleberry swirl. A wind storm nearly diverts him from his mission to buy marshmallows for Henry, who must have three (''Never more, never less'') on his hot chocolate.
Yet Oswald greets every crisis with good cheer, not to mention a song, the latter a source of some embarrassment to Savage.
''Yes, yes I do,'' he replies with a nervous laugh when it's noted that he seems to sing quite a bit on the show.
He's not a professional singer, he admits, which is something he hopes the 2- to 5-year-olds that make up Oswald's core audience won't notice.
And if they do, he's taking lessons from a singing coach.
''About halfway through the season the producers said, 'It's great and the singing is working well, but would you mind working with a singing coach?' I said, 'Of course not.'''
Assured that he isn't nearly as bad as he thinks, Savage remains skeptical.
''I guess in the context of the show the singing works pretty well,'' he concedes. ''But I made the mistake of bringing home to my parents this CD compilation of Oswald songs. Thirty songs, back to back to back. Out of the context of the show, they were pretty hard to listen to.''
Still, he never planned on taking Broadway musicals by storm when he broke into the entertainment business 17 years ago, doing commercials in his hometown of Chicago.
When ''Oswald'' ends he'd like to move full time into directing, having already done some Saturday morning kid shows for NBC and some work on the Disney Channel's ''Even Stevens'' sitcom.
Although he says he's learned that ''in this business you can never say never,'' Savage has no plans at this point to take on another role in front of the cameras.
''I had a couple of great television series experiences,'' he says cheerfully. ''But I believe there are other things out there for me.''
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