Girl Meets World
Like his Boy Meets World alter ego Cory Matthews, Ben Savage was a little hesitant stepping into a (slightly) new world.
"The idea for Girl Meets World had been floating and bubbling for a couple months before I actually got a call about it [and] once I got an official call ... I didn't say yes right away," Savage tells TVGuide.com. "I think there was a little bit of hesitation because we just wanted to make sure that if we were gonna come back and we were gonna do something with the show, that we wanted to do something that we're all proud of and we're all supportive of and that we could all get excited about."
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That "something" was in fact Girl Meets World. The highly anticipated Boy Meets World sequel series premieres Friday (9:45/8:45c, Disney) — more than 18 months after news first broke of the project and more than 14 years after Mr. Feeny (William Daniels) declared "class dismissed" to Cory, Topanga (Danielle Fishel), Shawn (Rider Strong) and Eric (Will Friedle) on Boy Meets World. Ideas for new iterations of the '90s TGIF favorite, including movies of the week, had been bandied about in the intervening decade-plus, but never became much more until now.
"I think none of them materialized because none of us felt we could tell a new story," Savage says, adding that he and Boy creator Michael Jacobs had lengthy discussions about Girl before signing on. "I think that's the most important thing to us: to tell a new story. So, that's what we've really been focusing on — making sure this show can cater to a new generation and we're telling a new story."
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Set in New York City — where power couple Cory and Topanga moved in the Boy series finale — Girl chronicles the coming-of-age journey of their 12-year-old daughter Riley (Rowan Blanchard), who, unlike her dad at that age, is anxious to see the world — or at least ride the subway. She is BFFs with feisty Maya (Sabrina Carpenter), who like Shawn comes from a broken home, and has a crush on new kid Lucas (Peyton Meyer). Oh, and Cory is the new Feeny: He's the kids' seventh grade history teacher much to his daughter's chagrin.
Savage and Fishel were "very involved" in the casting process, and Savage believes Blanchard is the "perfect blend" of Cory and Topanga. "I think we found someone America will fall in love with," he says. Blanchard, 12, wasn't even born yet when Boy ended in 2000 and binged the series after she got the part. (Her favorite episode is the horror film riff "And Then There Was Shawn.") Incidentally, she and Carpenter auditioned for each other's roles at first. "While I did my best for Maya, I didn't think I could fully connect to Maya," Blanchard says. "I know I found more of a connection to Riley and her character. ... She likes exploring [and] adventure. Sometimes Riley can be afraid of change and I think that's the beauty of meeting the world."
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That world is vastly different from that of Boy's. One of the hallmarks of the original was its heartfelt, sharp distillation of wisdom and life lessons (like, you know, stay away from cults), and Girl won't shy away from tackling modern issues — albeit at a slower pace. "It's the Disney Channel, so we're doing it in a different framework," Savage says. "It's just a much different place now than it was in 1993 when I met the world. It's much more complicated and it's a much more difficult time to be a kid now. It's also a lot more fun. We didn't even have cell phones when I was growing up. Not that I'm that old, but technology is changing. It's a much more interesting and complicated time to be a kid, so I think that's one of the things we're excited about exploring."
Adds Carpenter: "There are differences. We're telling these stories through a modern way and we're not the same [as Boy] because girls are totally different. The way they think in their heads are just totally different. I can't speak for boys because I'm not one! But I just imagine they think differently."
The show will also ease into any romance between Riley and Lucas. Though Cory and Topanga had their first kiss in the fourth episode of Boy's first season, Girl's freshman run will highlight the friendship between them, Maya and Farkle (Corey Fogelmanis), the son of super-nerd Minkus (Lee Norris). "They are still little, and Cory and Topanga did kind of get a head start," Blanchard says. "They put friendship first. You'll see over the season that these four as friends are the best of friends and they're not focused on whether or not they have a relationship."
Of course, Girl won't stray too far from Boy. There will be lots of homages and nods to the original throughout the season, not to mention alum appearances. Daniels makes a cameo in the pilot, and Strong, Norris, William Russ and Betsy Randle (Cory's parents Alan and Amy), among others, will appear later in the season. "That was something we really wanted to do, not just for our original fans of the show, but it was something we felt was important to anyone who saw Boy Meets World," Savage says. Boy fans have showered Girl with rapturous enthusiasm since the series was announced — an overwhelming reaction no one involved was expecting.
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"I would say that we were flattered by the fan reaction," Savage says. "I think we also didn't anticipate how protective of Boy Meets World our fans would be ... to make sure we don't tarnish its legacy. ... I think the show dealt with complicated issues for young kids in a fun, relatable, easy way. I think it struck a chord with people because people could watch a show and they could get a message from it or they could just laugh and be entertained for 22 minutes. ... So it's interesting — as protective as we are of the show and making sure we're doing something we're and excited about and passionate about, our fans are even more so. Everyone's on the same page, I think, in terms of making sure we do something new and interesting."
Despite — or because of — the excitement, the actors insist they don't feel pressure to live up to Boy's fond memory and legacy. "There was no expectations with the pilot of Boy Meets World. They were just a new show," Carpenter says. "Because there was no social media then, they didn't know they were as big of a show as they were. But our show, we've had to develop a little faster ... with the help of Ben and Danielle and the guidance we've been given, I think we've been able to do that."
"I don't think it's pressure," Blanchard adds. "I think we're very excited for the reactions and for it to finally come out."
Girl Meets World premieres Friday at 9:45/8:45c on Disney. It moves to its regular timeslot on Friday, July 11 at 8:30/7:30c.
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