Boy Meets World
On Friday, Disney will attempt to revive TGIF when the anticipated Boy Meets World sequel series Girl Meets World debuts. But while the idea of revisiting Cory Mathews (Ben Savage) and Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel) is millennial catnip, when was the last time any of us actually watched Boy Meets World?
Yes, we have fond memories of celery and undapants, but can we definitively say the show is everything our collective nostalgia hyped it up to be? Does the wholesome sitcom really deserve a large-scale reboot or does its pilot play as painfully dated 21 years later?
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Armed with the original Boy Meets World pilot, which premiered Sept. 24, 1993, on ABC, Joyce Eng and Sadie Gennis decided to find out.
How Boy Meets World Met the World: After getting caught listening to the Phillies game in class instead of discussing Romeo and Juliet, Cory is sentenced to detention with Mr. Feeny (William Daniels). His older brother Eric (Will Friedle) finally scores a date and decides to take her to the baseball game instead of Cory. Feeling abandoned, Cory goes to live in his treehouse, where he watches Mr. Feeny eat dinner through the window. During detention, Mr. Feeny imparts the first of his many life lessons.
Sadie: It's such a relief to go back and rewatch things you loved as a child and to see that it still holds up. Like, it's great knowing that even as a 5-year-old I had impeccable taste! When I was rewatching the pilot, I completely understood why I loved it as a kid, but I also understood why TGIF was a whole family activity. It had so much adult humor mixed in with everything. And the pilot was dark! I always remembered Boy Meets World as such a fluffy show (with the exception of "And Then There Was Shawn"), but the pilot had some heavy moments without ever feeling heavy-handed. Right off the bat, they were able to make Cory such a complex character, so precocious and full of pathos. It was funny to see how little he actually changed over seven seasons.
Joyce: Totally. One of the great things about Boy Meets World was that it was aimed at kids (duh), but it was so smartly, charmingly and cleverly written to appeal to everyone without being pedantic. Ditto on Cory's characterization. He got more neurotic as the show went on, but that was established in the beginning. You so rarely see such assured characterization with kid characters from the start. What struck me rewatching it was the theme of love, especially now that we know how important and pervasive it became throughout the show's seven seasons. Topanga wasn't even in this episode and wouldn't be introduced until the fourth ("Cory's Alternative Friends"), so it's not like Cory-Topanga OTP was planned from the beginning.
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Sadie: I think one of the most telling signs of a great show is when you can tell right off the bat that there's a clear plan in place, if not plot-wise then at least thematically. And even though Topanga and Cory's romance hadn't been conceived yet, the pilot makes it very obvious that this is going to be a show about, as Feeny explains, "the all-consuming power of love and the inevitability of its influence on each of our lives."
Joyce: Definitely. I also loved the ultimate life/Feeny lesson: Things change as you get older — what was once super-important to you won't be anymore — but love is constant. After I finished the episode, I immediately thought of Season 4's "A Long Walk to Pittsburgh," when Topanga moved to Pittsburgh, and Cory's hopeless romanticism about how they were meant to be together. Pilot Cory was a long way from being head over heels for a girl, but the seeds for that were planted here.
Sadie: There were some serious heady messages being taught in the pilot and ones that, even 21 years later, still are deeply relatable and comforting to watch play out. I think it's so often this timeless and melancholy complexity that's missing from kid's shows these days, which is why networks continue to air reruns of Boy Meets World and Full House.
Joyce: So true. Speaking of Full House, I loved Cory's line: "I'm a kid. I don't understand the emotional content of Full House." I adore the Tanners and all, but they did hit you over the head with an anvil at times when it came time to dispense the Meaningful Lesson of the Week (cue the swelling string music). I never felt Boy Meets World did that at its most ridiculous and/or sappy.
The other element I loved from the pilot was Alan (William Russ) and Cory's (and by extension, Eric's) father-son relationship(s), which, as I'm sure you recall, was another series-long running theme. I love how Amy (Betsy Randle) clued Cory into realizing that he "abandoned" his dad for his friends years ago, and it didn't feel forced. I love Amy and Alan in general. They subverted almost every sitcom parent stereotype. Like Boy Meets World, they never talked down to their kids and knew exactly when to step back (e.g. letting Cory "live" in the treehouse when he was mad at Eric) and when to come in.
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Sadie: I was so shocked at how much character and relationship development they were able to jam-pack into 22 minutes. As a younger sibling myself, I still completely connect with everything Cory was going through while also being able to appreciate Amy and Alan even more than I did the first time around. They felt just as engaging and important as their kids. It'll be interesting to see whether Girl Meets World is able to strike that same balance between the parents and kids. Because if not... I don't want to jinx it, but I feel like that could be the type of fatal flaw that could easily spring up within so much focus on nostalgia for nostalgia's sake rather than on what actually made the show great.
Joyce: Yes, but the other wrinkle is that Cory is the parent (and the teacher) in Girl Meets World, and I think he'll be far more serious, anxious and protective than Amy and Alan were. What did you think of Pilot Feeny and Shawn? (It's good to know that Rider Strong's hair has always been flawless.)
Sadie: I had forgotten just how harsh Feeny could be! He isn't afraid of throwing a little (or a lot) of shade even at people far beyond half his age. But that's what made him great. There were no kid gloves. And even after he'd give Cory a good read, Feeny would drop some of that sage knowledge or a witty quip that would make you want to share his dinner salad. As for Shawn, his appearances were so brief, but I think that's for the best. Before we got to know Cory's best friend, it was good to understand who Cory is and where he came from. Also, I totally forgot Shawn and Cory had a third friend (Chauncey Leopardi). Good riddance!
Joyce: That was Squints! Or Nicholas, as he's credited. I can't believe you forgot how harsh Feeny could be! That's one of my favorite things about him: He respected his students and never belittled them. He knew they could handle whatever truth-bombs he tossed their way eventually, no matter how harsh they might seem at the time. He knew when to be serious and when to be silly. He's basically the perfect human being. Plus, a lot of sitcom TV teachers are mean just to be mean, but even in the pilot, you could tell that Feeny deeply cares about and loves his students, and only wants the best for them. Feeny lent a wonderful, lovely but also funny gravity to Boy Meets World. I think it's safe to say that Cory is no Feeny yet, teaching-wise, so I'm curious to see how Girl Meets World will handle that aspect.
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Sadie: Cory is such a silly, curmudgeonly character, but occasionally Ben Savage was allowed to get more raw, especially in the later years. So I feel like there's potential (a word Feeny actually taught me) for Cory to emulate his mentor's more mature characteristics. But really time will tell. If the Girl Meets World pilot is half as good as Boy Meets World, I'll keep watching.
Joyce: Having seen the Girl Meets World pilot, I can say that while there are a lot of Boy Meets World references, it is certainly its own animal and was clearly made for a younger, present-day Disney audience than Boy Meets World was, which should work out just fine for everyone involved. I don't like judging new shows solely on pilots, so I will refrain from doing so for now. But I do hope that I'll be able to fondly look back on Girl's pilot one day like I can Boy's.
Verdict: If the Boy Meets World aired today, we would still gleefully watch (even though we're just a tad outside its intended demographic).
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