I grew up watching Boy Meets World. I shipped Cory/Topanga before I knew what shipping was. I took the wise word of Plays-With-Squirrels to heart, and I even watched the finale as it aired and cried my heart out. So when I heard about the plans for a continuation of that universe, focused on Cory & Topanga’s daughter? I was ALL in.
The pilot will officially air on Friday June 27, 2014, but it’s already been released to the Watch Disney tablet app and by extension is now making the rounds of the internet. It’s even FREE on iTunes! So, SPOILERS AHEAD, DUH.
Does the long-awaited Girl Meets World live up to the hype?
The majority of the opening scene was previously released as a teaser months back. Some of the dialogue borders on cheesy/not-quite-believable, although I think that’s a side-effect of trying to reference the predecessor series, Boy Meets World. Cory catches his daughter Riley and her best friend Maya trying to escape out her window so they can sneak onto the subway. He gives a speech about how it’s still “his world” and Riley has yet to make her own. Pleasantly surprising is that he doesn’t take the route of “you’ll live in my world until I think you’re ready for yours”; instead, Cory tells his daughter that more than anything he wants her to make the world her own, and invites her to leave the house out the front door. Slightly wary, Riley asks if he’ll be there to support her, at which point Mom!Topanga comes in and affirms they’ll always be here for her.
Over the course of the episode we see that Riley displays a lot of the same qualities we saw in Cory on Boy Meets World. Maya does her a solid by setting it up so she falls into the lap of a cute boy they’ve been ogling on the subway (whom we later discover is a transfer student): through this we see Riley’s friends are as loyal to her as she is to them, she’s a teensy bit neurotic, and a tad awkward with the opposite sex.
Maya on the other hand is cool and confident, not afraid to speak her mind regardless of consequences. Riley actually wants to be more like Maya, which ends up being the primary source of conflict in this pilot. Similar to the early BMW episodes, the most dynamic location is the school, which is actually in itself a cute easter egg. A banner in the hallway proclaims it John Quincy Adams Middle School. Besides the sixth American president, he was also the son of John Adams: the country’s second president and the namesake of Cory’s high school.
There are some boundaries that would normally occur in a “my father’s my teacher” situation that are crossed for the sake of sitcom comedy, so my suspension of disbelief really struggled there, especially when Cory’s attempts to lead the class are derailed by Riley’s search for a new identity and Maya’s Homework Rebellion. And then… there’s…. Farkle. Although not yet stated aloud, he is the son of Stuart Minkus from Boy Meets World. He certainly takes after his father in being obsessed with both education and girls. While Minkus Sr. was the stereotyped awkward nerd with an uncomfortable obsession on Topanga, Farkle takes things a step further by fancying both Riley and Maya, whom he passionately describes as being day and night.
There’s a fair amount of personality-based antics that arise in the pilot, but my problem is that the characters who have pretty strongly defined personalities are the supporting ones. Farkle is one of them. He’s over-the-top, dramatic, and the comedic annoyance. Maya isn’t interested in school, she’s slightly more “wild child” and street-smart than her best friend, but unwaveringly loyal. Even putting aside the entire Boy Meets World canon, we get that Cory is obviously a well-meaning, if slightly overprotective father, and a teacher who doesn’t command authority in the classroom the way he ought to. We barely know Lucas, the cute transfer student, and that’s fine – he’s the new guy and hasn’t had much dialogue to actually indicate how he sees things. Most of the pilot he’s simply reacting to things around him.
It’s Riley that worries me. It’s easy to think of the girls as Cory and Shawn 2.0, especially when Cory himself tells Riley that she’s just like him. But it seems like we only learn about Riley through Maya. Maya notices Riley’s wearing lip gloss, she calls her out on the fact that she did both their homework assignments, and it’s only when Maya pushes her away that Riley figures out what she wants to stand for. But home scenes, like Riley sitting with her little brother, don’t give us any light on who she is. Even if she’s figuring out who she is in “the world”, she should at least have some idea of who she is among her family members.
“Listen, for as long as I can remember, it’s always been Riley and Maya. I always believed a friend helps another friend OUT of trouble, not into it.”
Basically, I had to look at the first fifteen minutes (which yes, is actually most of the episode) as unfortunately necessary exposition. The moment I really had hope was when Maya takes her rebellion too far and tries to make a statement by burning everyone’s homework. Deviating from her normal behavior, Riley doesn’t intervene. Cory (finally being a real teacher) tells her that’s enough and jumps in to stop her, but not before she accidentally sets off the sprinkler system. Riley argues that she deserves detention just like Maya, but Cory disagrees. “You didn’t do anything,” her father points out. “And that’s why your friend’s in trouble.”
It wasn’t until this scene with Cory and Maya in the hallway that the show really got “on track”, so to speak. Most everything else has been cutesy, light-hearted, sitcom-y. But this is when things get serious, in that delve-at-the-heart-of-the-matter way that Boy Meets World was known for. Maya looks genuinely sorry when she apologizes to Cory, and pained when she admits there is no one at home to help her with homework. Despite not being mentioned by name, the echoes of Shawn Hunter are enormous here, and you can see the sympathy in Cory’s eyes when Maya walks off.
That poignant moment in the hallway sets off what is actually a very great episode conclusion. Maya tries to push Riley away emotionally, believing she isn’t a good person for her life. The gravity of the scene is cut by unnecessary interruptions from a fellow passenger, which really weren’t funny. Maya encourages Riley out of the subway car at her stop, but realizing the mistake she’s making, Riley forces her way back in. If it’s going to be her world, she gets to pick who she wants in it – and Maya is her number one. The episode concludes with them vowing to take on the world together.
An epilogue-esque scene has Riley’s family waiting when they return, as promised. Cory admits to his daughter that handing over the world isn’t easy without making sure everything’s going to be okay. Cory then looks over his shoulder to an old, familiar face.
My one problem with the Feeny cameo is I’m not sure why there would be a poster of Mr. Feeny in a New York City subway area. Yes, this is mostly in Cory’s head, but that poster is visible even when Maya and Riley departed previously. That’s a public space, and no one outside of Cory and Topanga should really know who Feeny is. Unless he garnered some sort of international fame after BMW concluded, no one outside of Philadelphia would recognize him. Don’t get me wrong, the cameo was cute as hell and gave me nostalgia feels, but I gotta quote Kronk on this one:
My overall rating for this episode is a 5.5 out of 10. The dialogue comes off a bit forced, but much of the episode was necessary to set up Riley’s world branching off from her father’s. Look at it as exposition and hope for better coherence with episode two. Common complaints are that the show is too “Disneyfied” – I don’t know what the hell people mean when they say that. Those of us who grew up on Boy Meets World need to take our nostalgia glasses off. BMW was a series we literally grew with – the earlier seasons had somewhat trivial life problems. But as the show developed and the characters matured (with the audience), so did their conflicts. We have to wait and see if Girl Meets World follows that same vein, but if the following episodes can grasp the substance of that Maya/Cory scene, I think they’ve got a shot.
Look, I’m the ever-optimist nowadays when it comes to TV analysis (though I think it’s really me reacting to counter-balance the rampant negativity that flows on the internet). I’m going to watch the series and see how it progresses. Not every pilot is groundbreaking or Emmy-worthy. Glee had a great pilot, but over time its quality as a series plummeted. Agents of SHIELD started off so-so, and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland’s pilot wasn’t as great as its mother series, but that didn’t stop AoS and OUaTiW from becoming great. We need to remember that Girl Meets World is a beginning: it’s obviously in need of some development, but before we cast it aside, let’s give it the chance to grow.