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Monday, June 30, 2014

GIRL MEETS WORLD, Too

Article originally written for Seat42F.




ABC’s popular Boy Meets World ended a seven season run just over fourteen years ago. Last night, Disney Channel continued the story with the premiere of GIRL MEETS WORLD. The series checks in with Cory (Ben Savage) and Topanga Matthews (Danielle Fisher), who now have a girl of their own, Riley (Rowan Blanchard, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World), whose turn it is to come into her own. This sounds like a recipe for success.

A lot of the familiar elements are there. Riley is well-cast in terms of looks, resembling both of her parents a bit, and echoing some of Cory’s traits and goofy faces. She has a best friend, Maya Hart (Sabrina Carpenter, The Goodwin Games, who looks a lot like Britt Robertson), not the best influence, providing opportunity for Riley to step up and save Maya, as Cory did Shawn. The setting is still split between the classroom and the home, and the writers seek to impart heart-warming, family-friendly messages.

The pilot, “Girl Meets Boy,” is genuinely funny. Scenes of Riley and Maya on the subway, bumping into cute-boy Lucas (Peyton Meyer, Dog with a Blog), are bolstered by guest star Jackée Harry. I chuckled through the sadly-few bits Topango gets, including choosing her daughter over her husband. And Blanchard definitely has stage presence, her cheese actually very right for this role.

The best part of “Girl Meets Boy” is the ending, in which Cory glances across the tunnel and sees Mr. Feeny (William Daniels) telling him he’s done well. It doesn’t make sense for Feeny to be on a poster, even an education-themed one, all the way across the country from where he taught, and Cory hasn’t done as well as he should have yet. But the emotion of that moment and the torch passing quality is undeniably moving.

Unfortunately, “Girl Meets Boy” also gets a lot wrong. Unlike the original, it hits us over the head with the moral point. Boy Meets World was not subtle, but it also didn’t go to extremes. When Cory wants to give his daughter some freedom, he gathers the entire clan, along with friends, including a boy Riley has just met, in the subway. It doesn’t make sense for this to happen, and building upon Cory too vehemently arguing his points earlier, ruins some of the hokey charm the first series relied upon.

The characters surrounding the energetic Cory in Boy Meets World tended to be toned down, a grounding factor that balances out the kid and keeps the series somewhat realistic. Now, Riley is in a classroom with her father as the teacher, and Cory still wants to act like adolescent Cory, enabling the students to be out of control. Cory shows hints of maturity in talking to his daughter, but mostly hasn’t grown up nearly as much as he should have, making the dynamic unstable.

The worst element of GIRL MEETS WORLD so far may be the inclusion of Farkle (Corey Fogelmanis). IMDB lists his last name as Minkus and I would not be surprised to learn he is the offspring of Cory and Topanga’s former classmate Stuart Minkus. Which is all the more reason why GIRL MEETS WORLD should not have shifted from the quiet suburbs to bustling New York because, even if you accept Minkus somehow got married and had a kid as quickly as Cory did, a stretch to be sure, why would they both move to the same neighborhood far away? However, that logic leap is not nearly as awful as Farkle’s personality, which is much, much worse than Minkus ever was, taking those annoying elements of the nerd to a teeth-jarring extreme.

Some of these grating elements could be a product of the age. The 2010s is quite removed from the 1990s and sensibilities have shifted. As an adult, I don’t want to watch anything on the Disney Channel, not being their target audience, and not enjoying pretty much any of their fare. GIRL MEETS WORLD is trying to play to nostalgia, though, like TNT’s Dallas continuation, and bring old viewers in with the new. However, GIRLS MEETS WORLD isn’t matching the previous style well enough yet, so while it might work for the kids tuning it, it provides little for the grown-ups looking to relive fond childhood memories.

Now, reportedly this show takes a few episodes to find its stride, and having re-watched season one of Boy Meets World this past week, I admit GIRL MEETS WORLD isn’t that many notches below, as distasteful as I find a few key elements. Plus, most of the central cast members from Boy Meets World have signed on to show up later. So I will keep viewing, at least for the next month or so, to see if it can settle into a worthy successor. It’s not a great show, but neither was the original, so if this program can hit ‘pretty good,’ it will have done its namesake proud.

GIRL MEETS WORLD will rerun the pilot many times over the next couple weeks and begins fresh installments Friday, July 11th at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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