Asking me to review Boy Meets World is like asking me to review pizza: Yeah, I have a general sense of what to do, but there are a million different flavors of it, and is there any particular one you want me to focus on? I understand the main plot of the show - it follows a boy named Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) through adolescence, high school, college, and into marriage - would necessitate a handful of scenery changes, but Boy Meets World underwent so many retoolings, it never felt like it had a real identity to cling to in the first place. It's like creator Michael Jacobs was flying by the seat of his pants through the whole seven-year run of the show, not only creating whatever he needed whenever he needed it, but made up the whole story as he went along, not having any particular vision in mind.
Cory was clearly conceived as some sort of everykid USA. The problem with everykid USA, though, is that very few members of the audience are going to relate to him. Even the people who CAN relate to Cory probably won't WANT to relate to him. Cory is generally a really good guy, but at any given moment, he's going to be either bland or extremely neurotic. Maybe a few awkward upper-middle class suburbanites will dig the Cory Matthews vibe and style, but more likely, anyone who feels like they see too much of themselves in Cory will immediately attempt one of those weird character changes, trying on new personal types and interests like hats. Cory isn't so much a character as he is a sum lump of every insecurity, confusion, and issue high school kids wore every possible mask to disguise. I'll grant that much of Cory's befuddlement hits home, but the working class I grew up in was not a place where people let their emotions thrive; it was a place where the strong survived, and if you were weak, you made up for it by developing in such a way that the strong saw you as indispensable. It was the great law of popularity; either people liked you or they didn't, and if they didn't, you were a marked man. No one reveled in social deficiencies. Everyone who had an obvious one did everything possible to mask it, if not totally wipe it out.
Chances are most watchers of the show aspired to be more like one of the other characters, most likely Cory's older brother Eric (Will Friedle) or his best friend, Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong). Eric is suave, cool and popular, at least until he suddenly (presumably) gets hit on the head and becomes the village idiot who is in the show mostly for comic relief. Shawn is a more rebellious character, also more popular, and has a number of very real obstacles to overcome. The show's female fans would probably prefer Topanga (Danielle Fishel), but watching her change would be a real shock for a lot of fans because she was introduced as this weird hippie-like girl with supernatural interests. She was the realist! Or at least that's what she turned into as the show went on.
Cory, Eric, Shawn, and Topanga are the core characters of Boy Meets World. Although Cory has terrific parents in Alan and Amy (William Russ and Betsy Randle), the most important adult figure on the show is George Feeny (William Daniels), who is a mentor to all four of the main characters. When the show began, it surrounded the student-teacher relationship between Feeny and Cory, but his role also moved along with the series. The first time Cory and Shawn got into trouble in high school, they stood in the Principal's office, saying they at least wouldn't have to face Feeny's wrath. Then the distinct, high-baritone, distinguished voice of Feeny rings out from behind the Principal's chair. Feeny is the Principal of their high school, and eventually becomes a professor at their college. It's Feeny who gets the scene with the four main characters in the final scene of the series.
Try not to get too attached to any of the characters, because they all disappear at one point or another and are replaced by replica clones. That's the only way to describe some of the outrageous personality shifts. Eric turned from the cool older brother into the King of Cloudcuckooland, Topanga went the opposite route, turning from the Queen of Cloudcuckooland into Cory's mentally stable rock, and Cory just sort of went nuts somewhere along the line. Shawn's evolution as a person went about in a realistic fashion, and Feeny stayed the way he was. But besides them, Cory's folks are minor characters, and Cory's little sister Morgan (Lily Nicksay in the first two seasons, Lindsay Ridgeway from the third season the the last) came awful close to being a Chuck Cunningham victim in the third season when the writers just forgot about her. Originally meant to be the cute girl Eric used to pick up chicks, her personality shift - which went with the new actress in the third season - put her in Little Miss Snarker mode.
After those characters, everyone jumps in and out of the show so randomly that an easy way to confuse yourself will be to watch a few episodes, tune out the show for awhile, then try to watch some of the newer episodes. See how caught up you are! The first season introduced a nerd named Stuart Minkus (Lee Norris) who played a bit of a foil to Cory and Shawn. In the second season, which is the first year of high school, Cory and Shawn get a cool English teacher named Jonathan Turner, whom they identify with very closely. Turner actually takes in Shawn as a legal guardian when Shawn is left homeless. In the fourth season, he gets into a terrible motorcycle accident, and is left behind by the series. Both of those characters are forgotten until the fourth season finale, when Cory and Shawn inexplicably run into Minkus in the hallway of their high school and ask where he's been. Apparently he's been conveniently located on the other side of the school, which is beyond the camera, so no one can see. At the end of the scene, he waves at Mr. Turner, whose classroom was apparently moved there as well. There was a pair of bullies in the show, Frankie and Joey, who both vanish until the graduation episode. Frankie and Joey often acted the lackeys to an alpha bully, Harley, who dressed and acted like a typical greaser character from the 1950's. When Harley left, Frankie and Joey then latched onto a freeloader student named Griff before a confrontation between a visiting Harley and Griff forces them to declare their independence.
When characters leave, they're frequently replaced. By the time the show ended its run, it included a few more characters: Angela Moore (Trina McGee-Davis), Shawns on-again off-again girlfriend; Jack Hunter (Matthew Lawrence), Shawn's half-brother; and Rachel McGuire (Maitland Ward), a roommate of Jack and Eric. Although the four characters who comprise the nucleus of the little group are there throughout the series, one wonders just what happened to the others who were official cast members in the end.
There is character growth and change throughout the duration of the series, but only Shawn and Topanga play out their differences in a realistic way. Shawn is a trailer park kid who falls into homelessness at one point, but the way Feeny keeps guiding him and never lets him just give up is real, and Shawn overcomes his situation and, by series end, leaves little doubt he's going to be fine as he matures and learns every lesson his terrible upbringing had to teach him. Topanga learns that the hippie life isn't going to get her through the world forever and calms down, even though she loses a lot of what she was when the series began. Other than that, well, Eric gets really, REALLY dumb, and Cory turns from an average kid into a weird mash of idealism, nervousness, and neuroticism.
For a Lesson show that employs that fucking Full House music, Boy Meets World never makes the mistake of preaching down at its audience, and that's to its credit. The big mistake it DOES make is the way it changes its tone. It went from a straight-up sitcom into some dramedy creature, and it makes Michael Jacobs look bad. The shift in tone was so sudden and radical that it makes Jacobs look like one of those sheltered middle-class suburban liberals who saw the real world and began painting his newfound thoughts of "FUN?! How can you think of having fucking FUN in this world?!" all up on the screen at the same time. There are a lot of terrible issues in the world that need to be handled, and Jacobs destroyed the show by making it handle them one by every last single one. One story arc show Eric becoming a big brother to an orphaned kid who is eventually taken by a family that lives in California. (No small issue, since the show takes place in Pennsylvania.) Teen sex, unlike so many other Lesson shows, is a constant theme, although no one ever actually goes through with it. Class differences are in there too, due to the circumstances Shawn came from. (That begs the question: How did Cory and Shawn ever end up in the same school?) Abandoned parents, divorce, and finances are also attacked with gusto. The whole thing comes to its climax in one episode where Shawn's father, having returned and starting to make good on his vow to set himself right, goes into a coma and actually dies.
Basically, this isn't a reliance on anything teenagers could or want to relate to. It falls into soap opera melodrama with an occasional laugh track. Whereas it was at one time the most watchable show in the TGIF cannon, it quickly fell into disrepair by the constant and sudden changing of the cast and scenery, and the plots got hackneyed. Cory and Topanga break up at least three times, at one point being set off by Cory "cheating" on her (kissing another girl, nothing more, and only once), Shawn breaking up with Angela at least twice, Rachel falling in love with Jack and then breaking up with him (or perhaps not), and Shawn getting worried about his friendship with Cory because of his impending wedding to Topanga. Every time you tune into a random episode, you'll need background which the show just isn't good at providing.
Boy Meets World isn't saved from its continuous identity shifting, not even by the fact that it's genuinely funny when it wants to be. Given the opportunity to rise above the other TGIF riffraff, it frequently dips far below the rest of those old shows.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
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One of the most durable offerings of ABC's Friday night TGIF sitcom lineup, Boy Meets World premiered September 24, 1993. Set in Philadelphia, the series starred Ben Savage as Cornelius A. "Cory" Matthews, who at the outset of the program was 11 years old. Hoping to make sense of the world around him and to hack his way through the thorny thicket of "tween-age" (and later teenage) life, Cory found a kindred spirit in fellow 11-year-old Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong), who lived in a trailer camp with his combative parents. Cory himself resided in a comfortable suburban home with dad Alan (William Russ), mom Amy (Betsy Randle), footloose older brother Eric (Will Friedle) and precocious kid sister Morgan (played first by Lily Nicksay, then by Lindsay Ridgeway); near the end of the series' run, Amy gave birth to a fourth child, a boy named Joshua. At school, Cory was kept in a state of constant terror and confusion by his mercurial teacher George Feeny (William Daniels) -- and making things worse, Feeny lived right next door to the Matthews family. On a more pleasant note, Cory harbored a crush for his classmate Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel), a feeling that would blossom into true love as the series rolled on. During his elementary school years, Cory also palled around with a nerdish intellectual named Stuart (Lee Norris). When Cory entered John Adams High School, he discovered, to his horror, that Mr. Feeny was now his principal. Also, Cory was faced with a new nemesis in the ...