“Girl Meets World” Can Help Girls Do Just That
Amid sequelmania’s eager little grip on both the silver and small screens (“Doctor Who,” a new “90210,” “The Office”), one upcoming spinoff has the potential to bring a unique brand of virtue back to television, one that has been hiding in forgotten corners for the better part of a decade.
Next year, “Boy Meets World” creator Michael Jacobs, along with original members of the cast, will debut a new series based on the original: “Girl Meets World.” Cory and Topanga, the high-school sweethearts around which the original series centered, have grown to adulthood, and will have a 13-year-old daughter named Riley, the main character and “new Cory.” Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel, the original Cory and Topanga, will be reprising their roles. Maya, Riley’s best friend, will be the new Shawn Hunter: a roughly C student, defiant, who never knew her father. Riley has an older brother named Elliot, 14, a proverbial sibling antagonist; and Cory will become the next-generation Mr. Feeny — a teacher. Riley’s, to be precise.
“Boy Meets World” was the finest of the morals-driven sitcoms of the ’90s. “Finest” and “sitcom” may seem misplaced in the same sentence, but this was at its heart a serious show about real-life decisions. As protagonist Cory Matthews grew, the series grew with him, straddling the sitcom-drama divide by gradually pouring more and more substance into its characters. Topanga faced her parents’ divorce; Shawn faced the death of his father; the Matthews dealt with the birth of a premature child. These characters intersected with life in some of the realest ways imaginable, and the reality of this TV stemmed from their reactions to these situations. It’s been a while since television episodes ended with a moral, but every installment of “Boy Meets World” did. When Cory and Topanga get married and have to live in the “stinkhole” on-campus marrieds dorm, Cory goes to his father for help — and is promptly shut down. He struggles for two episodes before deciding he and his wife don’t need a handout from his parents, and he’s successful at fixing both his attitude and the rusty sink pipes. Shawn and Angela, meanwhile, are cohabiting; and after observing Cory and Topanga’s fight to call a place their own, they realize that they didn’t earn the cushy apartment they lucked into. Shawn moves out.
It’s getting harder to imagine this kind of atmosphere in today’s television, whose necrosis is nearly fully realized. The advent of reality TV alone has been enough to remove most edifying qualities from the airwaves. The line between hero and villain is consistently blurred, and finding a female character who will guard her virtue as fiercely as Topanga did is nigh impossible. This is where this sequel can offer America not just great entertainment, but a window into healthy family life. Cory and Topanga had good parents, so there’s no reason to believe they won’t be equally beneficent to their children in both love and discipline. But were this series to take on a “Two-And-a-Half Men” kind of dynamic, it would rip apart the heart of the original series and totally invalidate the characters.
Danielle Fishel’s words are reassuring:
“[T]he seven wonderful years we spent making ‘BMW’ … were among the most warm, hilarious, insightful, educational years of my life and I wouldn’t trade them for the world,” Fishel said.
“Another thing I wouldn’t trade for anything is the integrity and the heart with which ‘BMW’ was made. I promise with the entirety of my heart that we will make ‘GMW’ with the same honesty, innocence, and intelligence that you learned to expect from ‘BMW.’”
Since the original cast and creator are directly involved, and if their words hold true, this bodes very well for the new series. Ambitious producers and pressure for ratings are always concerns, but the creators have several opportunities to intersect with specific aspects of young American life.
The reemergence of the say-no female. It’s now “Girl Meets World,” and with that one-word change comes the chance to reawaken a fight within young women everywhere. With a strong mother guiding a budding teenage daughter who will face constant invitations from boys, new episodes can show all the ways a girl can protect herself and simply say no. Topanga has plenty of stories to share: Shawn and Cory’s attempt at a “midnight switch” during the senior ski trip; Cory’s ham-fisted, grapes-on-the-bed approach at seducing her when they were in high school. BMW fans will light up at the references, and new-generation viewers will see something they may never have seen before: a mother raising her daughter in confidence and self-control. Old messages can take on a new originality: something producers should want out of every show they’re involved in.
Acknowledgement of biblical principles. Unless you’re knowledgeable about Scripture you may have missed it, but the lessons in “Boy Meets World” smacked heavily of the Bible. Take judgment, for instance. One fourth-season episode saw Shawn lured into a local cult led by a charismatic man named Mr. Mack. The Centre, as it was called, billed itself as a place of belonging, where no one was judged and everyone was accepted. Shawn, lacking a solid family foundation, easily takes to the message and his personality changes noticeably. Mr. Feeny confronts him about it, stating with authority, “These aren’t beliefs. This is just a way to escape a life that doesn’t have beliefs.” Shawn accuses him of making a judgement. “You’re damn right it is!” says Feeny. In addition to the often mis-applied “Judge not lest ye be judged” (which Mr. Mack and The Centre have likewise perverted), Jesus tells us to make right judgements, and judge for ourselves what is good (Luke 12:57-59; John 7:14-24). Mr. Feeny demolishes the idea that judgement is always a bad thing — he’s proud of his good judgement — and within and around his stern tones lie understanding and compassion for Shawn. Feeny very often separates out the extremes in his students’ lives, forcing them to consider the true choices before them, not the fallacies they’ve constructed for themselves. “Girl Meets World” can do the same if it abides in the spirit of its predecessor.
A display of true sexuality. Sadly, television is often synonymous with sex. Sex is so much a part of humanity that almost any piece of art that spans a period of time (like television or theater) will expose a view of it. “Boy Meets World” set itself apart in the way it approached the subject of sex. Eric’s sarcastic advice to young Cory (“Cor, sex is like a bike without training wheels. If you try it too early, you’ll fall off and break your head.”) was one way the writers went about it, but a deeper understanding resonated in “BMW,” and it’s visible in Cory’s condition on his wedding night. After years of begging Topanga, “Let me touch something!,” the gates are open, and Cory is giddy — like a child. The fruit of their patience is a new relationship where they can be entirely free, and innocent, in marriage. The writers were intentional in making that clear, and the power of that genuine example will not be lost on this generation either. Girls need that message just as much as boys do.
Amid all these opportunities, however, Danielle Fishel had some sober words:
“It isn’t ‘BMW’ brought back to life,” Fishel wrote. “It will have familiar faces, familiar themes and familiar messages. It will also have new faces, new themes and new messages. ‘BMW’ never spoke down to the audience and we are going to do our best to never do that with ‘GMW.’ But please keep in mind that this will be episode one, of season one, of a brand new show. We started at the same place with ‘BMW’ but we evolved and we evolved quickly. For those of you who knew and loved ‘BMW,’ please allow this show to evolve as well.”
The only questionable phrase in her otherwise wise words is “new messages.” There are always new topics to explore, but the messages are timeless. Play with the ears, the eyes, the nose, the hair — but don’t tinker with the heart. The lessons don’t need to be reinvented.
There’s a reason why “Boy Meets World” still has such a large fan base 13 years later, and why Lions Gate finally released all seven seasons on DVD after the persistent clamoring of that fan base. Cory, Topanga, Shawn, and Eric are the kind of characters that show America self reliance, independence, tough love, and the rewards of responsibility. Setting “Girl Meets World” on the same firm foundation as its predecessor will place a gem in television’s rotted crown, and the right ideas in the heads of teenagers everywhere.by