Girl Meets World: A Goodbye Retrospective
In 2012 Disney Channel announced they would be continuing the popular 90’s show Boy Meets World with a sequel/spin-off series following Corey and Topanga’s daughter and her friends as they navigate the world. While it did seem like a nostalgia cash grab it also was a natural place to take the story. We saw Corey imparted with these lessons, let us see how he teaches his kids. How much has changed since we left Corey and Topanga? The show premiered in the summer of 2014 and while older audiences may have tuned out when they realized it was not going to be blatant fan service to them (I mean it is a show on Disney Channel whose demographic was born after that show had ended) their kids stuck around. Unlike most Disney Channel shows this was something special. Now after three seasons, the show has come to an end.
Living up to Boy Meets World was a difficult task. Girl Meets World even made a meta episode about having to live up to the legacy of Boy Meets World with the episode “Girl Meets Corey and Topanga” (with Corey and Topanga’s relationship being the episode impossible standard that Riley must live up to). It could craft these fun, dynamic and well-rounded characters by sticking to a formula.
Yet just like Star Wars: the Force Awakens (yes this is the only article you will find that compares Girl Meets World to Star Wars) they saw a problem and addressed it in the same way. Use the old established characters as supporting players and build interesting characters, relations, and personalities around the new ensemble as they would be the proper focus. Instead of trying to win over the original fan base, they went after capturing a new generation of fans with the original cast as a treat for their parents that added a sense of legacy to make the story generational. The creator's crafted characters that were much more than carbon copies of their original counterparts. Riley Matthews the optimistic daughter of Corey and Topanga who had her mother’s intellect and passion with her father’s silliness and a good heart. Maya Heart the rebel with an artist touch looking for the semblance of a family. Lucas Friar the Texas Dream boy who went from love interest to a man with a deep passion for his friends even if it meant a dark side. Farkle Minkus who grew from a silly kid to a young man discovering his own identity and history. Zay Babineaux, Lucas’ friend from Texas who always provided a good laugh as well as a love in his heart and a better understanding of the women in his life than the rest of his male counterparts. Isadora Smackle, Farkle’s one time enemy turned girlfriend who finds people she would never have imagined talking to as her best friends. These characters stood on their own apart from the legacy that was created for them and became interesting in their own unique way that was unique to the time the show was born into. Yet the way their stories would unfold was a formulaic routine, yet that was not a bad thing.
Each episode revolves around a traditional setup. Corey (or a few other teachers) teaches a lesson to the class that ties into whatever A plot storyline the kids are going through in their personal life/relationships. Simple set up and easy to follow, as well as be parodied numerous times. Yet this set up allows seeing how the group, namely Riley and Maya will approach these lessons and what they must say about them from prior life experience.
The metatextual nature of this setup works because the show’s writers (Corey Matthews) can teach and help guide the young audience (the classroom) through complex life lessons in ways they could understand while also being entertaining (like the show itself).
While it tackled many of the classic topics the original show did such as relationships, privilege middle class, sibling rivalries it also addressed some issues STEM Gender politics, Asperger’s, poverty, identity, cyber bullying, and death. All adult themes for kids show on the Disney Channel. Yet it was Disney Channel that allowed it to succeed.
While many saw being on Disney Channel as a handicap, it served one key aspect. It made sure the show never went too far into melodrama. Boy Meets World being on ABC Family dealt with many topics as our main group grew older. Yet sometimes this led to them steering into the 90’s “a very special episode” terrain where the music would get very emotional in the background while the characters would say something serious. Girl Meets World status on Disney Channel gives it an interesting dynamic. Dramatic scenes are shot with a lack of soundtrack, making the scenes feel empty and distant to highlight the serious nature. Taking away the music and allowing the actors to properly convey the emotions shows more confidence in the actors and the audience to know when a scene is truly serious rather than over doing melodramatic music. Girl Meets World may have had its fair share of zany, cartoonish moments often associated with Disney Channel shows, yet that colorful surface was used to address issues for kids in a way that was entertaining, informative yet never overly preachy. As another famous woman once all sang to us “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.
The finale takes an interesting approach. It seemed odd to have the main conflict not having to do with Riley and Maya’s choice and leaving the decision of the show on a supporting character (Topanga). Yet it hits a relatable note where sometimes are life choices is left out of our hands and with kids it does determine what the parent decides. It also helps create a feeling of hopelessness and raises the suspense that anything could happen. The audience is well adjusted to know Riley and Maya will overcome anything so to put it out of their hands make the threat seem more real. It did mainly act as a Boy Meets World reunion show tying up old plot threads left hanging from that show, yet viewing the final 3 episodes (World Meets Girl, Girl Meets Decision, and Girl Meets World) as one giant finale it is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for the young kids who had this show as part of their lives for three years.
As the finale ended all the supporting players stepped away, leaving the stage for Riley and Maya. This friendship has been at the core of this show. While both Girl Meets World and Boy Meets World are shows about children growing up and understanding the world around them, they were also about how the relationships we form help define us. Long story short “People shape people”. Boy Meets World’s central relationship was a love story between Corey and Topanga. Girl Meets World was about friendship. No matter what happened over the course of the show, it always came down to “Riley and Maya will always be there for each other”. They, of course, would disagree, get into small feuds, and came from two different philosophical backgrounds the audience had a collective reassurance that these two would stay united. Even when the dreaded love triangle with Lucas was brought it, the relationship at stake wasn’t with Lucas but would it damage Riley and Maya. Surprisingly it didn’t. They realized they were more important than some boy. They hid their feelings, backed off just to maintain their friendship for one another because that was the relationship worth preserving. In what was supposed to be just a bright colorful non-offensive kid show on Disney Channel it became a show with a strong feminist message to give to young girls in an area that is mainly dominated by male-centric stories.
The two actresses, Rowan Blanchard (Riley) and Sabrina Carpenter (Maya) have shown themselves as rising stars, talented artist, and most importantly role models for numerous kids (and some adults if they stop and listen) regardless of gender. It is sadly fitting that on January 20TH, 2017 which was a day that will live in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans (for better or worse) that Riley and Maya wouldn’t be around for new adventures to help kids get through these difficult years in their lives. Yet the show will still live on as these fictional characters have become immortalized. On January 21ST, the day after the final episode of Girl Meets World ended millions of American’s marched across the country to show their support for Women’s Rights in a turbulent future. Riley and Maya may not be around anymore with new life lessons, but their real-life counterparts are here to take on the world.
In a show that had no right to be good, the writers and performs took it upon themselves to craft a well-written show with wonderful characters and relationships you could have made seven seasons out of. It could be used as a tool for teachers and parents to show their kids to talk about difficult subjects about the world. It can be used just for a good laugh when the world looks blue. But all and all it was just a great story about two girls by a bay window who stuck together to meet the world.
Girl Meets World, and the world got to meet a great show.