By: Madelyn Glymour, Contributor
Two episodes in, GIRL MEETS WORLD still isn’t good, but it is at least improved. The theme of this week’s episode is more coherent than the pilot’s, which is a good sign; on the other hand, it’s the most simplistic take on the question of how technology affects human interaction that I have ever seen. It’s a kid’s show, so I don’t expect Russian novel levels of symbolism, but every time one of the characters referenced kids today being literally unable to feel due to their smartphones, I couldn’t help but remember Mr. Feeny’s speech from the fourth season of Boy Meets World: “Gutenberg’s generation thirsted for a new book every six months. Your generation gets a new web page every six seconds, and how do you use this technology? To beat King Koopa and rescue the princess. Shame on you.” Boy Meets World had space for technology to be both a distraction and an opportunity–but that seems to be beyond this show.
I get the sense that continuing to critique Girl Meets World based on the subtlety and complexity of its themes could actually drive me insane, so I’ll focus on the series’ structure and characters instead, because there’s some not necessarily bad, but definitely odd stuff going on there. Cory has been explicitly set up as the “Mr. Feeny” of Girl Meets World. He’s the teacher who dispenses sage advice. (Ostensibly, he’s a history teacher, but he never seems to give the kids any assignment from which they might learn any history.) But because Cory is so neurotic in his interpersonal relationships–an element of his character that was definitely present in Boy Meets World–he can’t really function in that capacity for Riley. Instead, he spends most of “Girl Meets Boy” freaking out over the possibility of Riley, you know, meeting a boy. Riley, on her own, figures out the lesson of the week, and delivers it in speech form to her father.
But Cory does have Mr. Feeny moments–with Maya. Cory and Maya have just enough distance that he can function as an actual mentor to her. Perhaps because these moments represent Cory at his least neurotic, perhaps because Maya’s actress remains one of the show’s best, or perhaps because their interactions are some of the only ones that contain any real conflict, the relationship between Cory and Maya has so far proved to be the most interesting and successful element of the series. When Cory gives Maya a smartphone at the end of “Girl Meets Boy” so that she can report back to him on Riley’s doings, it’s weird. When he hands her a set of colored pencils so she can paint him a picture, it’s heartwarming.
Considering Farkle continues to be kind of pointless, Lucas is still thinking about whether he wants to have a personality or not, and Topanga spent the episode coloring with Auggie, Girl Meets World could use a few more characters who interact like Cory and Maya. This show has good actors, and I know the showrunners can do better. I haven’t quite given up hope, yet, that it’ll pull through.
Meanwhile, 21 Years Ago…
“On the Fence” (originally aired October 1, 1993). In order to raise money to buy a water gun to fight in his friends’ “Water Wars,” Cory takes a job painting Mr. Feeny’s shutters. The job turns out to be more than Cory can handle, but in the process of learning that, Cory also comes to understand just how hard his father works. This episode is much more focused than the pilot. It really is entirely about Cory and his father, and their relationship with each other and with work; any other storyline among the characters only serves to further that one. But it’s a surprisingly nuanced story, and it doesn’t always go the places you’d expect it to. The climax of the episode (and therefore the lesson) doesn’t come when Cory realizes that his only responsibility right now is to have fun and learn, and that’s a good thing; it comes when Cory realizes that his father has more responsibilities than Cory can imagine, and that the grace and good humor with which he bears them makes him a hero. This episode also marks the introduction of Minkus, which is a thing, I guess.