You know, for as hard a time as I give GIRL MEETS WORLD every week, it’s not like I ever dread watching it. With the exception of extremely Farkle-heavy episodes, and the odd nonsensical and heavy-handed misfire like “Girl Meets Friendship,” I actually tend to enjoy the half-hour a week I spend watching this show. It certainly makes me laugh. It’s probably not a show I’d keep up with if I didn’t review it, but if I don’t think too much and just enjoy it uncritically — the way a 10-year-old might — it’s not too hard to look past the uneven bits and live in the moment.
That’s the mentality that “Girl Meets Brother” thrives on. This episode had a lot going for it: very little Farkle, Cory and Topanga silliness, Maya wearing her hair as a beard. But its strongest asset was sheer indulgence. The mantra for “Brother” seems to have been, “If it tickles you, throw it in.” Don’t bother about subtlety, don’t worry about sense; if an idea occurs to you, and you enjoy it, go right ahead. This is how Cory and Topanga reminiscing about their relationship turned into a brief Boy Meets World clip show; this is how jazz great Herbie Hancock showed up for a cameo, because why not; this is how Maya turned Auggie’s room into a pirate ship with a quick jaunt down to the vintage boutique (which apparently carries artistic netting and pirate ship facades).
And the thing is, it kind of works. It makes sense, even. Like any spin-off or sequel, Girl Meets World was always going to have to walk a line between paying homage to its predecessor and defining its own tone and voice and story. It hasn’t been great at the latter, so why not go all-out on the former, once in a while? Blatant fan service or not, watching Cory and Topanga goof off on their failed date is exactly the kind of thing fans of Boy Meets World will have wanted to see when they first heard about the sequel. I did not get excited about this show because of Farkle. I got excited about this show because I wanted to see Cory and Topanga give each other ring pops and taunt their 11-year-old with a parable about an egg. It’s not the most reasoned, thoughtful television in the world, but damn if it didn’t make me smile.
Plus, it’s not like “Brother” didn’t have a story to hang all the fan service on. It’s a simple story, sure — Riley agrees to babysit Auggie to prove her responsibility, Riley irresponsibly ignores Auggie to watch TV with Maya, Auggie feels bad, Riley makes it up to him — but it’s a hell of a lot more sound, narratively speaking, than last week’s episode. The one major issue is that, like almost all Girl Meets World episodes, it seriously undermines its dramatic potential by artificially lowering its stakes. Given that the ostensible theme of the episode is “Riley learning responsibility,” Riley’s choice to ignore Auggie should really have more serious consequences than some hurt feelings and a near-miss between the remote control and the sidewalk; otherwise, the issue changes from “Riley is irresponsible” to “Riley’s not being nice.” But honestly, the theme wasn’t the point in “Brother,” so who cares?
Also par for the course: somehow, in an episode that shouldn’t be about Maya at all, Maya ends up being central to the story. Auggie’s anger comes from the fact that he is losing Riley to Maya, and when Riley wants to know whether Auggie has forgiven her, she finds out by pointing at Maya and saying, “Can we keep her?” I’m not complaining. Maya is without question one of the show’s strongest elements. But it’s worth noting just how pervasive her presence is.
Really, the saddest thing for me was that, in an episode that was all about fanservice, that didn’t take place at school, Farkle still managed to worm his way into a few minutes of screen time. But it’s all cool; I can just sit back, focus on the positive, and let the Farkles of the world fade into the distance.
– Disney Channel Talkin’ ‘Bout Boobs: “When am I gonna look ‘wow’?” “Oh, honey, you already do.” “Yeah, but not with the bam! and the boom! and the… you know.”
– Disney Channel Talkin’ ‘Bout Sex: “You lose, you make me a brother.” “Deal!” “Hold on. First, we’re gonna give her the opportunity to be a good babysitter, okay?” “Then brother? Brother anyway.”
– Disney Channel Talkin’ ‘Bout Disney Channel: “I feel like when we’re not in school, I’m not even part of the story.”
– I imagine I’m the only person in the world who watches both The Good Wife and Girl Meets World, but just in case there’s someone else out there: Which is the better modern TV parody, Darkness at Noon or Red Planet Diaries? (The answer is Darkness at Noon. The question of whether Ashley the astronaut ends up with Blarg or Blarg’s Other Head is just not as compelling as the question of whether Miguel looked at the flowers.)
– Plus, everyone knows that Ashley ends up with Blarg’s Other Head. This is a CW parody. The first romantic interest never wins on the CW.
– Speaking of Red Planet Diaries, I was happy to see Maya acknowledging the internet as a thing that exists from which you can get TV spoilers. My sole thought throughout the scenes when Riley was ignoring Auggie for the TV show was, Can’t you just watch that later when it’s up on Hulu?
– Continuity alert: We have a Mr. Googly sighting! This is not a drill!
– In case you were curious, the John Quincy Adams Middle School mascot is an eagle.
– “Excuse me. It’s our anniversary, and we’re weird. Mind if I borrow your horsey for a minute?”
– “Pompoms are stupid, and pyramids made of humans freak me out.”
Meanwhile, 21 Years Ago…
Season one, episode 15 — “Model Family.” Originally aired February 4, 1994. Cory is assigned to be the father of a “model family” at school, while at home, Alan faces more concrete parenting challenges when Eric decides to give up his job at the grocery store that Alan manages to become a model. In one of those lovely bits of synchronicity I sometimes stumble upon in these, the theme of “Model Family” matches up nicely to the theme of “Brother,” as it’s largely an episode about Alan choosing to let Eric take responsibility and make adult decisions about his life. Actually, the even broader theme was about the idea that there is no perfect parent or family, and that sometimes in parenting (as in life) you have to take a risk to see what works. The episode even opens with a clip from Leave It to Beaver, which Cory and Shawn declare “too perfect” and “too TV.” Of course, Boy Meets World dealt with these themes like 8 million times better than Girl Meets World. Eric has this lovely little speech that he makes to Alan, once he realizes that giving up his grocery job for modelling was a mistake: “Dad, do you remember when I was little, and we used to play Monopoly, and I’d roll the dice and land on Boardwalk when you had a hotel on it? Well, you’d call it a mis-roll, and you’d let me roll it again. Well, Dad, this modeling thing… I mis-rolled.” Girl Meets World couldn’t write like that to save its life.
Oh, one more point of similarity between “Model Family” and “Brother”; like “Brother,” “Model Family” contains the show’s first really meta line. “I guess it’s easy to sound smart when you’ve got the best writers in Hollywood writing everything you say.” “I wouldn’t know.”