Tweetable Takeaway: “Girl Meets World” squanders a good theme on a bad plot.
Airtime: Friday at 8:30 on The Disney Channel
By: Madelyn Glymour, Contributor
Most GIRL MEETS WORLD stories fall through because they fail to dramatize the week’s lesson. Characters will be presented with a problem that hints at the idea that they might have to make a choice that will teach them a lesson, but the show nearly always pulls back before they have to make a decision with any real consequences. “Girl Meets Crazy Hat,” though, is different. There’s plenty of drama, and some of it even has something approaching stakes, but it ultimately has little effect on the episode’s rather confused lesson.
Here, see if you can find a throughline in this week’s plot. Riley and Maya have a conversation with a strange woman wearing a crazy hat at the subway station (played, in a bit of stuntcasting, by Jackée Harry). Riley, wondering how a person gets to that point in their life, figures that it must be because they never found out what they were good at, and begins to worry for her own future. She mentions this to her father in class (because talking to your parents in the privacy of your own home is for losers), and Cory decides that the best way to help Riley find her calling is to split the class into two competing companies, both of them producing muffins. (Why muffins? Well, there happened to be one sitting on his desk.) Riley and Farkle are in charge of one company, and Maya and Lucas are in charge of the other.
The next day, Riley and Farkle, who sold crazily addictive muffins made of pure sugar, are rolling in money, while Maya and Lucas, who at Lucas’ insistence sold wholesome, healthy muffins, are $84 in debt to Lucas’ mom. Farkle buys Maya and Lucas’ company (to improve his image, you see), and then has Lucas fire Riley and Maya. (Note: At no point in this corporate restructuring does any money actually change hands, which makes the whole thing really confusing.) Riley and Maya, upset, leave school and spend the rest of the day in the subway station, where they see Crazy Hat again. She makes them people-watch with her, and look to see what people need. Riley realizes that what people need are good umbrellas to keep them dry during the rainy season. She and Maya go back to school, and tell the class about their new idea for a nonprofit umbrella-sharing organization: Subway passengers would take an umbrella from the stand in a station, and leave it at the stand in the next station they got to. Crazy Hat shows up, and turns out to be Evelyn Rand, the chairwoman of the Rand Corporation. She bankrolls Riley and Maya’s idea, and roundly scolds Farkle.
Buried somewhere in all that, there are some real stakes — at least $84 worth, for Lucas — and some real decisions. In particular, Lucas came closer to facing an actual moral dilemma in this episode than he ever really has before. But those stakes make much more sense for a story that’s about being a good friend than for one that’s about being a responsible entrepreneur. Moreover, while it’s ostensibly Riley and Maya who learn the week’s lesson, it’s Farkle and Lucas who make all the real decisions in the story. Riley doesn’t even know that the muffins she’s selling are unhealthy!
And what, exactly, is the episode’s lesson? Over in the B-plot (where Auggie spends all of his new allowance on costume jewelry for his manipulative and selfish 6-year-old girlfriend) Topanga says what sounds like the line of the episode: “People don’t always know what’s good for them. Please know what’s good for you, Auggie.” And indeed, parts of the episode — particularly the end — do seem to revolve around the idea that people often act against their own interests, and that it’s your responsibility in all your actions not to take advantage of that, but instead to help them do right by themselves. It’s not a bad theme. In fact, it’s kind of a lovely one, and an unusually mature one, in some ways. It’s unfortunate, therefore, that the plot and characterization doesn’t really support it. If Farkle were this episode’s central character, that wouldn’t be a problem, but Farkle isn’t. Riley is. Riley definitely didn’t need to learn that lesson, and she never faced any real choice involving it; Riley’s problem was that she didn’t know her purpose or her calling. She wanted to find direction in her life. If the point of the episode was that Riley’s direction is helping people, then I’m confused, because a) we already did that plotline in “Maya’s Mother,” and b) that particular lesson was never dramatized.
The other issue with the episode is that the drama is all incredibly forced. Nothing about the corporate takeover plotline made any kind of sense, which I wouldn’t mind so much if it weren’t completely out of nowhere for the characters, as well. Lucas is probably the show’s most principled character; why is he doing Farkle’s clearly evil bidding? For that matter, why is Farkle suddenly an evil mastermind with no regard for his friends’ feelings? He’s never been the show’s most consistent character, but he has consistently wanted to ingratiate himself with Riley and Maya, and while he’s often self-centered, he’s never shown any sign of being the kind of Scrooge McDuck miser he was in “Crazy Hat.” So the show twisted its characters out of shape in order to deliver a lesson that, as already established, didn’t even match up with the plot.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love themes, but themes need a story and characters to back them up. Girl Meets World‘s lessons don’t need to be subtle or nuanced or revolutionary — but they do need to make sense.
No, But Seriously, There Are Good Things About This Show
As annoying as I find the Auggie and Ava storyline, it did at least give us the chance to see Topanga doing some actual lawyer work, which I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen since “Girl Meets Popular.” I also loved two of the comedic bits: First, Riley’s garbage bag rain coat leading garbage men to mistake her for an actual bag of garbage; and second, the runner in which people throw one of Maya and Lucas’ muffins into a crowd, and the crowd throws it back, hitting Maya in the head. Look, I’m a sucker for slapstick, okay?
Oh, and while we’re here, a note about the timelines in last week’s episode. Someone mentioned in the comments that it didn’t seem feasible that the characters would have great-grandparents who were in their early 20s in 1961. I agree that it’s not plausible, but it is possible. Rosie McGee was, we know, Topanga’s maternal grandmother. It was established in the sixth-season Boy Meets World episode “State of the Unions” that Topanga’s parents married young. It’s even implied that they married at around the same age Cory and Topanga did, which would make them about 19. Topanga was born in 1980 or 1981, so if Rosie McGee got pregnant very shortly after the night we saw in 1961, the timeline juuuuust barely works out.
How Cory Matthews Failed as a Teacher This Week
Well, he interrupted his lesson plan on Belgian independence from the Netherlands — seriously? — to set up a poorly thought-out and, as far as I can tell, pointless project, just because his 11-year-old daughter was upset that she didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grows up. Though it pains me to admit it, Farkle really says it all: “My education should not be based on your daughter’s moods.” You tell him, Farkle! He also let Riley and Maya spend an entire school day in the subway station. God, Cory’s lucky that teacher tenure is a thing.
This week’s chalkboard: “BELGIUM: 1831”
Meanwhile, 21 Years Ago…
Season one, episode 10 – “Santa’s Little Helper.” Originally aired December 10, 1993. When Cory realizes that Shawn will not be getting anything for Christmas due to his father having been laid off, he tries to give Shawn one of his own gifts — but runs into trouble when Shawn rebuffs his charity. Truly, this is a watershed episode of Boy Meets World. Prior to this, Shawn had merely been Cory’s sarcastic sidekick. After this episode, Shawn was a one-man carnival of angst, insecurities, and tragedy. A full listing of the terrible things that happen to Shawn– and often more saliently, that Shawn inflicts on himself — would take up way more space than I have here, but rest assured: Shawn Hunter is a miserable human being, and it all started with “Santa’s Little Helper.” Anyway, historic significance aside, it’s a decent episode. The scene where Cory tries to give Shawn his Christmas present is massively uncomfortable to watch, but I like that; it should be uncomfortable. And the Morgan storyline (in which the mall Santa has a heart attack while she’s sitting on his lap, leading her to have a breakdown, thinking she killed Santa) is delightful in a way that Girl Meets World‘s Auggie storylines never are.