By: Madelyn Glymour, Contributor
Okay, so this was definitely the best episode GIRL MEETS WORLD has yet produced. I wouldn’t say it’s a good episode of television–it still falls victim to many of the show’s faults, including heavy-handedness, an inability to distinguish between “heartwarming” and “creepy,” and a sad under- and mis-use of Topanga–but those faults may finally be outweighed by its charms.
Rather proving my point from last week, “Girl Meets Father” succeeds by focusing almost entirely on the shows familial (and pseudo-familial) relationships. Riley wants to go to a school dance, rather than riding the Coney Island roller coaster with her father, as is their tradition. Meanwhile, Maya tries to quit school after Cory gives her an F on a history quiz. The confluence of these two events leads Cory to feel that his daughter and surrogate daughter are outgrowing him and leaving him behind. Ultimately, it’s revealed that Maya hasn’t given up on him, but rather feels that the F signified him giving up on her, and Cory and Riley and Topanga manage to convince her that no one is giving up on her, and that she’s definitely not a failure. Oh, and Riley goes to the dance, with Cory as a chaperone.
The Cory we got this week is recognizable, if a little over the top. Cory always was neurotic and clingy and prone to worst-case scenario thinking, so it’s fitting that he’d freak out over Riley skipping out on Coney Island. (There was even a Boy Meets World episode–4×14, “Wheels”–where Cory’s father had the same basic issue, when Cory went and got his driver’s license without him.) The scene in the middle of the episode, in which Cory spins an elaborate what-if in which Riley and Maya are grown up, married, and living in California, is the best Cory scene the show’s ever done. It’s funny but not over-the-top, it’s in-character, and it even gives Topanga something to do.
If it’s not clear, Maya–and Maya’s relationship with Cory–is given a lot more weight in “Father” than Riley is. I’m not sure this is a bad thing, or even an unexpected one, given how very Shawn-focused Boy Meets World was from season 4 onward. There’s a lot more pathos in Maya than in Riley, and the emotional stakes of her storyline are in some ways a lot higher than in Riley’s. After all, Riley growing up is natural, and Cory’s never really going to lose her. But Maya’s fear of failure and loss is very real–we learn that her father has left the family, which of course he has, she’s New Shawn–and while there’s no way her attempts to give up on school were ever going to be successful, her attempts to cut Cory out of her life could have been.
Where Boy Meets World built up Shawn’s surrogate-son status over seasons (culminating in an episode in the final season in which the Matthews offer to formally adopt him), Girl Meets World has really gone in full steam ahead with Maya. Cory clearly already considers her part of the family, and has no qualms about just sort of scooping her up, which makes sense, in a way. After all, he learned from what he saw his parents do with Shawn.
As I said, “Father” does have a lot of flaws. But this is the first time that the show has felt like a natural evolution from its predecessor. Even the problems with this week’s episode were some of the same problems Boy Meets World had in its final seasons. I finally feel like I’m watching the same characters I grew up with–for all the good and ill that brings.
No, But Seriously, There Are Good Things About This Show
I wasn’t as harsh on the show this week as I have been in the past, but the best parts of “Father” were actually incidental to the main plot of the episode. For instance, I’m tickled–tickled, I tell you–by Maya’s irrational and baseless dislike for Lucas, and Lucas’ successful attempts to kill her with kindness. It’s a way more interesting aspect of Lucas’ role than his non-relationship with Riley, and actually gives him something of a personality. The interplay between Riley and Maya (“Lucas!” “Hand.” “Lucas!” “Grown-up voice.” “Lucas, hello.”) was also funny and endearing, as it often is. And the gag with the cotton candy machine in Maya’s locker was goofy in the way the best Boy Meets World sight gags used to be. This episode definitely made me laugh more than the previous three.
How Cory Matthews Failed as a Teacher This Week
Once again, there was a whole lot of walking-out-of-class going on, as Maya leaves school immediately after receiving her failing grade–and Riley follows her out. Of course, Maya might not have failed so badly if Cory’s curriculum were a little more focused; last week, the kids were learning about Pearl Harbor, and this week, they’ve somehow jumped to Charles Darwin and the Galapagos Islands. First of all, why are they learning about evolution in history class? Isn’t that something their science teacher should be telling them about? And second of all, why are they moving backward in time? Are these kids going to grow up thinking that Darwin wrote The Origin of Species in 1945?
Meanwhile, 21 Years Ago…
Season 1, Episode 4 — “Cory’s Alternative Friends.” Originally aired October 15, 1993. After Cory’s attempt to straighten his hair backfires horribly and leaves him an outcast at school, he makes friends with the school weirdos, and learns that appearance isn’t everything. Topanga! Topanga is in this episode! Crimped-hair-having, lace-dress-wearing, lipstick-face-drawing Topanga! Between that, and the broader, more slapstick tone, this episode has a lot more of what would eventually define Boy Meets World than the previous three did. The first three episodes ended with a sort of meditation on a theme; “Alternative Friends” ends with a definite capital-L Lesson. It also features an enhanced role for Shawn; the first of Shawn’s many disappearing siblings, in this case his unseen sister Stacy; Mr. Feeny teaching science class for some reason; and Cory and Topanga’s first kiss. On some levels, this is actually a poorer episode of television than its predecessors, but it’s so iconic that it’s impossible for a Boy Meets World fan not to love it. (Plus, it uses Topanga way better than Girl Meets World does.)