Tweetable Takeaway: Tonight’s Girl Meets World is more about Cory than Riley. But then, it almost always is.
Airtime: Friday at 8:30 pm on The Disney Channel
By: Madelyn Glymour, Contributor
In April of 1994, Cory Matthews went on his first date. He was 12 years old, in sixth grade, and the only person who freaked out about it was him. His father was a little wary, his mother was overjoyed, and Topanga was, as always, incredibly chill, but Cory didn’t feel ready. So he canceled his date, hung out with Topanga in a low-pressure situation, and learned that dating can be fun if you go at your own pace. In March of 2015, Riley Matthews went on her first date, and the world came to an end. Topanga came over all worried. Cory tried to bar the potential suitor from the classroom.
The problem isn’t so much that Cory and Topanga don’t want their daughter dating at 13, while Alan and Amy were cool with their son dating at 12. At that age, your parents still have a lot of say over your life, and it’s not, like, unreasonable for parents to want their kids to at least get to high school before they start dating. (Although it does strike me as a little off that parents who had their first kiss at eleven are that uptight about it.) No, the problem is that “Boy Meets Girl” is about whether Cory is ready for his first date, while “Girl Meets First Date” is about whether Cory is ready for his daughter’s first date. This marks the 21st straight episode of Girl Meets World to focus on Cory’s failing attempts to keep Riley from growing up, which by my count is about where “protective” turns into “creepy” and “controlling.”
Riley isn’t the protagonist of “First Date.” She makes one decision of any consequence (to kiss Lucas), and while that does represent the conclusion to a little story about Riley learning to take initiative, that plot was basically a runner compared to Maya’s issues with Josh and Cory’s “I’ve got a shotgun” antics. (He doesn’t actually say that, but the sentiment would be right at home in “First Date.”) And it’s fine, every once in a while, to have an episode that’s not about the show’s main character. But this is, by the most generous possible assessment, the fifth episode to focus almost entirely on the way Cory feels about Riley’s life. And even the episodes that aren’t exclusively about Cory generally contain a fair amount of him griping about the fact that his daughter has friends who are boys, that she occasionally does things that don’t involve her father, that she has dared to get a week older. Yes, he’s her father, and his opinions about her life matter. But why is a show that’s ostensibly about Riley so much more concerned with how her father feels about dating than how she feels?
I’d be tempted to lay the blame for this weirdness on the fact that Girl Meets World is a sequel show, and viewers have a legitimate interest in Cory’s story, since he used to be a protagonist. But somehow, Cory’s over-the-top freak-out (did I mention the part where he bars Lucas from the classroom?) is not the weirdest, most infantilizing thing to happen in “First Date.” No, that honor goes to Lucas, who travels all the way to Riley’s apartment so that he can, in person, ask Cory for permission to ask her out. Look, I get that asking a woman’s father for her hand in marriage is, like, a tradition. It’s not a tradition I’m particularly fond of, but I understand that it’s symbolic and meaningful to a lot of people, and doesn’t (usually) mean that the men involved think that they should get to make the decisions in a woman’s life.
Asking your classmate’s father if you can ask her out on a date is none of those things. This is not marriage. This is going to the movies. Ask her, then let her ask her parents’ permission if she’s interested. Here’s an actual exchange between Farkle and Cory at the beginning of the episode: “Give your daughter to me. I’ll give you four oxen and my best milking cow.” “I’m thinking! That’s a good deal.” Girl Meets World tries to turn this all into a cutesy joke — “Are you actually thinking about this?” Riley asks — but it’s not a joke. That’s the honest-to-God thought process behind Lucas asking Cory’s permission. It’s the kind of thinking that leads to Cory turning around and telling Maya to go on a date with Farkle so that they can accompany Lucas and Riley. It’s the kind of thinking that leads to Farkle saying that it’s a good thing that Lucas is around to ask either Maya or Riley out, because Farkle will automatically date whoever’s left over.
So no, it’s not a sequel thing. It’s a feminist thing. You know how I know it’s a feminist thing? Because Lucas didn’t go all the way to Riley’s apartment to ask her parents for permission to date her. He went there to ask her father. And because nobody — not one freaking person — ever considered checking to see whether Lucas‘ parents were okay with him dating. And because Cory and Topanga both work full-time jobs, but Topanga does all the housework. And because Farkle is a goddamn stalker, and that’s supposed to be funny. Somehow, in the 21 years since Boy Meets World, these characters got more sexist.
Probably the best moment of the whole episode is when Riley asks Topanga about her and Cory’s first date. Boy Meets World changed its mind about that one a lot — they were constantly retconning Cory and Topanga’s relationship to make it have started earlier and earlier — and Topanga tells each and every story: They were two and played in the sandbox. No! They were eight and caught fireflies. No! They were 12 and played sock basketball. It’s a long, detailed joke aimed at the original series’ diehard fans, and it relies on an impressive knowledge of canon. But for all that Girl Meets World has a great memory of what its predecessor did, it can’t seem to remember what its predecessor was.
Boy Meets World was the story of a boy growing up. Girl Meets World is the story of a man trying to keep his daughter from growing up. And we’re all worse for it.
– Maya, blowing Riley’s mind by telling her that she can ask a boy out: “Riley, this isn’t the 90s anymore. You want something, you go get it.” Didn’t the 90s, like, invent girl power? The 90s gave us the Spice Girls: “If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends.” They gave us Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” and Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” They gave us Destiny’s Child and Sarah McLachlan and freaking Lilith Fair. The 90s gave us Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed and Clarissa Explains It All. The 90s gave us Clueless and The Craft. In 1994, a girl asked Shawn Hunter out on his first date, and no one even mentioned it. The gender politics of the last 20 years are complicated and fraught, but there’s absolutely no question: The 90s would rip Girl Meets World to shreds.
– Girl Meets World, I’m sorry, but the Auggie and Ava subplots aren’t funny. They’ve never been funny. They’ll never be funny. Stop trying.
– I’m gonna come out and say it: Maya/Lucas is superior to Riley/Lucas.
– Also, want to be creeped out for reals? In real life, Peyton Meyer is 16 and Rowan Blanchard is 13. You will note that this is exactly the age disparity between Maya and Josh that Girl Meets World keeps harping on.
How Cory Matthews Failed as a Teacher This Week
I mean, in addition to barring a student from the classroom for daring to be attractive and friendly, Cory forgoes teaching history in favor of giving a lecture about how much he doesn’t want Riley to date. This is, I feel confident in saying, his absolute worst performance as a teacher. Cory is a walking, talking advertisement against teacher tenure.
Blackboard of the Week: “BELGIUM: 1831,” but it’s quickly erased so that Cory can whine. Apparently they were going to learn about the Belgian Revolution. You know, that time-honored staple of seventh-grade history class.