Some episodes of GIRL MEETS WORLD have a redeeming value for adults. “Girl Meets Friendship” was not one of those episodes. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if it had a redeeming value for kids. Where episodes like “Girl Meets the Truth” or “Girl Meets Smackle” might be tiresome or heavy-handed, “Friendship” was simply baffling. I am quite simply not sure what I just watched.
Here’s the deal: Farkle, Lucas, and Riley are all running for class president. Well, no, that’s not right. Lucas is running for class president, but in a perplexing and half-hearted attempt to teach the kids about different forms of government, Cory allowed anyone nominated to run for any kind of leader that they want, so Farkle is running for class dictator and Riley is running for class princess. Doesn’t being elected kind of defeat the purpose of a princess? Isn’t it basically impossible for an 11-year-old to be dictator while still following the rules of his school? Yes, absolutely yes. As far as I can tell this was just an excuse to get Farkle and Riley dressed up in funny costumes.
Anyway. Maya takes this whole election thing a lot more seriously than Riley (whose sole contribution to the campaign was the princess idea), and she pretty much takes over Riley’s campaign. Farkle gets the class on his side by giving out free T-shirts, whereas Riley gives a boring speech that “addresses the issues.” (Apparently the number one issue in John Quincy Adams Middle School is trading in books for tablets. If I were Riley, I’d run on a platform of getting Cory fired, but that’s just me.) Maya realizes that the campaign needs some fun, so she procures a white horse, dresses it up as a unicorn, and shoots a commercial with Riley riding the unicorn in the school. Where the horse comes from is never explained. Which would be fine, except that it then becomes a plot point — Farkle gives a speech accusing Riley of animal cruelty for keeping a horse in a New York City apartment building, which, I never thought I’d say this, but Farkle is definitely right about that. But then Riley gets up and says that the horse’s greatest dream was to be a unicorn, and she made that dream come true. The class is convinced, and immediately abandons Farkle.
Despite Farkle’s betrayal, and at Lucas’ insistence, Maya promises that she and Riley will not attack Farkle for the rest of the campaign. But that still leaves them open to attack Lucas. Riley and Maya overhear Lucas on the phone with his father, arguing that he should be able to fly back to Texas next weekend to see his friends, because he didn’t want to be in this school to begin with. (Lucas, by the way, had just visited Texas the weekend before. He apparently flies back to Texas on weekends. Like, all the time.) Maya records the conversation, and Lucas gets angry and tells her to do what she wants with it. But on the final day of the election, after the votes have already been counted, Riley and Maya show up with a video of Lucas’ Texas friends endorsing him. Lucas wins, he appoints Farkle his vice president and Maya his secretary of state, and then he gets on the white horse, picks up Riley, and appoints her his princess.
Now, I know that Girl Meets World does ridiculous things sometimes. It inhabits a somewhat ridiculous world, and that’s okay. But there just doesn’t seem to be any sense at all in “Friendship.” For one thing, why does the episode start out being about civic responsibility and good governance (“Every year somebody runs, makes promises, and nobody does anything,” Riley complains) but end up being about friendship? For another, what on earth does a seventh grade class president need a secretary of state for? For a third, what was with the horse?
There’s also a new kid in class (he doesn’t have a name, but in a weird moment of meta-commentary, Riley calls him The Rebel, contrasting him to Lucas’ role as The Moral Compass). He’s in two scenes: One at the beginning where he nominates Farkle for dictator, and one at the end where he explains to Maya what the secretary of state does. Who is The Rebel? Where did he come from? What secrets does he hide beneath his vaguely disaffected expression? These are all things that Girl Meets World probably should have included in “Friendship.” Presumably, The Rebel is being set up to come back in some later episode (possibly as a love interest for Maya, if I’m reading the signs right), but his weird, shoehorned appearance in “Friendship” made it seem like he had literally magically appeared, like some sort of strange fairy godfather.
While “Friendship” had a few good moments scattered throughout, it lacked a throughline — the basic element that turns a series of events into a story. An example of what I mean: When Farkle gives his speech about animal cruelty, he shows a picture of the horse in Riley’s apartment. Riley is outraged: “You told me you were just going to take a picture of the horse!” But although we saw a scene in which Riley and Maya took care of the horse in Riley’s bedroom, we never saw Farkle there. This is storytelling 101: Show, don’t tell. If it’s important to your story that Farkle lied to Riley about taking the picture, we should probably get to see Farkle lying to Riley.
If “Friendship” was meant to be a story about friendship, it needed to be about that all the way through; it needed to ditch the horse and The Rebel and the princess/dictator thing and focus on the interactions between the characters, the betrayals and counter-betrayals that make up a contentious election. Or, if it was meant to be a story about good governance and the difficulty of keeping campaign promises (a much more interesting theme, I think), it needed to commit to that fully. Either way, though, it needed more explanation, more internal logic, and more sense.
No, But Seriously, There Are Good Things About This Show
Well, I guess I liked that this episode kind of codified Maya’s ongoing attempt to needle Lucas into a reaction. And there’s definitely the seeds of a decent episode in this — I mean, it’s basically an episode about Maya functioning as Riley’s super PAC, which should be awesome. It just wasn’t followed through. Also, one of Lucas’ Texas friends looked almost exactly like a tiny Jared Padalecki, which was pretty fun.
How Cory Matthews Failed as a Teacher This Week
I mean, he pretty much failed at running the student council election, but he’s had way worse weeks.
This Week’s Blackboard: “DEMOCRACY”
Meanwhile, 21 Years Ago…
Season one, episode 14 — “The B-Team of Life.” Originally aired January 14, 1994. Cory’s disappointment when he’s relegated to second string on the basketball team is compounded by the feeling that even his family doesn’t consider him a priority. This is pretty much bog-standard season one Boy Meets World: an uncontroversial theme executed competently, with a lot of sweetness and a lot of sarcasm. Seriously, middle child syndrome may be a pretty simple theme, but the one-liners were excellent in this episode. “My family’s finally there for me. I need to be there for me for them!” Also, I was struck by the scene where Amy and Alan discuss their parenting strategies entirely in basketball metaphors. First of all, it was just really well written, but second, it was kind of nice to see a shared interest between the two of them, and a half-hour family sitcom wife with a serious interest in sports.