I almost never have to put aside my inner Boy Meets World fangirl in order to write these reviews. Last week’s episode aside, there’s just not all that much fanservice; while there are definitely occasional references, and they’re very much appreciated, the vast majority of Girl Meets World just isn’t targeted at its predecessor’s audience.
This week, though. Oh, this week will be hard. Because like any good 90s child, I love Shawn Hunter, floppy hair, angsty poetry, and all. He and his numerous issues were like some glorious creeping vine that gradually grew into every nook and cranny of Boy Meets World, taking root and blossoming huge, beautiful flowers of pure melodrama. Not content with one show, he’s now reaching tendrils into Girl Meets World. And I love it. There’s nothing this show could do that could make me not love Shawn showing up, joking around with Cory, and then immediately derailing the entire episode to deal with his feelings.
That’s probably a good thing, because speaking as a critic and not as a currently dying fangirl, there wasn’t a whole lot else going on. Girl Meets World often has problems building up tension, establishing stakes, and providing consequences, but there is usually at least a shadow of a plot to hold together the monologues and the life lessons. But all anyone does in “Girl Meets Home for the Holidays” is talk. Seriously, that’s it. Cory talks about how excited he is for Shawn’s visit. Riley talks about how Shawn doesn’t like her. Maya talks to Shawn about how he should be nicer to Riley. Shawn talks to Riley and Maya about how he actually loves Riley. Shawn talks to Cory about how he left to give Cory time with his family, and how he wants a family of his own. Riley makes Shawn and Maya talk about their eerily similar dysfunctional childhoods. (Who says unhappy families can’t be alike, Tolstoy?) Cory talks to Topanga about how much he loves her. Shawn talks to Riley and Maya about visiting upstate New York. Curtains.
Strictly speaking, there is a plot, I guess, in the sense that character growth occurs. By the end of the episode, Shawn has had an epiphany that he wants to stay in these people’s lives. (Shawn has had this epiphany at least three times before, by the way.) But it’s like Girl Meets World as one-act play; it’s just people sitting in a room talking their little hearts out. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you’re watching 12 Angry Men or A Number or Clybourne Park, but Girl Meets World is none of those things, and it doesn’t have the dialogue or the thematic complexity necessary to make that kind of story work.
What it does have, though, is a ton of good will, a great deal of enthusiasm, and Boy and Girl Meets World‘s most charismatic characters center stage. So it’s easy to forgive “Home for the Holidays” its heavy-handedness, its straight-up weirdness, its relative lack of plot, because it just can’t help but be enjoyable. So what if Riley playing matchmaker and setting up Shawn and Maya as a father-daughter pair is incredibly sudden and a little absurd? Isn’t it something that we want to see? I mean, Shawn gets to try his hand at being Mr. Turner; doesn’t it kind of make sense? And who cares that Riley seems to gain the perspective and people-reading abilities of a particularly wise 30-year-old in the middle of the episode for no reason? It’s not really an episode about Riley, anyway, it’s about Shawn and to a lesser extent Maya, and isn’t that what we wanted? (I assume that’s what you wanted. It’s really the only correct thing to want.)
It sounds like I’m giving backhanded compliments, and I sort of am, but I also really mean it. “Home for the Holidays” is the kind of episode that makes me want to forget about being critical for a little while and just enjoy the fact that I have these characters back on my TV screen. It’s imperfect, deeply so, but I don’t want to pick it apart, I don’t want to focus on its flaws, I just want to let it make me feel warm and nostalgic and a little mad with laughter at the idea of Shawn as a father figure.
– I will say, they haven’t forgotten how to write Shawn, at least in the broad strokes. He’s a little older now, a little quieter, but he’s still Shawn “Why Face Your Problems When You Can Run Away” Hunter. He’s a travel writer. God, of course he is.
– In the approximately thirty seconds of this episode that weren’t about Shawn, Topanga worried that Amy wasn’t going to like the way she threw the holiday party, and Joshua walked around with Auggie on his shoulders. The Topanga and Amy plotline comprised about ten total lines of dialogue, was resolved before the episode’s halfway point, and didn’t seem particularly in-character for either of them; I’m honestly not quite sure why they even bothered to put it in.
– Maya having crush on Joshua disturbed me for reasons I can’t even begin to parse.
– Obviously Shawn was the big cameo in this episode (his entrance was accompanied by a solid twenty seconds of cheering), but I hadn’t realized how much I missed Cory’s parents until I heard Alan’s voice over the speaker box. I wish they’d gotten better things to do.
– I know “Home for the Holidays” beat this point into the ground and then some, but I really can’t stress enough how literally I mean it when I say that Shawn and Maya are the same exact person.
– “Dad was in and out, Mom took off” is such an incredible understatement of the craziness Shawn’s family put him through.
– Which is your favorite Shawn-angst-takes-over-the-show episode? “Santa’s Little Helper”? “This Little Piggy”? “The Eskimo”? “Poetic License: An Ode to Holden Caulfield”? “And Then There Was Shawn”? That one where he joins a cult and Mr. Turner gets in a motorcycle accident and we never see what happens to him?
– Word from the writer’s room is that Eric and Mr. Feeny are making major appearances next season, and that Shawn will appear in at least two more episodes (in addition to a planned appearance in the season one finale). Thank you, Girl Meets World, this is all I ever really wanted from you. This and an Adam Scott cameo. You are working on getting Adam Scott, right?
– Oh my god, Farkle still found his way into the episode. I’m going to scream.
– “You want comfort or truth?” “Comfort.” “It’s gonna be hideous.”
– “Shawn?” “Maya!” “Shawn?” See, I’m not the only one who has trouble telling them apart.
– “Let me explain how a speaker box works.”
– “I’m gonna say ‘yeah’ last, okay?”
– “You’re Cory with Topanga’s hair!”
Meanwhile, 21 Years Ago…
Season one, episode 16 — “Risky Business.” Originally aired February 11, 1994. Cory and Shawn win big betting on horses, but when Cory leaves Morgan home alone while babysitting, he learns that some risks just aren’t worth it. You guys, we were one episode away from this being the cherry bomb episode. Wouldn’t that have been perfect? And this is only one episode off from last week’s “first time babysitting” episode, too! Anyway, “Risky Business” is a sweet little episode (seriously, Lily Nicksay may have been the most adorable child in existence) with a lesson that it’s hard to argue with and an actually pretty unpredictable structure; the episode turns on theme, not plot, so instead of getting a story where Cory and Shawn win big and then gamble their money away (or similar rise and fall), they actually keep their money, and Cory learns his lesson in a tangential plotline. Also, oh man, I’d forgotten Cory and Shawn’s handshake/dance. How could they possibly have failed to bring that back for “Home for the Holidays”?