Tweetable Takeaway: Girl Meets World tries to make the “Treehouse of Terror” model heartwarming, with mixed results.
Airtime: Thursday at 8:30 on The Disney Channel
By: Madelyn Glymour, Contributor
There’s nothing really wrong with “Girl Meets World: Of Terror.” In fact, in comparison to some of GIRL MEETS WORLD’s least successful episodes, there’s quite a bit right with it. The episode is Girl Meets Worlds‘ Halloween special, part of the Disney Channel’s Monstober programming. As the title suggests, it’s kind of this show’s version of The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Terror,” an anthology episode that tells three (mostly) self-contained stories focusing on three different characters. Unlike “Treehouse of Terror,” though, the stories all take place within the same continuity (although they almost certainly don’t take place within the show’s continuity), and unlike “Treehouse of Terror,” there’s no attempt to be in any way scary.
Where many shows would take a Halloween special as an opportunity to be ghoulish and spooky, Girl Meets World, characteristically, took a more heartwarming approach. Each story showed a character facing a mundane fear. In the first, Farkle takes a turn at bat in gym class softball, despite his fear of getting hit by the ball; in the second, Maya and Cory coerce Riley into braving a sleepover at Maya’s place without calling her dad to pick her up; in the third, Auggie meets the monster under his bed and discovers that he’s not so scary under all.
As you can see, one of these things is not like the other. So although it was chronologically last, let’s start with what is certainly the episode’s oddest story — Auggie and his monster. The basic plot goes like this: Cory and Topanga insist that Auggie try sleeping in his own room for a change, to get over his fear of the monster under his bed. When they’ve gone, Auggie discovers there really is a monster under under his bed, but the monster is an adorably furry little boy who is as scared as Auggie as Auggie is of him. (The monster calls Auggie “the monster on top of my bed,” which is cute.) The two make friends, and then the monster leaves, because monsters aren’t allowed to have friends. Despite the completely nonsensical ending — I think it was a metaphor for growing up, but what did growing up have to do with anything? — it’s a nice enough story. The moral is pretty clear (“Don’t fear things just because you don’t know them yet”), and it’s a good one.
No, the really odd thing about Auggie’s story is its focus. Though Girl Meets World has a five-year-old character, it’s never struck me as a show for five-year-olds. The issues the show deals with generally seem more targeted at eight- to nine-year-olds; even Auggie’s storylines have been weirdly romance-focused. And indeed, the two other feels “World of Terror” deals with are age-appropriate for kids in late elementary and early middle school. But tonight’s Auggie story, and his fear, seem directed at a much younger audience.
As for the other two stories, the Riley one is more enjoyable, but the Farkle one is stronger structurally. Farkle tries to avoid gym class; goes to gym class and has to bat in softball; tries to psych Maya out so she’ll pitch balls and he can walk without getting hit; is hit with a softball by Lucas; and realizes his fear wasn’t so scary after all. It runs into the common Girl Meets World problem of passivity on the part of the central character — Farkle never makes a choice on his own, but is forced into them by others — but in an eight-minute short, that’s less bothersome than in a full episode. The problem is clear, and so is the method of overcoming it.
The same can’t quite be said of Riley’s story. I think a fear of staying over at someone else’s house is a fairly common one among kids (I was never afraid, but I’m sure others were), but Riley’s fear seems to be specifically rooted in Maya’s neighborhood, something that only becomes clear about 3/4 of the way through the story. Then Riley gets over her fear by really looking at the neighborhood, appreciating it for its beauty and its uniqueness, and understanding that it isn’t scary just because it’s different. The problem is, we never see Maya’s neighborhood. Girl Meets World is shot entirely on a studio stage, so there are no outdoor scenes. It’s the ultimate example of “show, don’t tell”; if we can’t appreciate Maya’s neighborhood, it’s hard to appreciate Riley’s reaction to it.
Despite my quibbles, all three stories that make up “World of Terror” are fairly sound. But that’s really the best that can be said of the stories themselves. They’re not great, they’re not terrible, they’re just good enough. As always, it’s in the details that Girl Meets World is really enjoyable. The sight gags, the offhand remarks, the occasionally truly funny line — these are the moments that make me want to like Girl Meets World, the ones that make me see traces of its parent show in it. There were actually a lot of those this week. The four kids were in themed costumes that I think were meant to be steampunk, which is kind of glorious, especially since no one ever explained or in any way commented on them. Riley and Maya have a running gag in which they silently try to stick the other with the pillow on which Maya’s ferret has peed. There’s an Alfred Hitchcock Presents reference where Auggie, who is hosting the episode, steps on-screen into Hitchcock’s silhouette. Charlotte freaking Rae cameos as Maya’s grandmother.
These are all wonderful, slightly off-the-wall things, and I wish there were more of them, in this and every episode. I wish they made up more of the meat and bones of the show, because it’s in these moments that Girl Meets World establishes an actual personality beyond “Disney Channel show.” Obviously it is a Disney Channel show, and it’s going to look and act like one, but there’s room to maneuver within that framework, and Girl Meets World needs to take advantage of it.
Meanwhile, 21 Years Ago…
Season one, episode 11 – “The Father/Son Game.” Originally aired December 17, 1993. Cory and Eric don’t want to give up their Saturday for a father/son baseball game that their father is very excited about, so Alan pretends the game was canceled. When Cory and Eric realize what’s happened, they feel terrible and try to make amends. This may be the only Boy Meets World episode in existence that I have political issues with. The episode uses a debate Cory and Topanga have in class about whether or not you should have to say the pledge of allegiance in school as a parallel to Cory’s issues with his father. Cory initially says that you should have to say the pledge of allegiance because doing so makes everyone happy; he ends up refining his position to say that everyone should have to say the pledge of allegiance because it’s a tradition, and when you have allegiance to something (like your father, for instance), you should respect its traditions. I’m not going to get into a political rant here, but I think it’s safe to say that there are obvious differences between doing something because it will make an important person with whom you have a relationship happy, and doing something because some amorphous arbiter of patriotic spirit wants you to. Your father has a legitimate interest in what you say and do; the American flag does not. More importantly, though, the moral of the episode isn’t about respecting tradition; it’s about making small sacrifices in order to make people you love happy, which is actually way more in line with Cory’s original position. It’s just a weird parallel, is all I’m saying. Anyway, subplot quibbles aside, it was a sweet episode that told the kind of story season one Boy Meets World did best — father/son relationship issues — so it’s all right by me.