By: Madelyn Glymour, Contributor
Reviewing a show aimed at 10-year-olds is hard–reviewing one that’s a sequel to a show you watched when you were 10, doubly so. There are definitely elements of GIRL MEETS WORLD’s self-titled pilot that don’t work for me as an adult TV viewer, but that will work for the show’s target audience. This is not “Adventure Time,” and it’s not “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” The pilot, at least, seems squarely aimed at Disney Channel’s standard viewer, and isn’t interested in the periphery demographic of people tuning in to catch up with their old fictional friends.
But even taking into account the differences between what I expect out of a show and what a fifth-grader does, there’s a lot about “Girl Meets World” that doesn’t work. First of all, and most gratingly, there’s Farkle (“Girl Meets World’s” answer to Minkus, played by Corey Fogelmanis), who gets one decent gag, but mostly takes up a lot of screentime with uninteresting riffs on the same unfunny joke. The show also can’t quite figure out whether it wants Cory to be over-the-top funny and neurotic, or a reasonably wise authority figure in the vein of Mr. Feeny. It ends up splitting the difference, and mostly finding the worst of both worlds. Danielle Fishel is criminally underused, and Riley’s little brother Auggie (August Maturo), who is genuinely adorable in his only scene, never manages to actually affect the plot in any way.
But the worst thing about the pilot is how confused it is. The basic premise is that Riley (Rowan Blanchard) wants to be just like her friend Maya (Sabrina Carpenter) and needs to learn to appreciate and stick up for who she really is, and make the world her own. That’s a perfectly fine, traditional kids show theme. But the climax of the episode happens when Riley, fearing that her father will force her and Maya to stop being friends, refuses to give in, and instead sticks up for Maya. There are a lot of problems with this conclusion–for one thing, Cory never actually handed down that edict, and I don’t believe that he ever would have–but the biggest one is that it’s completely unconnected to the main theme of the episode up to that point. For 20 minutes, “Girl Meets World” absolutely hammers in the idea that Maya and Riley are different, and that’s okay. So why, in the end, is the climactic moment about something else entirely? I suppose it fits into the theme of fighting for things, and making the world your own, but again, no one ever actually tried to make Maya and Riley stop being friends.
What “Girl Meets World” is missing is what a lot of kids’ TV seems to be missing these days: trust. “Girl Meets World” beats you over the head with its humor, its themes, and its characterization, so much so that it doesn’t have time to introduce much depth to any of them. I know it’s a kid’s show, but it doesn’t have to be that way. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” trusts kids to laugh at something that isn’t overt slapstick, to understand a reasonably complex theme, to get attached to a nuanced character. So does “Adventure Time.” So did “Boy Meets World.” So why doesn’t “Girl Meets World?”
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m completely pessimistic about the show. There were genuinely funny, even genuinely touching moments in the pilot, and the performances of the children were quite good, especially Sabrina Carpenter as Maya. When the show first announced its characters, it was clear from the descriptions that Maya was sort of the “new Shawn,” and I was skeptical that “Girl Meets World” could pull that character off. But Carpenter brings charm and assurance and a little pathos to Maya; she’s easily the best part of the episode.
Pilot episodes are often some of the most mediocre in any series, and it’s not really surprising that “Girl Meets World” stumbled out of the gate, especially considering the complexity of its task. It had to create a show to cater to today’s children and today’s TV landscape, using characters created for a show on a different network 2o years ago. Hopefully, in future episodes, it’ll grow into itself, and get a sense of what distinguishes it from its parent show–and from the rest of the Disney Channel lineup.
Meanwhile, 21 Years Ago…
In the pilot of “Boy Meets World,” (originally aired September 24, 1993) Cory swears off love after his older brother Eric breaks their tradition of seeing Phillies games together, and takes a girl instead. Fortunately, Mr. Feeny sets Cory straight, with an incredibly engaging speech about how 11 years old is a little early to be jaded enough to swear off love. (I always forget how magnetic William Daniels was on “Boy Meets World.”) I was struck by just how much this episode managed to fit into 23 minutes. As with any pilot, it had a lot of groundwork to do, but every major character (save Shawn and Minkus, who weren’t big presences in the pilot) got a personality, a problem, and a resolution. Even Cory’s little sister Morgan had a tiny little arc. All that, and it was funny!