Tuesday, January 31, 2017
#5. Alan Matthews
Played By: William Russ (1993-2000, 2014, 2017)
Episode Count: 132 (130- BMW, 2- GMW)
Role: Matthews family patriarch
Signature Episodes: On the Fence, Father Knows Less, The Father/Son Game, Kid Gloves, Career Day, Stormy Weather, You Can Go Home Again, I Ain't Gonna Spray Lettuce No More, Wheels, Security Guy, Raging Cory, Better than the Average Cory, Cutting the Cord, The Honeymoon is Over, Pickett Fences, I'm Gonna Be Like You Dad
Where to even start? Genius though my other posts undoubtedly were, I must confess I never really gave them all that much though. We gave the rankings themselves plenty of thought, and ample discussion, so I basically just kind of restated my explanations and reasonings and could crack them out in 10-15 minutes. But now we're looking at the Big Five, not just the greatest five characters in the Meets World universe, but also the five who mean the most to me. They're great for so many reasons, with so many examples I could share, that I confess I'm a little intimidated for the three it's my responsibility to write about. Especially since, as in the case of Alan, I'm also tasked with explaining why I didn't rank him higher.
Sean and I have both waxed endlessly about how Alan is the perfect TV dad. He existed in the age of '90s sitcom dads in which all fathers were some degree of oafish. Benign idiots (usually fat, but with far hotter wives) who were prone to laziness, comical pratfalls and bad, out-of-touch advice. If there's any competent help or advice to come from the parents in these shows, it generally comes from the mother. I've read articles on this phenomenon in the past, and most sources seem to point to Homer Simpson as who really popularized this trope, but from Al Bundy to Danny Tanner to Tim Taylor to Carl Winslow it really affects just about everyone. It didn't use to be the way the world worked, TV fathers of the '60s, '70s, and early '80s were often almost preternaturally wise, and it's thought that the instinct to avert that trope caused another one to come to light.
Whatever the genesis of it, Alan Matthews isn't having any of that. Alan feels like a real dad, he works hard, he gives great advice, he cares deeply for his children, and he scares the shit out of them when they're in trouble. He's not perfect, by any means. He makes mistakes and his first instinct isn't always correct. Sometimes he even mistreats his children and needs to be told by Amy or even them that he's doing so. But he always means well, and if he does screw up, he corrects it right away. Sure, he's sometimes a little oafish, and sometimes a little out-of-touch. Dads are like that sometimes. But I don't know any fathers who are defined by that. Mine certainly wasn't. My father (and I think most) chart a course like Alan does: day-to-day he's less likely to nag you about little things like picking up your room or doing your homework, but if you really get in trouble, he's who you have to deal with, and you're not going to like it. That was exactly the dynamic Alan had with Eric and Cory, and it really felt true. Sean's fond of Eric's quote from "Uncle Daddy": "You think he likes yelling at us all the time? He doesn't. He hates it." and it is a good one. But another part I like from that episode is the little B-Story he has with Cory, because it feels really real. Cory gets in trouble for Alan running out of gas because he didn't fill up the tank. Later, the reverse happens, Alan forgot to fill up the gas tank and Cory ran out of gas. When Cory complains about the hypocrisy (a valid complaint) is Alan embarrassed? Contrite? Does he resolve never to punish Cory like that again like Danny Tanner probably would have? No. He gives a mocking apology and eventually gets annoyed that Cory's even complaining about this. And that also feels like a real dad thing to do, even if it's annoying. By show of hands, how many of you ever tried to point out how it's unfair that your parent doesn't get in trouble for something you get in trouble for? And how many ever got anywhere with that argument?
And because William Russ is a trained actor, not a stand-up comedian turned actor like most TV sitcom dads of the era, he feels that much more like a real guy. There's a salt-of-the-earth nature to his performance, where I just really believe this is a real guy, more than perhaps everyone else. For a sitcom dad (particularly on a sitcom that focused primarily on the children, as opposed to something like Home Improvement or Everybody Loves Raymond that focused more on the adults) he has a remarkably rich backstory. He grew up poor and was in trouble a lot, much like Shawn, and given the time period never wound up going to college, instead going to the Navy where he was an amateur boxer. After he got out of the navy, he had big dreams, but wound up starting a family fairly young, taking a job at a grocery store to make ends meet, and somehow time got away from him and it took him until his 40s to figure out what those dreams were. It's a beautifully real backstory, and helps us truly feel like I know him.
And because we know him so well, it breaks our heart in episodes where unthinkingly selfish Cory and Eric do things that make him feel like he's not good enough. When I see him watch home videos of Cory after they've fought, or when Cory tells his father he's not special because of him, or when they blow off the baseball game he's all excited for, I absolutely ache for him. Especially for him. When Cory or Eric get upset, they're going to cry and moan and tell you how upset they are. But Alan's a grown-up from a different generation, and he doesn't get to do it. Instead he suffers silently and stoically, and it's so compelling because of William Russ. Conversely, when he tells Eric and Cory that he's proud of them, it feels so real that, by God, you feel like you you did something. I feel, without a doubt, he's the best actor on this show - and this is a show with William Daniels on it.
What I find just as compelling is the wonderful specificity of his relationships with his very different sons. Most TV fathers treat all their children the same, and treating children equally is generally seen as the "right" thing to do. But parents are human, and can't do that. And, anyway, Eric and Cory (and I know Alan has two other children, but obviously his relationships with them were far less focused on) are very different and act differently. He's more of a buddy to Eric, who like him is a bit more outdoorsy than Cory and is also, let's face it, more fun, and thus they're generally closer. But he also has trouble taking Eric seriously and can't quite shake the perception that he can't take care of himself and needs Alan to take care of things for him. His relationship with Cory is very different, maybe because he was older and more grown up when he was born. They're also close but he's Cory's father first and his buddy second. And because Cory is a bit more independent than Eric, and more introspective and questioning about things, he also feels more comfortable challenging him and fighting with him if he needs to. This naturally lead to one son who took far too long to grow up and another who grew up maybe even too fast. The complexity of this dynamic, and the way Alan comes to terms with it, is fascinating. This is in stark contrast to Amy, who's generally just.... nice, happy, wise mom to everyone and in equal measures (well, until she starts despising Eric, but let's ignore that...)
I don't know, I could go on, but I don't think I need to. Alan is a really, really great character, and an amazingly real look at your average middle-class father. So, why isn't Alan higher? The obvious reasons, I guess. I mean, if you look at the predictions everyone made for Alan in the top 5, pretty much everyone had him last too. He's just not as important as the other four. He's got a lot a wealth of great episodes that I listed as his signatures, but in most of the rest he generally isn't given all that much to do. He's amazingly impactful to Cory and Eric (and Shawn, who I realize I didn't talk as much about, but their relationship, the level of inherent understanding between them, and the fierceness with which Alan comes to Shawn's defense when need be is fantastic) but Feeny has just as much of an impact on Cory, arguably even more on Eric and Shawn, and also inspires every other character on the show too, including Alan himself. And while he grows and changes a lot more than a lot of other characters in the show (particularly among the adults) he just.... obviously doesn't as much as Cory, Eric, and Shawn do. They're who the show's about.
And then there's Girl Meets World where he's barely seen and contributes absolutely nothing of value. So, it kind of becomes a no-brainer. But considering how poorly he's utilized in GMW (far less than randoms like Minkus and Harley, which is really pretty unconscionable) , it just goes to show you what a momentous force he is in the original series.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
#6. Riley Matthews
Played By: Rowan Blanchard (2014-2017)
Episode Count: 72
Role: Titular 'Girl', Cory and Topanga's daughter
Signature Episodes: Girl Meets World, Girl Meets First Date, Girl Meets the New World, Girl Meets Yearbook, Girl Meets Semi-Formal, Girl Meets Rileytown, Girl Meets Rah Rah, Girl Meets New Year, Girl Meets Jexica, Girl Meets the Real World
Riley is by no means a perfect character. It seems like a lot of you guys thought she might be lower ranked than this, and in particular, most seemed to think Maya would be ranked higher. I definitely don't think this should be, and it's for a few reasons. One, importance. There's a whole show about her. Maybe it wasn't always successful in the way she's depicted, but she's still focused on so much that by default she winds up mattering a great deal, and at the end of the day, she's become the new character on GMW that I care the most about.
Another is individuality, while Maya is essentially a Shawn a clone, Riley is really her own thing. She has some traits she inherited from both her parents, but her core identity - the optimism, the cheeriness, the sunshine-and-rainbows goofiness is unique to every character in the Meets World universe besides one-shot Corinna like Sean mentioned. In the comments, it was mentioned that she was meant to be the Cory, and I agree she was probably meant to be that, but on the strength of Rowan's performance it became something new. Cory's nothing like Riley. Eric's more like Riley than Cory is, as Sean and I have mentioned a lot. Cory's signature trait is neuroses, he's always freaking out because he thinks the world's falling apart, he's upset and anxious about everything. This is the exact opposite of Riley. But she did inherit the trend to micro-manage her friend's lives to keep everything perfect from him. And she inherited a tendency to work really hard in school and dominate her problems with sheer personality from Topanga. But in someways she's her own beast. And I really like that about her. I like that we're seeing someone new tackle these problems. In the first episodes, she is written a bit more like a girl Cory, but I think the writers learned quickly what Rowan's strengths were as an actress, and that they were different from Ben Savage's. Rowan's funniest when she's happy, Ben's funniest when he's not. And they worked with it and built a character it was great to spend time with.
Her strength as a comedian brings me to her last trait. Pound for pound, Riley is the funniest character in Girl Meets World, and this is a sitcom. Eric is her only competition, in that he's got the best humor-per-line rate, but he doesn't have a lot of lines. Maya's funny too, but Sabrina's main gifts were in dramatic stuff. Farkle and Lucas are rarely funny. Zay's great, and funny too, but no way he did he make me laugh anywhere near as often. Riley is legitimately hilarious a lot, and I'm sure if the MVP awards are totaled (and they will be) that Rowan has the most handily. She's just good, a lot. Her development isn't always great, but she's almost always enjoyable anyways and, unlike Maya, she doesn't just feel like she's doing a not-as-compelling version of someone else's story.
There, of course, things to quibble about with her. I would have liked to explore her interests more, and they dropped the ball with her and romance entirely. But all in all Riley anchors this show, and for the most part, as an anchor, she works. And that was a tall order, and one I was skeptical about. Riley proved me wrong. She's getting a lot of leeway here for being the only central character of a show in the franchise besides Cory, and while great, she's not exceptional in a way that would allow her to pass up the epic supporting characters who will rank ahead of her, but all in all Riley works and of all the problems GMW had, Riley being who they had to center their show around was never one of them.
I'd like to add on that one of my biggest early problems with Riley was that she wouldn't be able to function without Maya. Like her day to day life would completely fall apart if Maya weren't supporting her and giving her an outlet for her endless energy. World of Terror 3 is a standout episode for me because it proved that wrong. Riley turned out to be headstrong and confident and independent all on her own, and that really made me think about her differently.
5 characters left. THE TOP 5! Look, you know who they are, we know who they are. It's Alan, Cory, Eric, Feeny, Shawn (listed here in alphabetical order)... but what will the order be? FINAL PREDICTIONS PEOPLE!
#7. Topanga Lawrence
Played By: Danielle Fishel, (1993-2000, 2014-2017)
Episode Count: 213 (143- BMW, 70- GMW)
Role: Cory's long term girlfriend and wife, Riley's mother, the voice of reason
Signature Episodes: Cory's Alternative Friends, Wake Up Little Cory, Hair Today Goon Tomorrow, A Long Walk to Pittsburgh 1&2, A Very Topanga Christmas, Torn Between Two Lovers, Starry Night, Graduation, Resurrection, It's About Time, The Provider, (Girl Meets) Popular, Her Monster, Goodbye
What's always impressed me about Topanga is the balance of her character. It would have been easy to write Topanga as a wacky caricature in season one, but she consistently balances her weirdness with intelligent level headedness. Cory's Alternative Friends is the obvious example, but I want to look at one line in particular. After performing Donut In The Sky, Cory asks Topanga if she's going to be "one of those girls that doesn't shave her legs." The easy caricature answer is some throwaway line about why she won't shave her legs, but instead she says "I haven't decided yet." I love that line. In a great scene in a great episode, that is my favorite line. Because remember, this is Topanga's first episode. We're not sure what to make of her yet. And that line tells us hey, she's not a cut and paste archetype. She's not making her decisions based on some subscribed ideology. She thinks things through, in contrast with Cory and Shawn, but we also see how well she works with them in episodes like Model Family and Boy Meets Girl.
Season one Topanga worked way better than it had any right to. A big part of that was that balance, but also the small dose size. She's in most of the episodes, but only contributes to the story in a handful of them. The "trio" isn't really a thing yet. So for season 2, I imagine it was similar to dealing with Minkus, where they knew they couldn't keep it up, and resolved to make her more normal to integrate with Shawn and Cory. Still though, season 2 has her in a strange place. Cory wants to be a player like Shawn, and there's valuable character development in Cory spending time with all these different kinds of girls. At the same time, the writers knew they wanted to pair the two eventually, so we end up with an interesting division of episodes. The majority are about Cory dealing with the ins and outs of dating, like The Beard, Wendy's episodes, etc, there's some other girl. But when it's actually about a real emotional connection, that is, Wake Up Little Cory and Fear Strikes Out, we get Topanga. And that was really smart, because neither of those episodes would work with a one-off girl, so it was good to have this static role of someone Cory is becoming attached to. Turnaround actually managed to do both of those. Cory wanted to go with Topanga, but she not only thinks that a turnaround dance is "destructive gender biased thinking," she's also going to New York for Christmas shopping (another BRILLIANT display of her character's balance), so Cory ends up with a one-off girl dealing with dating stuff. I have to pay special mention to Wake Up Little Cory real quick, in which Topanga displays an IMPRESSIVE amount of strength and really showcases her commanding personality. (For further reading, I recommend my review of that episode here) By the time of Girl Meets World, that commanding side of her is mostly a punchline, and that's endlessly frustrating.
In season 3 she's Cory's girlfriend. She's a reason to tell stories where Cory doesn't have to worry about girls so much. That's about it, but the "trio" is becoming more solid with Topanga as the smart one, the safety net, and the voice of reason. Season 4 has a lot of "being Cory's girlfriend," but there's plenty more to love. Early season 4 has the fantastic Hair Today Goon Tomorrow, another INCREDIBLE showcase of her balance. "Looks don't matter, Cory. Except oh crap, they also totally do matter." Then again in Quiz Show, when she starts off as a brainy academic and ultimately finds herself twirling her hair for the camera. It's so great, like, pick a girl on television. Most of the time she'll either check the box on all of "don't have to shave legs, turnaround is stupid, looks don't matter, I want to answer challenging academic questions" or "shave legs, omg Christmas shopping, I want to be pretty, yay I'm on tv." But Topanga skillfully walks the tightrope between these two tired and awful representations of women, and we end up with an awesome, balanced, believable character. Long Walk to Pittsburgh is far from my favorite for her character, but it's a cataclysmic event for the overall story, once again fueled by her own independent decision. So that's good.
It slows down after that. In Season 5 her relationship with Cory is something for Shawn and Angela to look at from the outside, and Angela doesn't give Topanga much to play off of as a friend. Then A Very Topanga Christmas paints her commanding personality as an annoyance instead of a strength, and yeah, I see the value in looking at that trait from both sides. But the episode's only function is to make me frustrated with a main character, and not in a meaningful way like when I'm frustrated with Shawn, because there's no growth. Then the breakup arc makes things worse because Lauren is so likeable and Topanga is made to look like the bad guy even though she's really not, and her big resolution episode in Starry Night just isn't any good. She gets into Yale, which presents a compelling conflict for our heroes, but then she... proposes during the graduating ceremony... That's always been the most unrealistic moment of her relationship with Cory, I don't like it. Prom-ises Prom-ises is great for her though. This is a respectable teenage girl who enthusiastically wants to get freaky with her boyfriend. In the 90's! You'd almost think that wasn't allowed on TV back then. It's another moment on the long list of standout progressivism on this show, and it's an especially nice memory with what's to come.
The last two seasons aren't good for Topanga. She wants to get married, then she doesn't. Thanks for wasting my time. And suddenly, she's adamantly abstinent. She and Cory were a layer of fabric away from sex in Prom-ises, what the hell happened? It doesn't match up with anything we've ever seen from her. And look, I could live with it in the background, but it's a relentless, un-funny punchline, and I don't think any single viewer appreciated it. At the very least, we get a dose of balance when Cory convinces her of the tradeoffs between sharing their lives and physical intimacy in The Truth About Honesty. And that's a good lesson, I just don't like how we got there. She revives weird Topanga in Resurrection, and that's great, but we never see it again before Girl Meets World. Then State of the Unions lights a powder keg under everything. We have to deal with another breakup arc, and this one is even more unbearable. Topanga's completely unreasonable, it's so annoying and we have zero empathy for her nonsense reasoning, unlike in the Lauren arc, where she had a good reason to be upset. They get married, they go on a honeymoon, where Topanga mentions she "wore out" Cory the night before, which, refreshingly, does sound like the awesome Topanga of earlier seasons. But that's about it for season 7, other than her internship moving them to New York and effectively ending the series.
Girl Meets World is not impressive for Topanga, but it's better than seasons 6 and 7 of BMW. Meets Popular was good and did a lot of things right for Topanga that are pretty much never done again (I'll defer you to my recent revisit post for that episode). After that episode she's mostly the babysitter for Auggie and Ava, which is a tragic disappointment. Her main contribution to the show's humor is to glare at Cory so Cory can say "Golly isn't your mom scary and stuff" and then the audience laughs. It's seriously depressing. Her strength shouldn't be a punchline. I can't stress that enough. We got a second big Topanga episode in Meets Her Monster, which was a fantastic episode where we finally see her as a real mother and not Auggie's babysitter, but at episode 3.16 it's pretty late in the game for me start caring about her relationship with Riley. And of course she once again has the honors of kicking off the series-ending story, but that was, sadly, always more about Riley and Maya than Topanga.
It's an honest shame what they did to Topanga. After seasons 6 and 7, I just did not care about Topanga going into Girl Meets World, and seeing her relegated to boring B and C stories almost every episode did not help. But then Meets Her Monster happened, and I started to remember. I remembered all the good things. I suspect that happened to a lot of people, honestly. The absolute worst arc in Boy Meets World happened because Topanga got sad at her parents divorcing and started being an idiot. It's hard not to get locked into that. But after Meets Her Monster I broke free, and when Christian and I started deciding who would write which post, I knew I had to write for Topanga. She was written brilliantly in seasons one through five. She's in the trio! She's the third to Shawn and Cory! Their safety net, and their voice of reason. If she'd had better treatment in the later seasons and in GMW, I would absolutely see her higher on this list.
#8. Maya Hart
Played By: Sabrina Carpenter (2014-2017)
Episode Count: 72
Role: Riley's best friend
Signature Episodes: (Girl Meets) Father, Maya's Mother, Master Plan, Hurricane, Creativity, Texas 1&2, the Forgiveness Project, Upstate, True Maya, A Christmas Maya
Maya's backstory is basically Shawn's. That level of re-hashing is a storytelling sin (for me, this is a big part of why I don't think she should be ranked any higher, I like Maya, but she's Diet Shawn in a way that Riley isn't), but it is nevertheless a solid start for a character. And the best part of it is that it drives the narrative through all three seasons. Stories are told and characters are developed because of her history, rather than most of the other stories on this show that are told by some isolated decision on an isolated day that never matter again.
Maya had the luxury of being well written during the first season when nothing else was working very well. Cory was at his worst as a teacher, Lucas was nothing, Farkle was a predator, and Riley was basically Corinna from Shallow Boy. She's rebellious, rude, loyal, sarcastic (you know, like an actual teenager) and BY GOLLY she has a hobby right out of the gate, that is, her artistic side becomes relevant all the way back in 1.07. The series is over and I still do not know what Riley likes to do besides go shopping. I spent the entire first season locked onto Maya because we know more about her goals and motivations and off-camera life than any of the other characters. I suppose a contributing factor is that Sabrina Carpenter was leagues ahead of the other kids in the first season, but still.
So she was a show-saving hero in season one. In season 2 she's still a fantastic, witty sidekick for a greatly improved Riley, she's running the parent trap on Shawn, her art has continuity, and her chemistry with Lucas kept heating up. She refuses to forgive her father for leaving in Meets the Forgiveness Project, which is pretty much the best thing you're ever going to get out of Disney Channel. She's perfect in Meets Texas 1, good in Meets Texas 2, part 3 is whatever, and then soon The Triangle starts and everything is ruined. No amount of analysis or headcanon or rationalizing will ever make sense out of Maya's attraction to Lucas being nothing more than the result of her unconsciously pretending to be Riley. I'm angry just from writing that sentence. As you can deduce from this post, Riley is ranked higher than Maya, and if I had to point to a single reason, that would be it. It is so utterly insane and it turned the most (only?) compelling romance on the show into a dumpster fire. By the time the Triangle is finally over, we have no time left for a story. Meets True Maya just returns her to where she started, which is a good place to be, but it makes so much of her season 2 story feel like a waste of time. She still has the plot thread with Shawn, but he marries Katy early in the season and there's nothing left to do except adopt her in the finale. What I'm trying to say is Maya goes back to being the sidekick for Riley in season 3, and don't get me wrong, it works, she's at her best in that role in season 3, but it's still disappointing after all the work we did.
Riley was at her most grating in the first season, and Lucas was at his most pointless, but interacting with Maya made both of those characters far more palatable. And indeed it's these connections that make her so interesting, and even more so as she starts connecting with the Boy Meets World characters. Riley's relationships with Cory, Shawn, and Josh are entirely based on her being Cory's daughter. That's how she fits in to Shawn's life and Josh's life, and we could maybe speculate how she'd interact with Cory if she weren't his daughter. But Maya actually Meets those Worlds from the position of her character and her character's history. We see her forging connections with Cory and Shawn and Josh (for better or worse) and she influences their lives because of who she is as a person. That's a big deal! She's got relationships with the whole Matthews family (except maybe Eric) and Shawn, but more importantly they were shown rather than told. You can picture a scene in your head of Maya interacting with any one of them. With Riley... yeah, she calls them "Uncle Josh" and "Uncle Shawn," but I have no idea who they are to her.
Obviously her greatest contribution was being Riley's super best friend. Forever, thunder and lightning, bay window, always, blah blah yeah, that was the entire show. You get it. You don't need me for that.
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Friday, January 20, 2017
Here we are, guys. The series finale of Girl Meets World. It's fitting, perhaps, that we say goodbye (again) to Cory and the gang on the same day we say goodbye to President Obama. Not sure why it would be fitting. But perhaps it is.
Let's get into it!
Commercial: There's a CGI Descendants TV show? Weird. Dove Cameron reprises her role in voice form. It's weird that it exists. Oh, and there's an actual Descendants 2 coming as well. Back off about the Descendants, Disney. Kristin Chenoweth does not seem to be reprising her role as Maleficent in the sequel, surprising no one. I can't even stomach Once Upon A Time anymore, so I am going to hard pass. That show's still on?
Liked the first scene. "What? You're too far away now" was great and the revelation of Kerri Abelson, the third best friend who moved across the street and was forgotten was good too. And, look, Cory's finally going to tell them about Belgium 1831. Not the most audacious prediction ever made but, still, called it! Kerri Abelson is a hilarious bit to kick things off, and that sort of awareness is sorely missing from this series. That joke feels straight out of Boy Meets World, like oh crap, things go wrong sometimes, our bubble is a lie. So how do we go from "Why do people become friends if it's not forever" in the episode right before this one, to "I don't care, she's gone" (which was hysterical by the way) in the very next one? Michael Jacobs wrote both scripts! Mike, you just wrote the exact opposite of this! And that would be fine if it served these kids a dose of reality, or if anyone at all commented on Riley's total lack of consistency on this. It fuels my hatred of those "always forever" speeches from Riley. That's clearly not who you are, it's not your history, it's not reality. So as a total change of pace from that, yes, I loved the Kerri Abelson bit.
This is ridiculous, but when Lucas suddenly popped up to say "What if we're not ready for this? I'm not ready for this, Riley!" I realized I had completely forgotten about him. Like that he was a character on the show. I was kind of in a "Oh, it's the last episode, soak it all in. Oh, this may be Farkle and Smackle's last bits." and just.... I forgot that Lucas was someone. I was like, "Oh yeah! Lucas." Not sure what it says about Lucas, but.... can't be anything good. But, really, it's just that I don't care about the kids and these non-BMW character scenes are just something to get through. I suppose that sentence just said it all. I'll say it again.
Girl Meets World (2014-2017)
But, really, it's just that I don't care about the kids
and these non-BMW character scenes
are just something to get through.
Yeah, I think we all came into the series with that mindset. It's too bad they weren't able to change our minds. Well, they did for like a second in Charlie Gardener's first episode. Semi-Formal remains the best episode.
Oh, we get some meta commentary with "Sometimes things end before they're supposed to, but we did our best, and we hope you'll remember us fondly." We'll see how it goes!
I almost never watch the opening credits. When it starts playing, I click over and do something else until the theme song ends. I watched it this time, and a lot of the scenes in the new opener (which I've probably watched wayyyyyyyy less than the original one) were brand new to me. I remembered some of them (the direct references to BMW, the one where Farkle pretends like he's going to throw the football and then drops it) but some were new to me somehow.
Okay, so, some other things happen (Hi Ava. Ava does a whole bit with an English accent and boy howdy let me tell you, that is some funny stuff. The audience can't get enough so clearly, I am in the wrong, for I am not laughing. Maya comes to appreciate Farkle's efforts that I brilliantly wrote about in his ranking post and gives him a kiss on the cheek in the middle of class, completely defying any remote attachment to reality.) and then OH MY GOD, ALL THE BOY MEETS WORLD CHARACTERS ARE GATHERED TOGETHER AT CASA MATTHEWS! Blink and you'll miss Minkus and Harley, as it turns out neither has a single line and may as well not even have been there. Which is fine, really, because it's weird that they'd be there. And I don't care that much about them either. 17 and 20? Psh. Let's focus on the Top 10.
Hahah, Eric is looking at Turner for some reason. Everyone was looking toward Shawn and Katy, then everyone looks at Riley when she enters except for Eric, because he thinks everyone is turning to look at him (probably). Talk about blink and you'll miss it. Oh wow, that is great. I wish they'd called that out. Had everyone turn and had Eric be, like, "Yes. Hello. It is I."
Guys, my DELIGHT at everything about Eric's moonwalk to Feeny, I can't even tell you. I had to pause and collect myself. I had to rewatch it a few times. All before he said a word. I was cutely aware this time, in a way that I wasn't when watching the Boy Meets World finale, that this is the last episode of Eric Matthews I'll ever get and I tried to drink it all in. But, like, why are they fighting? And, is that it? It ends like that? Eric and Feeny are not talking to each other? WHY? Come onnnnnnn. Still, I liked it. I'm easy when it comes to them.
Watching Eric moonwalk toward Mister Feeny erased every negative feeling in my life. At a different time in my life, I'd make a gif out of it, but we're all getting old here.
Hey, Shawn and Katy time. Rider gets one last chance to mispronounce "Philadelphia", Maya tries to stop them from rewriting history (You're on the WRONG show, toots.) The Shawn/Turner scene was great. Short and sweet (which is necessary, we only have 25 minutes here) but nice. I'll let Sean handle that, since I expect he has more to say about it. My prediction about Katy being pregnant did not come true, but I believe other people correctly predicted Shawn wanting to adopt Maya, which hadn't really been a plot point that was on my radar but, sure, makes sense. I enjoyed Topanga wanting to bring the subject back around to her. I also got to marvel one last time at just how likable Cheryl Texiera's Katy is.
Yeah I need to get on my soapbox for this one. You may have already noticed my shrine to this moment that I posted today, where comments are disabled because it's bigger than us and should be left alone. By some crazy twist of fate, the character ranking post for Turner managed to line up with the night the world got to see him reunite with Shawn. If you don't know, I initially started Boy Meets World Reviewed because people were arguing over Cult Fiction for all the wrong reasons and I needed to talk about it. Begun by Shawn and Turner, by Shawn and Turner undone. To have some thousand odd people here reading as I come full circle to where I started... I wish I could describe it. Thanks for reading. Sincerely. This is an enormous moment for me, and it makes the entire series and wait and everything worth it. Like Katy says, "Thank you for everything you've done to help make Shawn who he is." I'm finally ready to let go.
The adoption thing is nice, but entirely secondary.
The Morgans! So, like I predicted, their appearance is also brief (though, really, I think they got more focus than everyone but Shawn, Eric, Feeny, and Josh, by virtue of them all getting two scenes rather than one) and entirely about jokes about how there were two of them. What I was NOT expecting was this surreal situation in which they just... both play Morgan. And it's treated maybe that there's only character there, but they're aware that it's two different actresses but maybe the characters aren't (Josh does say "My sister!" looking at them both)? It's weird. I like it and I don't. It's cute, and it's a way to include them both, but I also don't like boiling the character down to just that behind the scenes quirk. Like, I'd have liked to have learned something about what Morgan's actually doing. Still, good to see them. Lily Nicksay is definitely the stand out of the two, makes me wonder what may have been if she'd stuck around. Hope to see more of that actress.
I didn't get much out of the Morgans, I think Christian has always liked the character more than I do, but I loved the idea. There's just no explanation for this, and I'm a big fan of absurdist humor. "So Mike, which one's gonna play Morgan?" "Both." "Yeah bu-" "Both."
There is absolutely no way they could have done it better in my opinion. And I never would have thought of that, so, yeah, the official Sean Seal of Approval on that decision.
Feeny's scene was nice. Don't really have any thoughts. Was nice. Thanks for the lessons, Mr. Feeny.
And the final advice scene (and most effective) is Eric's, which is fitting (especially since Shawn does get to be in that final scene, so he's not shortchanged at all) since the main aspect of Eric this series as held on to has been his idiot savant-like wisdom. Will's hilarious ("I can play Topanga!"/"Go and find your favorite quiet place. Mine is under the ocean.") and imbues Eric with such heart and fun. I think I'll miss you most of all, scarecrow. Still, I wish Eric got a bit more of a goodbye. His impression of Topanga followed by "Perfect!" is one of the funniest jokes in this series. Will is just spectacular. And Rider was talking in an interview recently about how he still can't do a scene with Will because they laugh too much, and specifically mentioned that that's why Shawn and Eric don't interact in this episode. I don't know what more of a goodbye we could have done with Eric since they're still not sure if they're moving yet. I'm really happy with this scene, because it has Eric ending exactly where he wanted to be at the end of Boy. "I'm gonna be a good person, who cares about people." He said that to Feeny, and now he's actually doing it in a Feeny-esque role of giving life advice. That's a home run for me.
The next scene essentially functions as the goodbye for Farkle, Smackle, and Zay. Smackle's bit is cute, though it kind of feels like her goodbye was last week. Riley says "Our circle of friends was never complete until you showed up, Zay." That's the kind of thing that sounds like bullshit when they try to communicate it to people like Jack and Rachel on Boy Meets World, but it sure feels true with Zay. Thanks for everything, Zay! Zay rocks. Go do something where you're a main character, Jazz Jr. Farkle's goodbye is the least interesting of the three, a fitting tribute to how worthless Farkle has been this season. Josh shows up for like ten seconds before his sister bails on him, that's rude. We got to see Riley and Lucas outside, but missed out on Josh and Maya inside. I think a lot of people would have appreciated a final note on that story.
I find Lucas and Riley's goodbye rather interesting. It's treated very much like a breakup scene without, really, any difficult feelings. It's brief, it's sandwiched in between other goodbye, Riley's clearly not all that upset about it. And, jumping ahead, this is really the final Riley and Lucas moment. We later find out that Riley's not leaving and there's no "Oh, yay, we don't have to break up." I kind of take this to mean Lucas and Riley split either way. They both feel ready to move on. I'm really glad you didn't hate this, because I liked it. The dialogue is standard fare, but the tone has an incredible maturity that we have almost never seen in a relationshippy scene on this show. One last time, fuck the Triangle. Jacobs clearly still has the chops for the tone of this dating stuff, I'll always wonder what could have been without Disney.
Oh man! The Bay Window is the NOOK Cory wanted from Season 7! Well, that almost lets the bay window off the hook for all its bullshit. Almost. Somebody around here should have caught that. On the other hand, I love that it caught us off guard. What a fun tie-in.
Farkle erasing "Belgium 1831" one last time because they're not ready/don't have to learn it yet was a fitting coda for... the Belgium 1831 joke.
Okay, that final scene. I don't mind the callbacks to Brave New World, or the flashback, or even Daniel Jacobs' gratuitous cameo as a customer. Oh thaaaaat's what that is. What I don't think is right, despite my fondness for Katy, is her being part of it. This was a moment for Cory, Topanga, Shawn, and Eric. They were the four from that moment. And, like, what is Katy doing quoting dialogue from it? She wasn't there. Katy's an important character, one who deserves a goodbye, but I feel like she got one in her scene with Shawn and Turner. This would have been a nice moment for the main characters from GMW and the main from BMW to share together, but the addition of Katy and the lack of Eric bums me out.
I'll give GMW this. Maybe because it was less obvious, maybe because we didn't see it coming, maybe because of how much Rowan and Sabrina have grown, but their quoting of the dialogue they shared in the pilot together pulled on my heartstrings more than the quoting of lines from Brave New World. I was disrupted by "Big world." "Ours now." because it just doesn't sound like what the show is supposed to be about, it's not yours, you're 15, but it does have that throughline of uncertainty about the future that Meets World thrives on. Although Riley still has to make sure they'll be friends FOREVER, and I just can't believe that she still needs confirmation at this point. Like, it's a thousand times stronger when it's implied and taken as fact. Everyone walked away from BMW knowing Shawn and Cory would always be friends, why does it always have to be so explicit with these two? As always, though, Maya does a delightful job of keeping her best friend from getting too crazy.
And that's it! Goodbye GMW!
Episode Rating: B+ (Ultimately not much to complain about here, I think they did a good job, especially walking this difficult needle of writing something that was probably a finale but they didn't know definitely was)
Episode MVP: A few good performances here, but the one I think I was struck by most was Danielle Fishel who really sold her big scene at Topanga's. We've talked a lot about how Danielle's been relatively shortchanged in GMW, it was nice to see Topanga be such a big part of the finale. Yeah, they're leaving Philly for Topanga's internship at a law firm, and I like how they paralleled that. Topanga going away for whatever reason is always a big to-do in this universe.
Don't worry, folks, and stay tuned. The show's over but Sean and I are not saying goodbye juuuuuust yet. We'll have likely a few formal goodbye posts wrapping up the series and the blog, and there's still the character list. I know it's hard not to get caught up in the feelings of the show ending and the blog finishing the series, but let's try to keep a lid on that until those specific posts and try to talk about the episode here. (Even though I already fucked that up when I was talking about Turner in this post.)
#9. Jonathan Turner
Played By: Anthony Tyler Quinn, (1994-1997, 2015, 2017)
Episode Count: 54 (51- BMW, 3- GMW)
Role: Foil for Feeny, surrogate father for Shawn, teacher for all
Signature Episodes: Back 2 School, Pop Quiz, Home, I Never Sang For My Legal Guardian, Cult Fiction, Girl Meets Goodbye
The biggest mistake people make is to see Turner as "Feeny-lite" and dismiss him on the grounds that he wasn't as wise or emotionally profound as Feeny. "He wasn't as good as Feeny" is the wrong way to go. Indeed, it is precisely their differences that make Turner so great. We saw this immediately in his first episode, Back 2 School. He drives a motorcycle, he reads X-Men, and his class is way more laid back than Feeny's, with whom he butts heads almost immediately. But that's all fairly superficial, as if they decided to introduce a "cool" teacher for "cool" kids to watch on television. And what's exciting about Back 2 School is that we fall for that bad first impression, like Feeny does. "Great, he's got long hair and an earring, who cares." It's not until the ending, where Turner protects Cory (and Eric) from Harley, this guy who's been a massive threat the entire episode. He does so without using the word "detention" (hey Feeny), and closes it out with a reference to their classical literature assignment as it relates to Cory's life. He calls Cory "Odysseus", and I fall in love.
Turner's teaching style is to meet the students on their level, and bring them up as they go, while Feeny prefers to start with the end point in mind, "this is the level you need to be at," and work toward that. To his credit, Feeny gave some at-their-level assignments in season 1, like Model Family, but by season 2 that's mostly transferred to Turner. (This is my one main complaint about Turner, which isn't his fault - the effect he has on Feeny. When Turner's not around, Feeny is perfectly capable of explaining things to them on their level, and is perfectly willing to go outside the box to teach lessons, he does it all the time in Season 1. But in order to make Turner seem cooler they seemed to be feel they had to make Feeny a conservative stick-in-the-mud when it comes to teaching, and I think that does him a disservice. But anyway!) We saw that pretty quickly in season 2 in Me and Mr. Joad. Kids hate tests, meet them at their level, fine, no test if you do the work. And again in Pop Quiz. Feeny is blatantly having trouble getting Cory and Shawn to listen, but Turner understands how these kids think and by the end he's got them wanting to learn and pay attention. Me and Mr. Joad, Truth and Consequences, Cyrano, and Pop Quiz are four rock solid examples of Shawn and Cory actually learning the material in class. It's not until they're disgraced on national television in Quiz Show that they actually want to learn in Feeny's class.
But the strength of this character extends outside of school, and what's cool is it continues to set him up in contrast with Feeny. It kicks off in Career Day, when the two teachers are discussing how Shawn stayed on Turner's couch the last night, and Feeny warns him about getting too close. Turner asks "Come on, really, what would you have done?" Feeny answers, "I truly don't know." It's a fantastic character difference, how this was a no-brainer for Turner, letting Shawn stay, while Feeny isn't even sure what he would do. And that launches Turner into his biggest contribution to the story, as Shawn's not-so-legal guardian.
Through season 3, Turner continues to defy Feeny's advice about getting too close, and we start to see how necessary this role was. Some authority figure needs to talk Shawn through his unrelenting emotional problems. Feeny won't do it on principle, Chet is gone and couldn't have done it anyway, and Alan has his own kids to deal with. I loved this in particular in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Turner helps Shawn with the Dana situation, something the other three adult males couldn't possibly have done, and hits Shawn with maybe the most important thing he's ever heard: "See this guy right here? (pointing at Cory) This is your best relationship." Turner becomes an effective buffer between Shawn and his self loathing, which is a full time job. And of course that climaxes in Turner's last BMW episode, Cult Fiction.
He's not the perfect authority figure though, which of course makes him an even better character. He makes his fair share of mistakes, like in The Double Lie and later going out with Dana's mom, he regularly admits he doesn't know what he's doing (a theme of the whole show), and struggles to find enough resolve to sign the legal-guardian papers. It's always a struggle for both him and Shawn, it's always gray, both doing the best they can.
Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks. Likely due to the popularity of shows like Friends, the showrunners decided to try to explore Turner's character through his adult friend Eli, which is almost entirely a waste of time. Eli tells Shawn that Turner comes from a rich family, and left that behind to find personal satisfaction, which does add to his overall character, but I can't think of anything else Eli does to improve Turner's character. As a result, the only actual piece of development we saw from Turner was his acceptance of responsibility for Shawn. He had no threads to follow in season 4. Second, Turner is written out of the show with no real explanation or closure until the end of Girl Meets World (it was worth the wait). Third (and least important) is that his role as superintendent on Girl Meets World is largely unimportant, even though we all loved seeing him.
The story needed a compelling and effective teacher to set up a fun contrast with Feeny. The story needed an authoritative emotional support figure for Shawn. Jacobs decided to weave those two together, which added the struggle of trying to maintain those two separate identities. I would really love to know where Jacobs could have taken this character without Eli. As it stands, though, Jonathan Turner is still pretty fantastic.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
#10. Katy Hart
Played By: Cheryl Texiera (2014-2017)
Episode Count: 15
Role: Maya's mother, Shawn's love interest
Signature Episodes: Girl Meets Maya's Mother, Girl Meets Master Plan, Girl Meets Pluto, Girl Meets Hurricane, Girl Meets the Forgiveness Project, Girl Meets Upstate, Girl Meets I Do
Next, we have Katy Hart who, it should be noted, will not only be the first entrant into the Top 10, but also will rank as the greatest recurring character in Meets World franchise history, as the remaining nine were all main cast members of at least one of the shows.
I expect there's going to be some out there surprised this, and I can understand why. Identifying the top 9 was easy - we didn't necessarily know the orders right away, but it was clear who they were, and there was never really much chance of any character from #10-#20 passing any of them up. But #10 was tough, and could have gone a number of different ways. Certainly compelling arguments could be made for Chet and Amy, certainly, and I wouldn't be surprised to see someone like Jack or Angela on someone else's list in this slot.
The last handful of characters have all had caveats connected to them, and all of those caveats are things that don't apply to Katy. Angela was an effective love interest for Shawn and pushed him into character growth but wasn't necessarily a compelling character with an identity of her own. Katy, on the other hand, was both. I was just as happy for Katy for finally finding true love as I was for Shawn, which is saying something considering how much more time I've spent with Shawn. And while Shawn falling in love with the mother of Cory's daughter's best friend feels very cliche and TV, they did sell that relationship as being one that works - especially considering how little time we were able to spend with it. Katy managed to push Shawn to grow and mature, like Angela did, but she did it without berating him about it - allowing him to make these discoveries for himself, which has always been how Shawn learns best. And though she had her own abandonment issues as well, which allowed her to understand where Shawn was coming from, she wasn't plagued by them like Shawn (and Angela) tended to be, never allowing it to come in between her and what she wanted, which helped remove the one step forward/one step back nature of Shangela.
Was Shawn and Katy a little rushed ultimately? Of course it was. It was literally Episode 1: They meet, Episode 2: They flirt. Episode 3: They start to date. Episode 4: They get engaged. Episode 5: They're married. That's not an exaggeration. That's the five episodes Shawn and Katy have shared so far. Still, that their courtship happened over the course of five episodes and wasn't a disaster says something. I think most of us like Shawn and Katy as a couple, and buy them together... we just wish maybe it happened a little slower. But it would have been really easy to hate it. I think the reason we didn't was because how well Katy was portrayed.
Okay, so, that's Angela. But why does Katy pass up Amy? Amy, as we said in her write up, provided a necessary stabilizing role as the mother of a main character, but.... also struggled to be a compelling character with an identity of her own. Yet Katy, again, did both, and, for that matter, her relationship with Maya was give much more real estate onscreen than Amy's with Cory despite over a hundred less appearances. I probably have more of an attachment to Amy because I've seen her SO much more and been aware of her for so much longer, but after 15 episodes I understand who Katy is better than I did Amy after 130 episodes... that says something.
And what about Chet? Chet's situation is different than Amy's and Angela's and I think he was the only one who had a chance of passing Katy up and getting #10. He appeared in roughly the same amount of episodes as Katy (by "Goodbye" it'll be just one less for Chet) so he was also an example of a dynamic, compelling character who is only held back by the infrequency of his appearances... yet Katy managed to concoct a similarly dynamic relationship with her daughter in the same amount of time while simultaneously building a compelling romantic relationship with one of this franchise's most popular characters. Katy, really, does it all. Had she just stayed on the path established by her first episode, "Girl Meets Maya's Mother" which presented her as a less-shady version of Chet, she certainly would not have passed him on the list, but the added complexity she got from her relationship with Shawn, which got almost as much focus as her relationship with Maya, pushes her over him for me too. Also, Chet appears so sporadically in Boy Meets World. This is, obviously, part of his character, but also can blunt his effect. Every time he reappears after a while there feels a need to remind the audience who Chet even is and what his thing is. Katy's in only one more episode of GMW, but because there's so much fewer episodes of GMW in general, she's more of an ever-present aspect of her series than Chet is in his. Plus, there's always that feeling that Chet's absences are just as much about narrative choices (wanting Shawn to live with first Turner and then Jack and Eric necessitates finding a story-based reason why he's not living with Chet) as they are about his actual character.
In fifteen episodes, Cheryl Texiera has managed to craft a very rich, real character. Side characters on this show tend to be painted with a rather big brush filled with obvious, gimmick-y traits that allow them to be summed up in a word or two. Frankie's a gentle giant, Smackle's a femme-Farkle, Chet's a lovable ne'er-do-well, etc. Like a real person, though, Katy's not so easy to define. Maya's mother can be daffy at times, serious at others; she's idealistic enough to continue to chase her dreams as an actress but cynical enough to doubt they'll go anywhere; she tries to be a good role model to Maya, but sometimes has an instinct to present a pretty picture to her rather than tell her the truth. She's complicated, she feels real, and I think we've all come to genuinely care about her. Rather than just be important to us because she's Maya's mom or Shawn's love interest, we like her because she's Katy. And episodes of Girl Meets World with Katy are almost universally better than those without her.
I feel like there's more to say, but I'm done writing, so I'm going to stop now. Katy's #10. We're in the Top 10 now folks! Just nine people left. I'm betting you guys can guess who they all are, but what order do you think they'll fall in now that you've seen our decision making?