Saturday, September 13, 2014

Episode Review: "Girl Meets Smackle" (#1.08)

Episode Title: "Girl Meets Smackle"
Episode Number: 8
Boy Meets World Episodes Borrowed From: Let's see, what do we have here. Season 2's "Turnabout" for one - a nerdy girl gets a makeover to look hot, and questions are raised on how this changes her. This one's definitely got a better message though, as becoming pretty definitively did change Gretchen into a more shallow person, while Smackle was momentarily tempted but ultimately remained true to herself. Basically, take "Turnabout"'s premise and Season 4's "Hair Today, Goon Tomorrow"'s message, and there you are.
Cory's History Lesson and Relevance: The Trojan Horse. It was pretty okay, as far as his history analogies go. It's certainly something that looked like one thing and turned out to be something else. I do think stretching that to connect to outer beauty and inner brains is a stretch though.
"How Ya Doin'?" Count: 1
Episode MVP: Rowan Blanchard

Episode Review:
As episodes continue, Rowan and Sabrina are very much growing into these roles nicely - faster, I'll admit, than Ben Savage and Rider Strong did - it's difficult to not see Riley and Maya as lesser Cory and Shawn because, well, we had 7 ultimately quality years of Cory and Shawn. But Cory and Shawn as of episode 8 of Boy Meets World? Pretty meh. It took half the season for Shawn to be established as anything but "the friend of Cory's you see most." And Cory wasn't really Cory in most all of Season 1. On the other hand here we have an episode in which Riley and Maya are BOTH supporting characters (a first). This is an episode all about Farkle and Smackle, and maybe a little about Lucas. Riley and Maya are both there, and heavily involved (they sort of have to be) but it's not their story. And yet, they still remain, in my opinion, the best parts about this episode. They're not really going through any arcs themselves, other people are, so they just get to be funny and quirky. Maya continues to sing scat and be puckish, Riley continues to be her own particular brand of neurotic (which, I think is distinguishing itself from Cory's while still paying homage to it) quite nicely. It's fun. I like them a lot. And because they're not at the center of the episode, they're spared having to Get Serious which is often when these episodes take a hit in quality as it's generally done too saccharine which I don't think they, and particularly Rowan, don't do amazingly yet. 

You know who else doesn't have much to do in this episode? Cory. He's a big part of the first scene, then really does nothing else in the entire episode but host the debate. He doesn't appear in any of the scenes taking place at the Matthews residence with the rest of the family at all. The probable reason? This is Ben Savage's directing debut! Frequently actors on shows who direct pick episodes they're not very heavily involved in, as it's difficult to direct and act at the same time. William Russ directed a bunch of episodes of Boy Meets World, and I think it was mainly episodes Alan wasn't even in. Anyways good for him branching out. Next week, Rider Strong's directing, so be on the lookout for that too!

So, the first scene at school's funny. Riley's funny. Maya's funny. Farkle's... not all that funny. Lucas continues to be dull and continues to have more chemistry with Maya than Riley (as faint praise as that is).  Second scene is when the plot of the episode really comes together and it includes my favorite joke of the entire episode. We open up on the debate, and Riley and Maya are in the audience. Riley turns to Maya with angry purpose:

Riley: "I don't understand debate!"
Maya: "I say you do."
Riley: (still with angry purpose) "Okay!"

That cracked me up. I don't know how it was intended, because if it's taken to mean Riley's inability to debate Maya on this subject is evidenced by her simply acquiescing to Maya's assertion, than it's not that funny to me.  But I think if it was meant that way, then Riley would have wilted a bit in her reply. Instead it was like Riley was going to loudly declare what she thought the plot of this episode would be (Riley learning about debate) and Maya just being like "No, that's not what we're going to do." and basically shutting down Riley's assumption that this episode will be about her, and shutting Riley down for having another thing to be furiously neurotic about. It was hilarious to me, seen in that context. "Nope, this one's not about us." "FINE!" Rowan's delivery of it was great.

Hey, Smackle's back! Of perennial John Adams rival Einstein Academy. We remember her from "Girl Meets Popular" and I distinctly recall complimenting the character and hoping we saw more of her. I think it's good they foreshadowed this recurring character by sprinkling her in an earlier episode rather than her just showing up and we all having to act like "Oh, of course, it's Smackle. We know her." I like Smackle, she's great. "I am sad." I kind of wish they played up her robotic unemotional aspects of her more. For people who've seen Cheers or Frasier, she reminds me of a pre-teen Lillith Sternin. Only not as fine. Lillith was fine. Anyway, I think I detected a Kamehameha in there during Smackle's rock-and-roll entrance. Which is perfect. I also like that Smackle is her last name, not her first name, like ridiculous-ass Farkle Minkus.

Anyway, these debates are an utter joke in this episode. I've studied debate. So, this is just... this is just hard to watch. Neither Farkle nor Smackle deserve to win any of these debates. They're both terrible at it. They don't even come close to doing an even remotely competent job. So, I won't be covering any of that anymore. But suffice to say, they suck. I get it's a TV show where you can't spend that much time on this.

Riley's a hoot and a half in all of this. "If I knew [why Farkle's interested in me], I would stop!" "Youwannacomemyhouse?" "Hey! Good job being smart and everything!" "Wonderful debate, Farkle, it'll be a memory that stays with me right until the next thing happens." And she's not being rude or disingenuine with that last one. She's just a flake, full of things she feels very strongly about and will rant over until she gets distracted by a passing bumblebee. I like this side of the character a lot. I don't need her to be overly concerned with following the rules. I don't need her to also be the smart one. Just play up her being a neurotic ditz with a big heart - accidentally befriending people and then just going with it and trying desperately to hug them right away even when they don't know how. 

Okay, guys. Topanga and Auggie guy. Take a seat. Get a cigarette ready to smoke afterwards, because you're going to be feeling some sweet sweet release you didn't even know you needed. Auggie rushes in (rips off his shirt like he's fucking Brando or someone which is hilarious) And then this about Auggie's girlfriend Ava - who I kind of forgot about it.

Auggie: "She thinks we might not be together for the rest of our lives! She thinks there might be others."
Topanga: "Of course, that's only natural."
Auggie: "No, it's not. You're supposed to meet someone, fall in love, and be together forever."
Topanga: "Oh, honey. Who put that crazy idea in your head?"
Auggie: "You and Daddy."
(a beat)
Topanga: "Huh. I wonder how many people the idea of Cory and Topanga has ruined?"

Well, folks. That's just... wow. Meta in the most absolutely fabulous way. I don't join the legions of fans who claim couples like Cory and Topanga gave me an unrealistic view of love because, well, I never took Cory and Topanga that seriously and never really believed relationships worked that way. But it's a common criticism leveled at them, and they're right. I've often complained that for a show ostensibly about an average kid growing up and learning how the world works, Cory's relationship with Topanga was ridiculous uncommon. Boy Meets World generally treated it as a healthy, normal way for a relationship to work, and that people like Shawn, who played the field... when he was 17, were screw-ups and doing it wrong. For GMW to finally cop to the fact that C0ry and Topanga are a ridiculous couple, that no one acts like them, that it's insanity for anyone to expect to have that, is very very rewarding. And it's such an interesting aspect that their 6-year-old son might just... think that's how relationships work, and might feel pressure to know who his soulmate is now at this age, because he's heard that's how his parents did, and where else is he going to get ideas like that? Great. 

Not much else to say about this story. There's only like one more scene that has to do with it, and it just wraps it up. This whole C-plot was basically just an excuse for Topanga to deliver that line.

So, Cory and Shawn remake Smackle into a pretty girl. I actually wrote that sentence. Yes, I obviously meant Riley and Maya. But I'm going to leave it there, so you all know. But I actually want to note something here. Cory and Shawn were obviously very different from one another, but you know when they were most entertaining for me to watch? When they were the same. They were always best as a funny, mischevious duo. Episodes like "Bee True", to name just one that I happened to recently rewatch, are them at their best - when they're always on exactly the same page, neither is any smarter or stupider than the other, and they have the exact same values, ideas, and priorities. Sure - Cory's a nebbish square who's used to nothing but safety and comfort and Shawn's an angsty rebel whose life is an un-ending slog of pain and abandonment - but somehow these two can be exactly the same a lot of the time, and it's really fun when they are. I bring this up, because generally Maya and Riley's differences have been played off each other, but this episode establishes them as a duo better. They stop pretending Riley's not just as much an alpha chick at John Adams as Maya is, and just let them both be kind of superficial do-gooders who go around helping people because they feel it's their duty as the two coolest girls in the world. It sounds like I'm insulting them, but I'm not. I like their dynamic like this. Just like I like when Cory suddenly becomes as reckless as Shawn and Shawn suddenly becomes as immature as Cory in order to be on the same level to be a duo. 

And... this took a lot longer than I thought it would, and I'm running late for something. Part 2 tomorrow!

Also, how the hell tall is Rowan Blanchard? Six feet?! Smackle goes up to her chest. 

Part 2:
Feels like I already did the lion's share of the reviewing in the first half, so let's just finish it up. There's the typical, perfunctory unhip person tries to behave like a cool person by mirroring their lingo... like it's a commercial for Apple Jack's from the '90s or something. The point being that Smackle believes she has unlocked the keys toward speaking like a typical ditzy teenager by mimicking certain key phrases and inflections. 

Oh, and now Lucas wants to join the debate team. Because don't just Lucas on his appearance! He's also SO SMART, YOU GUYS. Lucas is DREAMY, and he is PERFECT, and he has ONLY AMAZING QUALITIES, and NO FLAWS, and you MUST LOVE HIM. I don't fucking care. Maya and Riley show up and an... E or F plot is thrown in there where Maya's apparently going to wear glasses (which diminishes your attractiveness only in teen movies) for a while to see if people treat her differently. Rewatching this for the review - does this bit ever even get resolved? The episode's already half over, why are we suddenly doing this now? Anyway, Maya looks cute in glasses and, as they state that things actually look less blurry for her wearing them - maybe she'll start! 

Oh, and in getting Farkle to go out on a date with Smackle, they accidentally imply he'd be dating them. And Farkle fucking faints (alliteration!) which is lame. I've mentioned, I think,  that Farkle's sloooowly been winning me over, but I'm really not a fan of his crush on the girls. The whole by turns loyal-sweet-friend and lecherous-creeper is offputting. It just feels like they don't quite have his character figured out, and I think the character would be better served if he didn't have this obsession with Riley or Maya - and particularly not having an equal obsession with both of them which just makes him look shallow and like it has nothing to do with these two girls in particular, they're just the only two pretty girls who talk to him. 

Oh great. That stupid bakery again. So, Farkle figures out that Smackle's desire to be made over was all in preparation for the debate, which was a nice twist, but it also turns out that the makeover is having some affect on Smackle as well, as she's now getting all giggly over Lucas. Although, it's really not an issue of Lucas now suddenly paying attention to her because she's pretty, Lucas is just nice and polite to everyone. He doesn't come off attracted to Smackle and he doesn't seem to be acting any differently than he treats anyone else. But whatever.  And also, there Lucas goes... being told where to go, what to say, and he just smiles blankly and goes along with it. He's (supposedly) a smart guy, he has to be aware of Farkle's doing, and he has to know that it's kind of mean. But he just blankly goes along with it. Because he's the worst. "Are you sitting here because you want to be my mate?" (and Smackle's tone of voice) is funny though.

Auggie's little sideplot is wrapped up simply by virtue of it being pointed out to him that Ava didn't actually break up with him, and that he got to eat cake, and so he had a pretty good day. Like I said - the entire plotline really seemed to exist for Topanga to make that one joke - but Auggie's five, so I'm fine with him going from miserable to fine with a drop of a hat. 

Debate time again. And it's still nonsense. One bit I did like was that Riley interrupted Farkle's speech to declare that she keeps wrapping paper because she likes to wear the ribbons, Farkle's reaction is an "Okay..." that seemed like he was politely telling her to shut the fuck up. Which is the normal way people react to people in the audience butting in with their two cents rather than being quiet like they're supposed to (Lookin' at you Maya in "Girl Meets Truth")

 Anyway, Smackle's still good at debate despite her looks change. And she wins. Not in a way that makes sense though. Her argument is like half defending Farkle's points. And also these are just the worst debate teams in the planet. And Smackle cites the Trojan Horse like she even goes to this school and would have known about Cory's unrelated history lesson. Oh, and then Smackle has a little conversation with Maya and Riley confirming that they're all going to be friends now. All in front of an audience. The Einstein Academy supporters are like "So... is this still the debate or....?" and the JQA kids are all "Nope. This is just how it works here. We're all forced to watch Maya and Riley have significant life moments."

Oh, and then Farkle acts like he's just learning for the first time that Riley and Maya are pretty which is ridiculous and I don't believe him, and makes him seem like he's Stephen Colbert in character trying to pretend he doesn't see color. That's stupid. 

So, stuff to like. Stuff to not like. I think it gets...

Episode Rating: B

Oh. Great. Next week's a time travel one. Those were always such a treat. I'm so glad that's still happening in this series. I can't wait to see Maya as a hippie and Riley as a beatnik. What a fun new context to put those characters in. I'm so excited.


  1. It's funny you mention how Cory and Shawn weren't Cory and Shawn from the start in the first season and I remember from BMW Reviewed, Shawn didn't have a name till the 6th episode.

    Also another Cheers and Lilith fan, that's awesome.

    1. I confess I'm more of a Frasier guy, but Cheers is certainly fantastic as well!

      And wow - it was really six episodes without a name for Shawn? Nuts. I'm sure he was named in the script, but yeah, with a character that minor (in those episodes) It's easy to imagine his name wouldn't come up.

  2. I actually thought this was Lucas's best episode yet. He didn't have a lot to do, but when he was on screen he seemed more natural than before, and I really liked how he interacted with Smackle and did well in the debate (if, of course, we were supposed to assume he was doing well, because as you said, those scenes were not debates at all), and the Ranger Rick/Roy stuff was adorable.

    I noticed Rowan's height, too, and I think it's because both she and Sabrina were in heels for the majority of the episode. Is it just me, or are they too young to be wearing such high heels? The rest of their outfits are age-appropriate, but the heels seemed like too much.

    1. Lucas' best episode yet? Yeah, maybe. But that's a bit like saying "I think this is the best outbreak of meningitis I've ever had." I applaud the idea, at least, of there being more to Lucas than a pretty face and probable jockishness, but it kind of happened in a way that furthered how nondescript it was. His speech was like "You may see me and think jock. But guess what! I also like school! And now I'm on the debate team!" Great, Lucas. I still don't know who you are. He's still boring and too old and overly idealized by this show.

    2. Haha, OK, that's completely true. We're still only 8 episodes in, though, so I'm going to keep hoping the writers figure out who he is at some point.

    3. Yeah they are way too young for heels, I don't like that the show had her in them... I also think that this show is just teaching children to be shallow.. It is in now where near as good as boy meets world was.

    4. Apparently you can't be smart and pretty.. It's either/or.