Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Word About Eric Matthews

Let's get one thing straight: I love Eric Matthews. He's my favorite character from Boy Meets World by leaps and bounds, one can not even see second place finisher Cory from Eric's lofty position. Indeed, Eric is probably one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. He's hilarious, touching, and just plain fun to watch at almost every interval. And the thought of more Eric was one of the first things that entered my mind when I heard about Girl Meets World in the first place.

But from everything I've heard or seen about the episode featuring his return, "Girl Meets Mr. Squirrels", I'd sort of rather it didn't happen. I'd take no Eric before I'd welcome that Eric.

My favorite seasons of Boy Meets World are the middle seasons - say, Seasons 3 through 5, with Season 4 representing, for me, the absolute pinnacle of the series. Cory, Shawn, Feeny, Topanga, Alan, it's everyone at their best, it's hilarious, and the cast hasn't been infused with weaker characters like Jack, Rachel, and Angela. And it's in that season that Eric truly shines. He's still hilarious and eccentric and off-kilter, but he's also... a person with struggles. A young man who'd grown up and slid through life doing the bare minimum, getting by with good looks, charms, wit, and the help of friends and family. Suddenly he was thrown into the real world and is forced to sink or swim - learning that no one's going to bail him out and all that 'hidden potential' he'd heard so much about doesn't mean dick if you don't do anything with it. And so, he was forced to pick himself up by his boot straps and make his life be what he wanted it to be. It was a tremendously written arc, made Eric a serious character, and yet... it diminished his hilarity not one bit. This was the season of The Good Lookin' Guy, the season of "Shallow Boy", the season of him wanting to join a cult for the hugs. Eric could be a real person and the show's biggest source of comedy.

And then, of course, well, we know what happened. All of Eric's humanity was stripped away in favor of being a complete and legitimate psychopath. No one like Eric of Season 7 could possibly exist, and if he did, everyone would hate him and have him committed. All serious and emotional arcs got shifted over to Shawn, and Eric was left with nothing. And "Plays With Squirrels" represents this totally. Is it funny? Absolutely. It was a funny way for Eric to have ended up in a FAKE future in ONE episode for ONE scene. Great stuff.

But all indications from the episode title and a recently released cast picture imply that this is the fate that Eric Matthews ACTUALLY ended up with. 150+ episodes of character development, of growing and struggling... and yeah, he's just a hermit who married a moose and hides lollipops in his beard. But nevermind that it's a waste of Eric's potential and hard work, nevermind that Eric only became a hermit because everyone stopped being friends and that future was kept from happening, nevermind that it was a fictional dream sequence anyway that was never meant to be taken as Eric's real fate, nevermind that the original series, for all its flaws, still sent him off into the world as a successful college graduate, moving to New York, free of some of his handicaps like always relying on his dad to bail him out. Nevermind all that.

The real reason for my rage is that I missed Eric. We all missed Eric. It's been Eric the fans of Boy Meets World have been clamoring to get back. We care about HIM, the guy we knew for, like, 70 hours worth of story, not the joke fantasy character he played once for 10 minutes at the end of the show. Should Cory have come back as Cora the sassy waitress? Should Shawn have come back as Strider, his Kid Gets Acquanted With the Universe counterpart? No. We missed Cory and Shawn. Yes, Plays With Squirrels was really funny. But it was funny in context. Not because suddenly that's how we all wanted Eric to be forever.

I had hopes that this show might redeem the travesty that Eric became, but if he really is playing Plays With Squirrels (and they're REALLY making it look like he is) then it's worse than I could have possibly imagined and I legitimately feel betrayed by Michael Jacobs, Will Friedle, and everyone involved. I can't imagine being able to stomach this show further. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this is all a misunderstanding. Subterfuge to mask the real plot. I hope so. But I'm not feeling optimistic.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Impossibly Long Episode Review: "Girl Meets Home for the Holidays"

Episode Title: "Girl Meets Home For The Holidays"
Episode Number: 16
Boy Meets World Episodes Borrowed From: Huh. This is more or less original. I guess we do get to see some developments in threads begun in Season 6's "Cutting the Cord" (Alan as an older dad to Josh), Season 5's "A Very Topanga Christmas" (How will Topanga deal with Cory's family's traditions), and Season 7's "It's About Time" (Shawn's feelings about Cory moving on with Topanga)
Cory's History Lesson and Relevance: No class again! God bless us, everyone!

Episode Review: 

Well, folks, this is obviously a big episode so it's going to get the royal treatment. The more capsule-sized reviews will remain how things go, mostly, but for Special Episodes like this one, they'll get the MEGA reviews where I walk through it beat by beat. Saddle up.

It's Christmas (like with Halloween, the holiday episode is airing way early in the month) and the Matthews are getting ready. In quick succession, and some mildly funny bits, we learn that Amy, Alan, Maya, and Shawn are all spending Christmas with them and that Amy is expected to be an over-bearing mother-in-law (more on that later) and that Cory is, naturally, over the moon about Shawn's presence. In one bit, he proclaims that the "Cory-and-Shawn-4-evah" ornament will be placed on top of the "Cory and Topanga wedding ornament."

I'm going to pause here. Obviously, anyone with even a passing knowledge of the characters of Boy Meets World knows that Cory and Shawn are heterosexual life partners. They adore each other to a manic degree, sulk like jilted lovers when they're in a fight, and in general participate in activities (including snuggling, having casual conversations under the covers in bed, etc.) that would suggest romantic feelings where none actually exist. And we love it. We adore it. It's great stuff. Cory loves and needs Shawn just as much, if not more, than he needs Topanga, and none of us have a problem with that. And I like to see jokes about it. And some of the jokes in this one to that effect in this are funny.

What I like less though is something Boy Meets World only did occasionally, and this episode does a lot - portraying Cory as not just loving Shawn, but treating everyone else with callous and willful disdain because they are not Shawn. Cory didn't HAVE to cover up Topanga's ornament with Shawn and his, he could have put it elsewhere on the tree, but he made a big show of going like "Hey, fuck off Topanga, you're not as good as Shawn." Later on, he'll make a big show of pointing out how Shawn is his favorite person in the world and not Topanga. When he and Shawn embrace upon Shawn's arrival, he literally almost suffocates his son as a result. Topanga makes references throughout the episode about this bothering her and Cory ignores them. And less you think this is all just for laughs, the serious and main plot of this episode is how Riley feels ignored and ostracized by "Uncle" Shawn who is, legitimately, kind of a dick to her, and Cory is dismissive of Riley's feelings. That's not cute. It just makes Cory a piece of shit.

Okay. Back to the episode. Maya shows up, professing to believe Shawn doesn't even exist just to get Cory riled up, which is funny. Maya's great. And if you need further proof of Cory' dickness, Riley mentions to Maya upon her arrival that she doesn't think Shawn likes her, with Cory standing right there. Cory's response? Saying "Riley!" and then dropping the subject, rather than acting like her fucking father and letting her know that it's not that this beloved family friend doesn't like her, it's that he's a self-absorbed angsty tool who is incapable of controlling his emotions for long enough to be polite to a 13-year-old girl (but more on that later)

Buzzer goes off and Cory thinks it's Shawn, but it's Alan and Amy, Alan getting a funny bit about neither Cory nor Amy understanding that people can hear them when they're using a speaker box that only elicits weak laughter from the audience. Fuck all y'all, studio audience. So, okay, you guys - Alan Matthews rocks. Probably my all time favorite TV father. He's such a great character. He has tons of values and life advice and teaches great lessons like many TV fathers, but he also has dashes of realism and humanity that I think elevate him over a Cliff Huxtable (fallen idol though he now is) or a Danny Tanner or something. He messed up sometimes, struggled with feelings of inadequacy, was sometimes surly and unapproachable, showed accidental favoritism toward his eldest son that he tried to compensate for and adjust once it became clear. And occasionally rather than get all huggy and overly-supportive he gave his kids a (metaphorical) kick in the ass because his sons were both spoiled brats (who are nonetheless two of my favorite TV characters of all time, don't get me wrong) and deserved it. While no man's fool, he didn't have Feeny's intellect and so he lacked the ability to inspire as beautifully through clever lessons and florid speeches. But he showed up, and he worked hard, and he demonstrated what it means to stand up for yourself and those you love and do the right thing. He didn't always have much to do, and he had less and less to do as the show went on, but he always rocked. Amy? She's fine too. But they didn't give her the material they gave Alan.

So, they're in this episode. But they sort of might as well not be. In fact, if you want to see this show's attention to Shawn in lieu of the also present Amy and Alan as a metaphor of what became of Boy Meets World, then it's actually brilliant! I don't resent the show featuring Shawn way more than Amy and Alan. He's Shawn. He is more important than Amy and Alan and, as much as I love them, I obviously care more about Shawn. Still, maybe they could have split the Amy/Alan/Joshua episode with the Shawn episode, to give them both more time. Because Amy and Alan just feel like shadows of themselves, here only to facilitate the introduction of Joshua. Alan's only arc is, I guess, that he's aged from the last time we've seen him? Which... ouch. As for Amy... hey, remember how she was an overbearing has-to-have-everything-be-just-so control freak of a mom and mother-in-law? No? That doesn't sound like her at all? Well, it's how they portray her now. It's like the person who wrote Amy's dialogue never actually saw her in action and only knows that she's Topanga's mother-in-law. Again, Amy was not as well-developed a character as Alan (who, bad material aside, does basically feel like himself in this episode except he should be beating the shit out of Josh more) so maybe it's a by-product of that, but there's still things that do or do not sound like what she'd do. Still, it's nice to see them.

The audience oohs-and-ahhs with delight at the arrival of Joshua even though he's played by someone we've never seen before. I'm glad they didn't forget about him and I'm glad his age seems about right. I guess he would've been a pretty big thing to forget about, but, honestly, there was never any serious point to his existence, he just seemed like something for Amy and Alan to be up to after Cory left for college, so I tended to forget about him too. Cory, Alan, and Josh exposit what the deal is with Josh and why he's so much younger than Cory, and Josh seems to really enjoy (or else is covering his insecurity about) the fact he was an accident because he doesn't stop talking about it all episode and, like, teasing his dad about it which is a weird thing to tease someone about. He basically teases everyone all episode because he's supposed to be totally radical with '90s style 'tude. He's basically the kind of kid who would have been in an Apple Jacks or Cinnamon Toast Crunch commercial in 1997 making fun of his lame parents or lame teachers for not getting why he loves this cereal. I'm surprised he didn't ride in on a skateboard. That's Josh.

And Maya's immediately smitten. Josh, for his part, kind of flirts with her a bit which is sketchy since Maya's 13 and he's at least 16 judging by the fact that he was just outside parking the car. Three years may not seem like a big gap, but I think it is when one of them's 13. Also, like, you're at a family Christmas party, dude, ease up. This is also the first time we've seen Maya be all 'boy crazy' and I'm not into it. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually like her chemistry better with Lucas than Josh, since it feels more organic and not as calculated. I know I'm giving Josh a hard time, but he's not so bad. Regardless of what I said before, as an individual character I still like him better than Lucas. At least he's not bland, and the actor's better.

AND LOOK WHO IT IS NOW OH MY GOD IT'S SHAWN HUNTER. So, yeah, obviously, I'm very excited Shawn's in this episode. I love Shawn. I don't Eric-love him or even Cory-love him, and sometimes he got on my nerves, but I still love him, and it hasn't felt right him not being around yet, so it's very exciting. And, in general, Shawn's handled exactly right. When I first heard about this, I made up in my head where I thought the characters should all be, and Shawn's situation is EXACTLY how I envisioned it. I didn't think he should be married with kids, I didn't want his kid and Cory's kid to be best friends,  I didn't think he should be settled down at all, I certainly didn't want him back together with Angela (both because I don't much care for her but mainly because that would have been cheesy and lame). I thought Shawn should still be out there trying to find what he's looking for. And traveling photojournalist (his future occupation in "Seven The Hard Way") seemed perfect for him - combining the photography interest that came up in Seasons 5 and 6 and I believe was technically his one-timed-mentioned major, along with the writing interest that came up in the poetry episode, all while giving him a professional excuse for not putting down roots. And besides that, he does feel like Shawn - the good and the bad. The writing for him is pretty good, and, unlike Danielle Fishel and even occasionally Ben Savage, Rider Strong simply hasn't missed a beat. This is to be expected as he was always the strongest actor of the trio, and he's worked the most since Boy Meets World ended.

So, Shawn sneaks in and casually takes a seat on the couch, surprising Cory in a bit that I think would have been more effective if they'd let it go on a little longer and if Shawn's line of dialogue alerting Cory to his presence was just casually contributing to the conversation rather than "Thought you'd be more excited to see me!" and drawing attention to himself. But that's nitpicky. It's still fun. Shawn reunites with everyone too (and Josh's Coolness gets name-checked when Shawn tells him he's almost as cool as him thereby telling the audience 'See? Shawn thinks Josh is cool! So, he's cool! Like him!')

Then it's time for Riley and Shawn to say hi. There's tension, but Riley gamely greets him politely and Shawn basically cold shoulders her and goes off with Cory. And that simply is not cool. She's a little girl. Shawn's a grown-ass man. I get why he's acting this way, and I don't blame him for feeling weirded out by how much Cory and he don't have in common anymore and how Riley could represent that for him. But I also don't care. You're not rude and dismissive to a little girl, let alone your best friend's daughter. It bugs me that Shawn would be so self-centered that he'd feel justified to act like that, and it bothers me even more that Cory more or less lets him get away with it. It doesn't ruin the episode or anything, but it certainly casts a pall over it. It's not that the show doesn't treat Shawn's actions as rude, they do, it clearly hurts Riley's feeling and Maya is outraged on her behalf.

So, Cory and Shawn catch up and it's fun and there's a lot of meta stuff - Cory wants Shawn to move into the apartment right above them but Shawn protests this is not a TV show (Missed opportunity, Cory could have responded to Shawn's declaration with: "Trust me, it's the same thing.") and that he's not Cory's wacky neighbor, addressing the kinds of ideas fans seemed to have for Shawn in this show. Cory, on the other hand, lays out what would have been his (and probably the fans') preferred spinoff scenario: a show that's just about Cory and Shawn going on adventures in New York. He and Shawn then improvise a hilarious theme song for such a show, and it's all great. I particularly like the "and nobody talks but them" portion which also draws attention to how no one but main cast members and featured guest stars ever have lines on this show.

Then, like, the rest of the episode is the show telling us over and over about Riley-and-Maya are the new Cory-and-Shawn and they really beat us over the head with it and I'm having flashbacks to the "It's not my world! It's your world!" crap from the pilot which was bad. We figured out Riley and Maya were the new Cory and Shawn on our own, we didn't need it explained to us. And we don't need it explained to it this often with Shawn and Maya continuously saying the same things as each other or finding out that they have the same interests as each other or the same backstory as each other. C'mon, trust your audience a little bit. There's still some funny bits (Cory trying to make them be able to reach each other's minds and Shawn's insistence that they actually can not do that) but it's too much of this. Better is when Maya calls Shawn out for making Riley feel bad, she's a badass like that. However, in a very TV way, we go to commercial right when that comes out and then we come back to a different scene and it gets resolved later which means Maya said that to Shawn (in front of Cory) and then Shawn and Cory really just let her and Riley walk away without immediately reassuring the poor girl that Shawn doesn't dislike her.

Oh god. And now Josh is hanging ornaments off a sleeping Alan while making fun of him for being tired and old because he's an obnoxious little brat. Auggie's helping, but it really would have been better if it was just Auggie doing it. Because it's the kind of thing that's funny for a mischievous little boy do but is fucking ridiculous for a god-damn 16-year-old to be doing. It doesn't make him look roguish, it makes him look like a tool.  And I hate how de-fanged Alan has to be in order to let Josh get away with acting like that. Can you imagine if Eric or Cory pulled shit like that? In, I think, "Uncle Daddy" Cory got grounded for forgetting to get gas. Alan was worried that when Josh came of age, he was going to be too old to be the kind of father he used to be with him and, you know what, it kind of looks like that's exactly what happened. And that's sad. He's like 60, not 100.

Cory and Shawn, have adorably, also fallen asleep and are doing their yipping thing from... I don't know... the one where they fall asleep together in Turner's class and do the yipping thing. I love it. But then Maya wakes them up and demands answers about Riley. So again, Maya called Shawn out, Shawn and Cory offered no response and instead went to a different room to take a nap. Again, though, Shawn doesn't really properly explain himself so Riley continues to feel bad. All that's offered is that when Riley lists the litany of things Shawn's never bothered to find about her, one of which is her birthday, Cory points out that Shawn does know her birthday. This gets hammered in a few times and is treated like it means something, like how it turned out Feeny knew all this crap about Shawn that he never would have guessed Feeny knew in "City Slackers." Sounds nice right?

Well, it's not. As we'll find out, Shawn does know Riley's birthday, but it's not because he secretly knows Riley well or loves learning about her. He knows it because it was also a significant day for him because that's the day he decided to be a fucking baby and leave town to go sulk for a decade because Cory and Topanga's lives won't revolve around him anymore. And he acts all proud of himself for knowing the time of day and her weight, when Maya doesn't, like 'Congrats, Shawn. You were there and Maya was barely alive.' And it doesn't change the fact that he doesn't know the answers to any of the other questions Riley asked that are more relevant to who she is than her being a Sagittarius. Fuck off, Hunter.

"Don't worry about it, kids. That's just the only way Shawn knows how to leave rooms."
At dinner, we learn about Shawn's job, and Shawn and Maya seem to begin starting to respect each other and realize how alike they are. Riley demands an answer for a third time, and Shawn and Riley thankfully go off and talk. For a second, though, Shawn gets up from the table after being called out and it seems like, in classic Shawn form, he's leaving the room in an angsty huff and I'm furious for a second, but then he calls for Riley. But it's treated like a surprise like "Can you believe it? Shawn's NOT leaving a room in a huff! Isn't that a twist?"

Anyway, at the stupid bakery I wish Topanga didn't own, Shawn explains to Maya and Riley what his
fucking problem is and it's a stupid problem. Again, I don't blame Shawn for how he feels, I think how he feels is perfectly understandable. Shawn needs Cory even more than Cory needs Shawn, and Riley's the physical manifestation of why they can't be as close as they used to be. But I do blame him for not being able to get a grip on these feelings and not making Riley (or ANYONE) feel bad about it. It's total crap and it's probably the most selfish we've ever seen him. Still, he seems to realize how stupid he's been being, and starts to realize that a child of Cory and Topanga is just another person for him to love.

Cory and Shawn, on Riley's command, have a sit down to talk about how they feel, and it's the best scene in the episode so I'm not going to parse it. The chemistry is really nice, the characters bounce off each other well, it's funny and it's heartwarming and it's great. It's interrupted twice, once by Josh and Auggie - Josh refers to them as Two Grown Men In A Girl's Bedroom Window, which is the funniest thing he does, but then he sings a theme song for that theoretical show which is going to that well once too often (Though Auggie does follow it with a hilariously delivered "I would never watch that show.") Shawn points to Josh and mentions how "The cool uncle's already taken."

So. Just the one uncle then, huh? No other uncles we should be mentioning? Nobody conspicuously absent from his family reunion and not even rating a mention by his brother or his parents or anyone? Okay then. Moving along.

Then Farkle comes and Shawn's reaction to him is hilarious, although I really don't think Farkle and the O.G. Minkus look that much alike. Physically I guess they kind of sort of do - scrawny, bowl haircut - but they just dress and comport themselves so differently. Farkle's fucking Justin Bieber compared to Minkus.

Anyway, it turns out Riley has a secret plan to get Shawn and Maya to be the new Cory and Riley which is sweet and a nice turn on the "____ is the new _____"

Then there's a totally too sappy and un-earned scene where Cory professes his love Topanga and waxes poetic about their life together. It just seems to come out of nowhere, there's no reason for it. Is this him making up for how callous he was being towards her with regards to Shawn? If so, it's not made clear enough, and it feels weird. This show really struggles when things get serious, they can't get the tone right. There's a similar problem when Cory says "I had you at your best" to Alan, and then Josh pops up to be like "No, I have him at his best!" Again, I guess he's trying to make up for being a dick and "Aw, they really do love each other." but it just feels off. However, I will give William Russ credit for his reaction to it. It's exactly how Alan used to react whenever one of his sons said something really poignant or touching to him - a combination of surprise that his kid is saying this to him, slight embarrassment at the display of emotion, and genuine delight that feels really real and touching and 'Dad'-ish.

At the end, Shawn tells him that his next gig is in upstate New York next weekend and he invites Cory and family to come with. Shawn seems to be resolving to be around more, and to take an interest in Riley and Maya, which is good, so now I don't have to be mad at Shawn anymore. And thankfully this doesn't seem to be idle talk - while this season's almost over we do have one more Shawn appearance, and it sounds like he's going to be an even bigger part of Season 2 - with Eric returning too (that topic's going to get its own post tomorrow), as well a real Feeny appearance, and more of the parents. This makes me happy, and  iscloser to what I think Girl Meets World needs to be.  It needs to stand on its own, and I know the non-Cory-and-Topanga originals can't be in every episode, or even most of them, but we do need a little more than we've been getting
and Harley and Minkus, I'm sorry, didn't quite cut it. To not focus on the Boy Meets World characters is to defeat the purpose of making this a sequel to it in the first place.

As for this episode? I was rough on it, but it was ultimately good. It's not the best episode of the series (that's still "Girl Meets Maya's Mother") but it was the episode that made me happiest. Plus, two weeks in a row with no awful school scenes, no Cory The Shitty Teacher, only minimal Farkle, and no Lucas whatsoever? It really is Christmas!

Episode Rating: B+
Episode MVP: Rider Strong, of course.