Monday, January 19, 2015

Retro Episode Mini-Review: #1.14: "Girl Meets Friendship"

So, there's six episodes I haven't reviewed. The first four, because it was pre-blog, and "Girl Meets Flaws" and "Friendship", because I hate them. So, I'm going to do mini-reviews of them all sort of ad hoc in no order and on no time table. Up first, "Girl Meets Friendship" because it happened to be on TV this morning and I have a day off. 

Episode Title: "Girl Meets Friendship"
Episode Number: 14
Boy Meets World Episodes Borrowed From: Season 2's "I am Not a Crook", full-stop. Also Season 1's "Father Know Less" as a subplot.
Cory's History Lesson and Relevance: Democracy vs. Dictatorship, which, sure, very relevant to an episode about elections.

Episode Review: 

This episode sucks. I also suspect it was one that was written and produced much earlier. People still feel like they're being introduced, and we're going with some earlier dynamics - Ben Savage is still a little rusty, Farkle's got his evil streak that he doesn't really have anymore, Maya's all upset about not bothering Lucas with her jokes which she doesn't really do anymore, Lucas is... relevant to the plot which hasn't been a thing in a while. Oh, and because Lucas is relevant, it sucks. 

I talked about this before, but the most bizarre part is this weird 'The Rebel' kid that they try to introduce. I'm not sure they even tell us his name. He just kind of shows up in one scene, isn't relevant again for the rest of the episode, until the very end when he again just kind of shows up to like... tell us what a Secretary of State does. And he's not remotely rebellious, so I'm not sure why they refer to him that way. Unless rebellious means calling Lucas "Harmonica" and calling Maya "Art"? But otherwise he's just nice and smart and polite. I don't know if an earlier version of the episode included him in a larger role or something and most of it got cut? And they never use him again. But they clearly had some idea that maybe he was going to be a character, and maybe Maya's love interest? I really don't know what the hell's going on with this kid. It seems like they replaced whatever role he was going to play with perhaps Josh? It was a good move. This kid is the weirdest thing. I can't get past it. 

So, the episode is a blatant rip-off of "I am Not a Crook." with people running for Class President, making
outrageous promises, and turning on each other. This episode is handled MUCH worse for a lot of reasons. Mainly because it just not as well written. But at it's most basic concept it's messed up too. The different governments thing is stupid (and it's ridiculous that Farkle, even at his most extreme, would want to evoke, like, Fidel Castro and Kim Jong Un in the way he comports himself. Everyone's extremely quick to turn on each other whereas it seemed to happen for a reason with Cory and Shawn, and most of the slander was just between Cory and the Minkus-Clone. Also, the promises they make aren't as funny or as believable. Instead it's people getting too excited about free t-shirts and stuff.  And it ends with them learning that democracy is a better form of government than fascism and monarchies. Like.... thanks, Girl Meets World. American pre-teens all over are struggling with that. 

God, everyone's just such an unlikable snide shit in this episode. Maya and Farkle obviously, but even Lucas. Riley, like, says hi to him when he's on the phone and he snaps "EXCUSE ME. This phone call is PERSONAL." Oh, and he's all bent out of shape because his dad won't fly him out to Texas for the second weekend in a row. Shut up, Lucas. At the end he feels better because Maya and Riley get his friends to send him a video taped message standing in front of the WORST greenscreen for Texas I've ever seen. Why did that have to look so lame? Just give these kids a video camera and have them just actually... go outside. 

Then there's a subplot with Auggie not being able to sleep. And I guess the reason is he refuses to sleep because both Cory and Topanga aren't tucking him in, just one of them is. So, he sucks too. And they do the plot of "Father Knows Less" in miniature in there too, with Cory keeping Auggie up late to watch a baseball game with him.

And, in the end, Lucas and Riley ride off on a white horse, to just tie a nice little bow over the worst thing I've ever seen.

Episode Rating: F. This episode is the worst in the series, and a total failure from top to bottom. It's abysmally written, the plot's bad and made up of two flagrant rip-offs of classic Boy Meets World episodes, everyone is unlikable, and the thing with The Rebel is just bizarre. Nothing positive here.
Episode MVP: Danielle Fishel, just because she's kind of funny in one scene where she's sleep-deprived. And because at least she avoids being tainted with the school plot. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Episode Review: "Girl Meets Master Plan" (#1.18)

Episode Title: "Girl Meets Master Plan"
Episode Number: 18
Boy Meets World Episodes Borrowed From: It's its own main plot, but there's a subplot strongly evoking "Bee True."
Cory's History Lesson and Relevance: No class! Yay!

Episode Review: 

We begin with an absolutely lovely scene between Riley and Maya. It's Maya's 14th birthday (many have pointed out why this is off because a) 14-year-olds generally aren't in 7th grade and b) Riley only recently started being called 13, but whatever... Maya could easily have been held back. I'd have difficulty buying her as only just turning 13 now). There's a lot of funny back and forth here involving Riley being cheerily blunt about both of their eventual deaths, Maya pretending to not understand why Riley got two rings, and Riley being furious and wanting to intervene when she finds out Maya's mom apparently forgot her birthday. 

Riley and Maya get a lot of back-and-forth banter-y scenes like this, and sometimes they can be a mixed bags. They're both strong young actresses, but there's just a comic timing to these kinds of things that I think sometimes they're not quite experienced enough to handle always (Lucas and Farkle usually fare even worse). But, obviously, they're growing (Ben Savage and Rider Strong certainly weren't there yet at this age either) and this scene is delivered very, very well. Riley's in her manic head-in-the-clouds sunshine-and-rainbows mode, which is where I enjoy her most. Much like her TV father, Rowan Blanchard is stronger at comedy than drama, and when she has to anchor scenes from an emotional stand-point it usually rings false. It's better when they can use her in this capacity, and leave the drama for Sabrina Carpenter (again, perhaps a by-product of Blanchard being two years younger)

For some reason, the two exit into the next scene via... the front door... when they were in Riley's room. Maybe more time passed than I thought and they left for no reason and came back? I dunno. Anyway, Shawn's here! Audience woos! As I think I said before, while we knew Shawn had one more episode this season, I'm surprised it's so soon, there's only been one episode in between the appearances. They may have wanted to space them out more, so we don't get used to him - since I'm fairly certain it's the last we're seeing of him this season. But who cares! Shawn! Ahh!

Cory and Topanga arrive with Maya's birthday cake and Cory, ignorant of who is standing behind him as is his way, starts talking about how they should give the cake to Katy, in anticipation of her forgetting Maya's birthday. Topanga tries to clue Cory in and, surprisingly, Cory figures out Maya's behind him without looking. Maybe because this exact same thing has happened to him no less than twenty times. In Boy Meets World it happened so often that they had to be continuously inventive about the joke they'd make when Cory realized who was behind him, because they kept using all the obvious ones up. This one's so-so - with him acknowledging how much it happens, being smart enough to realize Maya's behind, but continuing to insult Shawn's mom in comparison ("UH OH! IT'S TUESDAY! I BETTER RUN AWAY!") since why would he guess Shawn's there? Shawn's episodes have featured quite a a few references to Virna, haven't they? More so than references to Chet, which is unusual because of how much more attention Chet got on BMW. I know some of it might be because Maya's issues are right now more with her mom (maybe Chet will become more a reference point whenever we get around to meeting Maya's dad, which I imagine we eventually will) but I also wonder if, with Chet long dead and buried, they decide to re-examine Shawn's relationship with his mother, which pretty randomly got a train run over it after their reconnection in Season 4. I also suspect they may have retconned away the bizarre eleventh hour  revelation that she was never Shawn's mother in the first place.

Anyway, this is another excellent scene with the five of them (Where's Auggie? Beats me.) and Rider Strong continues to not have lost a beat in playing Shawn. His delivery of everything is just really good and really Shawn. When the girls essentially ask him if he's seeing anybody, though, Shawn's answer (after confirming "Angela Time?" with Copanga) is to explain that fifteen years ago he was in love with Angela, who broke up with him. Which is stupid. What, is that your most recent relationship? Really? I don't believe that. I get that Angela's a big touchstone for the audience, but I resent the idea that Shawn's not had a real relationship since then because of her. I'd much prefer that she was just the first in a string of failed relationships and that she, specifically, wasn't really a factor anymore. They don't necessarily make this impossible with what they say, so it's what I'll choose to believe, and that they just didn't want to mention a lot of girls so as not to imply Shawn's promiscuous. Even though he's Shawn Hunter. And we all know how Shawn Hunter rolls.

Speaking of Angela, because we're only five minutes in and I've already written the first half of a novella about this episode, I think now's a good time to pause and have an unavoidable "Angela Time" of our own. As a guy who hung around Boy Meets World forums in the interim between the show's ending and now, I know that one of the most hotly debated aspects of the way BMW ended was how Shawn and Angela left things. This continued to be a point of contention when GMW was announced, and it became clear we were going to get some sort of definitive answer after all. It always struck me as obvious that Angela's final episode, "Angela's Ashes", was meant to firmly stick a fork in Shawn and Angela. Their final scene starts at 18:20 in this video.

See? Pretty cut and dry right? 'Goodbye' means it's over, so they better not say it! But Shawn says it. Though Angela acts as though this arrangement is only for a year, Shawn knows better. And, as we've seen, he's right. I never thought there was an implication that they'd get back together after that year because.... well, why would they have had to include all of that in the first place? Show was almost over, just leave them together and not even write this episode.

And I think that was the right choice. Most people don't end up with their high school girlfriend. I didn't, and none of my friends did either. I think I can think of one couple I'm aware of from my high school who actually have gotten married (and, at 26, it's a little premature to say they definitively ended up happily ever after either) Cory and Topanga did end up together forever because it's Cory and Topanga and of course they did. But, like... that's the one you get. You can't do that with their best friends too. It's just too hokey and ridiculous. On a show like this, you need to have some representation of how relationships at that age really work. I, personally, wish they'd been more Winnie Cooper with Topanga and not had her and Cory end up together, but that ship had sailed, so it was left to Shawn. 

To that same end, then, I do not want Shawn to wind up with Angela, and I would be extremely disappointed if they did. It's been fifteen years, they haven't seen each other, Shawn seems to have more issue with how often he's been abandoned, not specifically that Angela's not in his life anymore. I would like to see her in an episode, just because she was an important enough part of BMW to warrant a guest shot, and maybe it can provide some Shangela closure. My idea: Angela, who lives in Paris, comes to New York for work and makes plans to get dinner with Topanga while she's in town. Topanga mentions it to Cory, who immediately calls Shawn up and tells him, cajoling him in his Cory way to come and see her and see what, if any, sparks remain. Shawn's reticent, but eventually Cory gets him into the idea, and in a wacky shenanigan, Cory stalls Topanga from going to the dinner and Shawn's going to crash instead. Just as he approaches the table, Angela's phone rings and he overhears her talking on the phone with her husband and kids, and it's clear she's in a happy, stable, loving home. Shawn smiles, decides he's happy for her, and it gives him the closure he needs, and he slips out without her knowing he'd been there.

Good, huh? I think that's damn good. I should write a spec script. I'll find something for Maya and Riley to do too. 

Anyway, yeah, no Angela for Shawn. Not now, not ever. It was never going to be that easy for Shawn Hunter to find his 'the one', and I don't think he found her at 17.


Jesus, I'm still in the second scene. Oh well, I think I've already gotten out a lot of what I wanted to say anyway. Anyway, Copanga also tell Miley such an abridged version of the plot of "I Love You, Donna Karan" that there's no context to not make Shawn creepy, which is funny. And even better, Maya and Riley immediately cotton on to the fact that Shawn fell in love with a concept, not a person, and Shangela never had any hope, which is just an amazing conclusion for them both to have come to the moment they hear about her. Just to stick another fork in Shangela. Maya assumes Shawn left Angela because he couldn't commit, but he denies it. Althouuuuuuugh, to be fair, the storminess of Shawn and Angela's relationship does have its origins in Shawn's inability to commit to her once they started college. He led her on so much, she eventually had it, and that's why they broke up the first time and that stormy period dictated their relationship ever after. So... not so blameless, Hunter. Just saying. Still, Shawn and Maya bond over being "stayers" in a  world of "leavers." 

Riley sees all this, pulls Cory and Topanga in her room, and reveals her intention to magically turn Shawn, Katy, and Maya into a happy family. Then, they basically do the bake sale scene of "Bee True" again, recasting Eric with Riley, and changing "The Godfather" tone to more of an "Ocean's Eleven." It's... not as funny as in "Bee True". And it features what becomes a running gag of  freeze frames and text displays of nicknames and steps of the plan that happens throughout the episode - it's not nearly as funny as they think it is, and it happens far too often. Farkle and Lucas show up and become part of it too, Farkle because he's a computer genius even though in NO WAY does that become relevant in anything they do (It's like in the actual Oceans movies, where they keep using that Chinese trapeze guy, even though his specific skill was only relevant to the first heist, but because he was one of the 11, they want to include him, so they have him like... play businessmen and stuff for no reason, rather than bringing in a guy who can do that). Lucas as 'The Face'. Lucas is pretty funny in this one because he's deliberately portrayed as bland, pointless, eye candy that he is. I've got to imagine even the writers know Lucas is an abject failure. Also, the best part of this scene is Cory's delivery of the line "Shawn gave me mine when I was 25 years old. Your mother won't let me wear it."

Oh, also Farkle has this watch that tracks Riley and Maya's every movement, speaking to him in their own voices via Farkle having been recording everything they've ever said, and also forcing their voices to say stuff like "I love you, Farkle." Cory and Topanga chuckle at the revelation of this and warmly declare that they need him on their team, rather than kicking him out of their home, forbidding him to ever come near their family again, and calling the police which would be the right response. I really thought we were past the creepy stalker aspect of Farkle. They need to knock it off. It ruins him. 

Everyone reconvenes, and after some weirdness about exactly how much time has elapsed,  Cory and Topanga trick Shawn into going off to confront Katy (I'm skipping through this, but the scene of this taking place is fantastic), while the kids hog-tie Maya, who offers startling little resistance. This bit features my favorite line delivery from Lucas ever - him saying "Wanna see a rope trick?" He says it in this kind of sheepish/dumb way, where it's like he knows he's supposed to be distracting Maya somehow, doesn't really know how, and is like "Um...How about this?" It's cute. And it works! Scene's kinda dumb though.

So, Shawn shows up at the Nighthawk Diner, which I like so much more than the stupid bakery they own. Cory and Maya are already there spying when Shawn arrives (which shouldn't be possible, because Riley still had to do the whole tying up of Maya thing before she and Cory could leave, but maybe Shawn got lost?) Anyway, Shawn confronts Katy on everything with Maya, and at first they hate each other, but then they realize they have a lot in common, and Shawn realizes that a) Katy didn't forget Maya's birthday, she was just working a double shift to make extra money to afford Maya's present, which is a locket of her own, in a very nice callback to "Girl Meets Truth") and b) Katy lied to Maya about chasing their father away, so that Maya would still have some fond feelings about her father. I find 'b' a little unnecessary, since Katy being awful wouldn't have given him any sort of pass for also abandoning Maya, and it seemed like the dad was already portrayed as a schmuck before this episode. But whatever.

As for Shawn and Katy as a potential couple? Yeah. Chemistry. It's too neat and tidy an idea, and I don't see how Rider's going to be on this show often enough to be playing Maya's actual stepfather. And I think I'd rather his father figure-ness toward Maya remain honorary rather than official. But they do have chemistry and I'll let it play out more before I pass judgement. And, also, I like Katy. She's a good character. It's probably not a coincidence that her two episodes have been the two best.

Anyway, everyone comes back to the Matthews, Maya learns the truth, and clearly begins to be entertaining the idea of Katy and Shawn ending up together too. 

Episode Verdict: A solid 'A'. It's not perfect - the cheesiness with the "The Fixer!" "The Apprentice!" stuff, and everything with Farkle, but it's definitely the best episode of the series. 

Episode MVP: Oh man! That's hard! Almost everyone's deserving. Sabrina Carpenter and Rowan Blanchard were both great in this episode, and, though I didn't talk about it much, so was Danielle Fishel. But still, it's really down to Rider Strong, Ben Savage, and Cheryl Texiera. But since Ben was part of the lame part of the episode too, and Cheryl Texiera didn't even show up until the end, I'll give it to Rider Strong.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Episode Review: Girl Meets Game Night (#1.17)

Episode Title: "Girl Meets Game Night"
Episode Number: 17
Boy Meets World Episodes Borrowed From: Well, there are episodes, like Season 1's "Father/Son Game" and Season 4's "Wheels" that deal with the father feeling left behind by his children, it's more or less just become a recurring theme in Girl Meets World and doesn't feel inspired by BMW.
Cory's History Lesson and Relevance: The Revolutionary War, which is actually perhaps this show's best use of this. The parent/child analogy is, from my understanding, very much how the people at the time viewed the split. 

Episode Review: 

This really had all the makings of an excellent episode, a good plot, not much reliance on school, a focus on the family, and some legitimate humor. It's more or less a "bottle" episode, which is an episode of TV that revolves around the entire cast stuck together in one location for the entirety (though this does have some flashbacks to earlier that day at school) and those are historically great episodes of sitcoms (the 'ur' example is probably Seinfeld's "The Chinese Restaurant")

All of this is a point in its favor, and I'd probably consider it among the better GMW episodes, but it unfortunately is brought down in a major way by what has so far always been GMW's worst tendency - its need to overly explain its message and hammer down its moral to such an outrageous degree that everyone present stops behaving like an actual human being. This has been a problem a lot, starting with even the first episode, but for some reason (maybe because everything else in this episode is legitimately strong) it just feels on fire here.

It all starts strong enough. It's family Game Night, Cory's over-the-top excited, Riley invited friends, Cory feels like things are changing and Riley doesn't need him as much and gets insecure and neurotic. Exactly how you'd think it'd go, yes, but everyone's funny with it and it's good. I enjoy that it's not Maya's inclusion in Family Game Night that feels like an intrusion - Cory seems to have always been expecting Maya to be there and doesn't bat an eye at it, it's just Farkle and Lucas.

Speaking of Lucas, we avoided him for two episodes in a row but we all knew it couldn't last. Still, he's not a problem in this one, maybe because he doesn't have that much to do. But he has a running gag about not even wanting to be there and just wanting to go home that's maybe the most fun he's been. Meanwhile Cory makes fun of them both calling them Captain Howdy or Professor Turtle Neck (or something like that) and those nicknames kind of stick with Josh picking them up. There's also a funny bit with Lucas apparently calling his mother 'Mama' which... ha! But then Josh mentions he calls his mother "Ma" which seems weird, like they're trying to emphasize how New York-y he is, but.... it strikes me as unusual that Josh would actually regularly call Amy this when none of the rest of her kids did. This makes me generally curious, do any of you have siblings who call your parents something other than what you do? I'm not talking about, like, some angsty teenage sister who recently decided she's going to call your mom and dad "Diane" and "Stephen" now. But like, really a "Mama"/"Mom"/"Mother"/"Ma"/"Mommy" switcheroo? Just wondering.

Oh, yeah, Josh is there. He's better in this episode. Less aggressively snarky. Although there is a bit in the beginning with Cory having given him 100 dollars expecting change back to take Auggie out for a while and Josh spending all but a dollar of it. And Cory not even getting mad. C'mon Cory. Get mad. Like real mad, not goofy mad. Like that time you shoved your dad, get like that sometimes. Stand up for yourselves! Anyway, I was surprised to see Josh again so soon and was glad. He's funny in this one, and not as creepy with Maya - showing obvious discomfort with her crush and eventually telling her in no uncertain terms that he's too old.

It's weird to see Josh and Lucas standing next to each other though, because Josh is supposed to be too old for the Maya generation, but if anything he almost looks younger than Lucas. 

As Cory's hilarious anger and jealous continues, we begin to get flashbacks of earlier that day when Cory was teaching about the American Revolution and sadly our streak of classroom-less episodes gets broken just when I thought we were safe. Still, this was pretty well done. The flashbacks all focus on the presentation going on in class and not the side conversations about personal lives topics, Cory seems to have control of the class, the message and historical comparison in pretty on point, and there's a funny John Adams/John Quincy Adams bit.

Riley: It is I! John Quincy Adams!
Cory: Actually, Riley, you're playing John Adams.
Riley: Who's that?
Cory: John Adams was the father of John Quincy Adams.
Riley: My school is John Quincy Adams.
Cory: And my school was John Adams.
Riley: Your school was the father of my school?
Cory: Confusing, isn't it? I'm also going to be your teacher next year. Now, back to our story!

And that's how you do it, folks. Much like one of BMW's best jokes ("Hey, you got Feeny this year?" "Yeah, you?" "Yeah. Which classes?" "All of 'em." "Yeah, me too.") when the audience knows exactly how the show's going to work, even if it doesn't make sense, sometimes you're better off just pointing out how it doesn't make sense and just doing it, rather than trying to turn yourselves into a knot trying to justify it logically. BMW had one legitimate use of bringing Feeny over again as a teacher - making him the principal of John Adams in Season 2. Everything after stopped making sense, and they stopped justifying it, and that's the precedent so GMW isn't even going to start. 

Also, there's a funny bit where Topanga's obsessed with this one sound that gets played int he game and keeps reflexively shouting "I WIN!" even when she doesn't. I like when Topanga's crazy too. It also comes out when Topanga starts getting just as jealous and insecure as Cory does when Riley betrays her mid-game. Oh, And Ava comes which... whatever. I guess Auggie gets a friend there too. And I'm getting used to how evil and awful she is. 

So far, I've enjoyed all of this. If the episode stopped at the halfway or 2/3-way mark this would be getting like an A- or something. But then... then anvils start dropping and they start dropping hard and everyone starts talking in emotional punchlines and overexplaining the lessons they've learned. I'm going to transcribe one particularly heinous part.

Josh: And... as everyone joins together. We see... in the long game... friends become family.
Riley: It's not a game at all.
Auggie: What is it, Mommy?
Topanga: It's life.
Auggie: Life is the long game?
Cory: Yeah, bubba. Life is the long game.
Josh: Maya, you do understand I'm too old for you. [Yup, out of nowhere in front of everyone like that]
Maya: I do, Josh, I know that.
Josh: Good.
Maya: But I'm in it for the long game.
Riley: Yeah. (long beat) Me too.
(Everyone hugs)

It's just schamltzy, and barely makes sense. Everyone's speaking in platitudes that are supposed to have this great weight and significance and multiple meanings and the way you can tell is that they pause and look meaningful right before they say they're lines. The whole last scene is like this. No one's talking like a real person would ever talk. And it's just embarrassing and I hate it and makes me want to run from the TV. Boy Meets World was really never this bad. The whole last 5 minutes of this episode suddenly erupts into unwatchable and brings the entire episode down. It's a good message, but I wish they didn't need to treat us like idiots.

Episode Rating: B. Ultimately most of it was still actually very good, but the last bits were as bad as this show gets.
Episode MVP: Ben Savage. He was at his best for most of this one.

SHAWN'S BACK NEXT WEEK! That happened quick. I knew he was in one more episode, but I thought they'd space'm out more, and I also thought it was supposed to be the season finale. But I guess the season's almost over - only four episodes left, I believe?