Episode Title: "Girl Meets Game Night"
Episode Number: 17
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.
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.
Maya: But I'm in it for the long game.
Riley: Yeah. (long beat) Me too.
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?