#14. Jack Hunter
Played By: Matthew Lawrence (1997-2000, 2015)
Episode Count: 65 (64- BMW, 1- GMW)
Role: Eric's straight-man, Shawn's brother
Signature Episodes: The Eskimo, Santa's Little Helpers, We'll Have a Good Time Then, Getting Hitched, The Truth About Honesty, You Light Up My Union, Pickett Fences, Brotherly Shove, Girl Meets Semi Formal
Jack is troublesome. The most difficult angle here is keeping separate what we so desperately wish he had been from what he actually was. And in season 5... he was a lot of things. He wants to be this Lothario, but at the same time he wants to be humble and pay for his own tuition. The only line of consistent characterization in season 5 is his role as Eric's "straight man." Season 6 is an improvement. We dive much deeper into his relationship with Shawn and Chet. His dynamic with Eric is mostly about fighting for Rachel, which isn't great but better than it was, and when he's finally with Rachel it's largely uninspired. Season 7 finally assigns a real personality to Jack, and it pays off as well as it can coming in that late in the game.
So let's take a quick run at most of Jack's signature episodes before we go through each season. The Eskimo (teams up with Eric), Santa's Little Helpers (teams up with Rachel and Eric), We'll Have A Good Time Then and Getting Hitched (teams up with Shawn), The Truth About Honesty (teams up with Rachel), Brotherly Shove (teams up with Shawn), Girl Meets Semi Formal (teams up with Eric). The theme here is that Jack works the best when he's a team player. But one of the biggest reasons we're annoyed with Jack is that he's mostly not a team player. He's a heckler! 90% of his season 5 presence is heckling the audience's favorite character! So in these episodes where he finally teams up, it's a treat, and I wish there had been more.
Alright, let's dive in here. In season 5, Jack stands on the sidelines saying "boy that's dumb" when Eric does something dumb. And there are two problems with that. The first is that he's introduced as "Shawn's brother," the mysterious long lost brother of Shawn, yet ends up spending all his time with Eric. The second is that we don't want that. We love Eric! We don't need some Jack Hunter telling us how silly Eric is. We are well aware, thank you very much. FACT: Approximately 65% of Jack's screentime is him standing next to Eric, shaking his head or putting his head in his hands, and saying "Don't do it, man."
But that's not to say his first season is a total misfire. The side story in The Eskimo gives us a peek into Jack and Eric's dating lives, which not only makes them more relatable, but finally presents them as a team. Shallow as it may be, they're finally working together toward the same goal, rather than having Jack take jabs at Eric's goals from the sidelines. But his strongest component in season 5 was his relationship with Shawn. (I say "strongest" but I really mean "least weak.") Between the two of them, Jack is the one who actually wants to build a brotherhood, while Shawn doesn't really care. That is an excellent dynamic to work from. It opens up a ton of stories and lines up perfectly with Shawn's character. Unfortunately, season 5 barely scrapes the surface. The good moments, though, are the boys' genuine attempts to find common ground in A Very Topanga Christmas, which is honestly an adorable subplot, then back to beating the crap out of each other in Raging Cory, and again in Graduation when Jack is trying to celebrate and congratulate Shawn, and Shawn doesn't care in the slightest. "Why?! You know, you don't appreciate anything, man!"
It's great because we sympathize with both of them. We understand why Shawn is a dick about this stuff, but he has been a dick to Jack all season. The emotion is real and they start brawling, it's great.
Seasons 6 starts to give us the hazy outlines of something that could have been amazing. Getting Hitched starts with Jack and Shawn fighting over cleaning out the old Hunter trailer. Shawn still wants nothing to do with it or with Jack. Later, Shawn discovers that Jack's step-father has been paying Shawn's tuition, at Chet's request. Jack knew all along, and Shawn is naturally furious. But Jack defends Chet's decision, saying "I'm just trying to help out." This is the key, my friends. Based on his upbringing, this is probably the only way Jack knows how to help people. You look back one episode, Chet is dying, "Oh don't worry I paid for the room," meanwhile Shawn and even Alan and Amy are comforting Chet on an emotional and personal level. Look back two episodes further, he helps the orphans by buying them gifts, which stands in stark contrast to what Eric ends up doing with Tommy. And earlier in Graduation, he buys a caricature portrait for Shawn, while Feeny and Topanga help Shawn on that personal level. Paying for things is supposed to make people happy, right?! Why isn't it working! This is the World that Jack should be Meeting. Combined with his frustration with Shawn's unwillingness to form a relationship, and his grief over not getting to know his biological father, we've got the perfect storm of character development. Eric can teach him about helping people on a personal level, Cory can help him relate specifically to Shawn, and Shawn gives him an access point to his biological family. As of the 16 minute mark in Getting Hitched, Jack has an avenue for genuine storytelling with all three main characters. Here he is, in tears, at the breaking point, ripe for awesome character development!
But then they said "nah" and paired him with Rachel.
This was the crossroads of no return. Imagine if Jack had been with Eric in that scene rather than Rachel. But instead, Jack's story immediately becomes about dating Rachel. We just lost everything. Poof. There are a couple good bits, like his moments of insecurity in Bee True ("manly step ups") and The Truth About Honesty. But for the most part it's a waste, and by the time they break up all the momentum is completely dead. I want to like Rachel. She's a main character on one of my most beloved shows, but she set an awful direction for Jack and Eric's friendship in season 6, and pictured above, she slams the emergency brake on any chance Jack had of becoming a great character. That makes me unhappy.
Season 7 gives Jack a personality, which he has distinctly been missing all this time. Now he has this arrogance and elitism and 6% body fat. His new strong personality shines the most in Pickett Fences when he refuses to bow down to his new spoiled brat of a boss, but also in You Light Up My Union when he and Eric have differing philosophical views. And wouldn't you know it, the views are about helping people, the direction their relationship should have taken. Feeny even says that it's not a one way street, he wants them both to influence each other. This episode is our booby prize after not getting the full arc that that relationship deserved. And Jack's new personality is a perfect fit to drive all of those stories we lost at the end of Getting Hitched. The biggest problem now though is that Eric is different. The Eric that Jack needs here vanished after leaving Tommy, and really only comes back for Seven The Hard Way and the finale, when he says "I'm gonna be a good person, who cares about people." That is who Jack needed but he was too busy doing nothing all season. What's weird is that Jack still ends up where that story could have taken him, going into the Peace Corps, but it's entirely unsatisfying since they skipped all the necessary development. I'll also make passing mention of Brotherly Shove, where we take another stab at Jack's relationship with Shawn, and it's nice, but it has none of the momentum that we saw coming out of Chet's death. It also ends in failure which is a little depressing. Eric and Cory manage to reconnect, but Shawn and Jack fail to, don't they? Ugh, and he's presented as a guy who doesn't enjoy doing anything but going to the gym and the bank. Jack sucks. It's sort of unclear, we don't see them again after the brawl breaks out at the garage sale. But it's still nice because Shawn is actively trying to make it work, which we haven't really seen since A Very Topanga Christmas all the way back in season 5. And no, that's not a point in Jack's favor, but for the Shawn/Jack relationship it's a good ending. They obviously care about being brothers here, but then they both realize they'd rather go hang out with Eric and Cory. I think Chet would have been happy to see it.
And you know what makes it sting the most? Jack's dynamic with Eric in Girl Meets Semi Formal is basically perfect. Jacobs is telling us "Yeah that's the story we should have done." No kidding! So why didn't you do it?! Like I said at the beginning, the hardest part of dealing with Jack is separating what he should have been from what he actually ended up being. It hurts.
There was some debate over the placement of Jack vs Lucas, we thought it was close at the time, but after writing all this I no longer believe that.
If you walk away from this post with only one thing, let it be that line in Getting Hitched. "I'm just trying to help out." That is his struggle. Every time Shawn spurns or rejects him, and all of his shortcomings regarding Chet... He was just trying to help out.
I actually managed to forget about Getting Hitched for a bit, until Christian reminded me how much content is in it. Honesty is always the best policy, Sean. I'm proud of you.
Okay, guys. Look. Let's not stand on pretense here. I've been quite vocal about my feelings about Jack. Don't like him. Feel like he was a big albatross around the neck of the latter part of the series. Sean hit the major points so I'll try (and likely fail) to not compound them. I don't like how they wasted so much potential with both him and Shawn and him and Chet. I don't like that he diminished and limited Eric with his mere presence. I don't like that he's generally boring and not particularly funny. And I really don't like how he didn't have a clear identity or personality until his third season.
Honestly, you know what I think? I think Season 5 was like half-written already and about to start shooting when Disney suddenly approached Michael Jacobs all "Hey, can you put Matt Lawrence in a show? 'Brotherly Love' got canceled and we want to lock up one of those Lawrences and Joey's too expensive." and MJ's like "Well, I mean, we already got three young guys and it's been working so far, that would spread us a little thin." and they're like "Well, Cory's got a big brother, right? Make him Shawn's big brother." and MJ's like "But, isn't he younger than Rider Strong?" and ABC's like "I don't know, Mike! Figure it out! He's on your cast. Use the parents less so we can balance the budget."
Obviously, though Sean and I agree about Jack for the most part, he lacks the fervor on the subject that I do, (I'd say my opinion was plenty fervent, it's just a less extreme opinion) and manages to find things that appreciate him. He's all untapped potential in my book - amazing potential in fact, Jack sounds like a great character on paper. It should write itself. And yet somehow it didn't. I do start to warm to him in Season 7, even though he becomes a jerk, because I feel like I start to get him. I would have wanted to see that Jack the entire time, and explored more. Maybe meet his mother and stepfather, see him interract with Chet and Shawn way more. Boy Meets World featured only middle class and lower class people, the addition of a one-percenter to the crew could have been a nice addition. Instead he just adds nothing. I bet you can count the number of episodes that you couldn't easily pluck Jack out of without affecting the plot on one hand.
Still, make no mistake. The only difference here is that I would have ranked him one down at #15. He still definitely beats the rest on this list, no question. Jack is still a significant portion of the show. I tend to subsconsciously divide BMW into the pre-Jack and post-Jack years. Hey man. He just wanted to help.