Thursday, December 29, 2016

20 Greatest Meets World Characters: #14. Jack Hunter

#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.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

20 Greatest Meets World Characters: #15. Lucas Friar

#15. Lucas Friar

Played By: Peyton Meyer (2014- )
Episode Count: 60 and counting, presumably 63 after season 3 ends
Role: Love interest for Riley and Maya, Riley's boyfriend, everyone's friend
Signature Episodes: (Girl Meets) the Secret of Life, Rules, Yearbook, Texas 1 and 2

If you haven't noticed, the font of these posts differs by who writes it. My font uses serifs because I'm a fancy guy and I like fancy things. Christian uses a bigger font because of his low reading comprehension. That's actually my primary motivation for using pictures in the reviews, is to help my buddy follow along. I don't pay attention to the font, other than changing the color to my signature indigo. I just do whatever the default is. It appears to be Times New Roman when in the editor, but it seems to shift to Arial maybe when actually viewing it. Not sure why. I haven't thought too much about it because I'm not a NERD. *EDIT* Actually none of that is true, Blogger is just a weird piece of crap that doesn't work properly and we got confused.

Lucas is a handsome guy. Riley falls into his lap on the subway and is instantly smitten. That's all of season one. He is vanilla ranchhand female wish fulfillment from a romance novel that you can buy for two dollars at the supermarket and the cover looks like this:
At the same time... that's still influential. Riley's decisions, actions, and feelings are all massively influenced by Lucas's presence. And very quickly we see that Maya's are as well. From a narrative perspective, he has no right to be this impactful, but nevertheless, he is a very handsome friend to two teenage girls, and they react in the only way humans can. Now that should be a flaw. Our shallow, hormone driven monkey brains ought to be regarded as a flaw, the way Shawn's and Eric's are, rather than celebrated like Riley's attraction to Lucas. If he had had any relatable or compelling qualities in season one, it wouldn't have been such a tough sell for us. On the other hand, he isn't actively annoying, like Farkle's first season, he's just boring. Yeah, that Lucas is so goshdarn nice and polite seems to be why his boringness is forgiven. Oh, and also, like, they tell us he's really smart a lot, but, like, okay.

By the time season 2 rolls around, the writers know how bad this is, and characters are regularly making jokes at Lucas's expense about how perfect he is. This made him infinitely more palatable. It's incredibly similar to the shift we saw in Boy Meets World when Cory and Topanga start referring to themselves as "freaks" and their relationship as abnormal. It's unbearable to watch either of these shows when they pretend that Lucas or the Corpanga relationship is remotely close to reality. So when they start poking fun at it, everyone is more willing to go along for the ride.

In Meets the Secret of Life, Lucas acquires his only real character trait. Lucas has beaten the crap out of people to defend Zay in the past. This brings into focus a massively, MASSIVELY important distinction between potential and action. You see something like Pink Flamingo Kid, which I dislike, where Shawn is about to start fighting his half brother to defend Cory, versus Back 2 School, where Eric and Harley actually put hands on each other, or Janitor Dad, where Shawn actually starts fighting a bully to defend his dad's honor (Crandall... What was WITH that guy?), both of which are great episodes. I wouldn't care if Lucas were willing to go to battle for his friends, I'm sure Farkle and the others would all claim they're willing to fight in defense of each other. Who cares! I love that Lucas has actually done it, he has actually fought someone to defend his best friend. And HOLY CRAP, there were negative consequences! This guy suffered huge consequences for his defining character trait. That's storytelling baby, that's how you get me invested in the story. This trait is used disappointingly sparingly, but it was seeded in Girl Meets Flaws, when Lucas was ready to fight the guy harassing Farkle, and was cemented in Girl Meets Rileytown when he's willing to fight Riley's bully. (Though, again, "willing to fight" is not nearly as compelling as actually doing it.) Similar to Farkle, they had a standout direction to take Lucas's character, but ultimately decided to make him barely exist in season 3.

Girl Meets Texas is where we feel the full effect of Lucas's impact on the girls. They both obviously have feelings for him, they're having one of their only real fights in the series (this alone makes him wildly more significant than Farkle), and they're both deeply invested in whether or not Lucas rides Tombstone the Bull. Riley wants him to try, while Maya doesn't want him in danger. The girls' feelings are directed by Lucas's actions, but what's interesting is that the reverse isn't necessarily true. Honestly this is something I love about Texas part 1. Lucas doesn't spend hours agonizing over this decision like he does with everything else involving The Triangle. He knows he wants to ride the bull. The girls have nothing to do with it, damn the girls, Lucas wants to ride Tombstone for himself. I love to see this in the Meets World universe. It brings back one of my favorite Shawn lines ever, from the Eskimo, "Now be my best friend, and get out of my way." It also reminds us of that moment I loved with Farkle in Meets Yearbook, where he resolves to be more like Donnie Barnes regardless of what his friends want.

When you stack Lucas up against Farkle, the biggest issue is about consistency. For the most part, you can predict how Lucas will react to everyday situations. I could walk up to you on the street and ask you to describe him, and you wouldn't have much trouble. Farkle is all over the place. He can react to the exact same thing in different ways depending on whatever the writers want him to do. When the question is asking for the best character, and I can't properly describe Farkle's character... that hurts his chances. 

Further, when we compare their character traits, we've got "the smart one," which is not at all unique, and "a violent hero who has punched people in the face to protect his buddy." I can point out "the smart one" on every Disney Channel show. How many have the punching guy? Even though it's only significant in three episodes, it genuinely breaks the mold in a compelling way. That adds a ridiculous amount of value.

We've spent a lot of time, both here and on the Farkle post, comparing these two boys, but make no mistake, their rankings are not close. (Okay, yes, technically 15 and 16 are close numbers, but we had an obvious top 15 and the bottom 5 were a hodgepodge of like 10 characters we debated between, also Lucas almost beat #14) We can re-write 95% of the Girl Meets World scripts to remove Farkle, and have the episodes begin and end the same way. On the other hand, the series as it's been written simply does not work without Lucas. That alone creates a chasm between the #15 and #16 rankings. Then you add in his unique and compelling violent streak, his undeniably explosive chemistry with Maya, touching moments of reflection with Harley, his independence in Meets Texas, flashes of insecurity when Charlie shows up... I could keep going. Farkle is... what? Entertaining? Funny, sometimes? It's not even close. I fully understand liking Farkle more, I would absolutely rather hang out with Farkle for a day. (Both sound excruciating.) But as characters in a story, it's not even close.

But yeah. Please don't take this as an indication that we like Lucas. He's okay.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

20 Greatest Meets World Characters: #16. Farkle Minkus

#16. Farkle Minkus

Played By: Corey Fogelmanis (2014- )
Episode Count: 66 and counting, presumably 69 after season 3 ends
Role: Minkus's son, Riley and Maya's friend, the "nerd" 
Signature Episodes: (Girl Meets ) Flaws, Yearbook, I Am Farkle, Money, the Great Lady of New York

Farkle is, without a doubt, his parents' son. Unfortunately, in the first season at least, he never showed quite the same finesse with those traits as his parents. Instead of being that one kid in class who answers everything, like his father, he had to have "Farkle Time" dedicated to his exhibitionism. Instead of having that social dark streak in wanting to control his peers, like his mother, he wants to control the entire world. Instead of controlled moments of genuine charm, like his father toward Topanga, he comes on way too strong, all the time. His entire character is cranked up to 11 in the first season, making him a difficult pill to swallow. On the other hand, at least he had traits to crank up. The other main three were fairly limited and almost entirely predictable in the first season, while Farkle was capable of bringing different attitudes and energies to different situations. Season one NEEDED that. And in Girl Meets Flaws, we move one dimension deeper as we explore his vulnerability and hidden insecurity. 

So great, Farkle is a fully fleshed out character, despite being hugely annoying. Then in Meets Yearbook, Farkle realizes he's a caricature and resolves to change. I think we all expected the standard resolution here, where his best friends tell him he's great the way he is and everything goes back to normal. Like what happened with Cory most of the time. But instead, they surprised us, and I loved it. Farkle isn't going to define himself by what his friends want. He wants to grow into something better. "I'm growing up. And I don't know what's going to happen next. But you guys are my best friends, so deal with it." That's vintage Meets World right there, the change, being uncertain of yourself while being certain of your friends. 

And that sounds great on paper. In real life, a haircut, cool clothes, and a deeper voice would completely change Farkle's life, he would fit in and be loved. But that's not what we want to see on television. He has no interesting story until Meets I Am Farkle, but then that's almost backpedaling. Is he Donnie Barnes or is he borderline autistic? After that... we start to realize why Minkus only had one season. Once you've seen what this archetype can do... what's left? They gave him a girlfriend, crossed that one off the list real quick. Even in the first season of Big Bang Theory, which I actually enjoy as opposed to the rest of the series, Leonard's big arc is what? He gets a hot girlfriend. There's just not much to do with this character, other than showing off his intelligence in class every once in a while. Popping an adderall and studying all night doesn't make for great tv. I might like to see him as a Hermione, the intelligence-crutch of his friends, but this show never has any problems for his intelligence to solve!

He gains a new trait in Meets Money, a sort of rich guilt and romanticizing a simpler life, which is compelling. It was a bad script, but the idea gives a lot of room to explore the character, although we haven't explored it since then. He barely exists in season 3 after the triangle arc, and then in Great Lady of New York, I don't even know what happened.

"Mike we need a new angle for Farkle."
".... His ancestors died in the Holocaust."
"Wohoah, isn't that a bit extre-"
"Write it."

So in the end, the reason Farkle works is because he's a fiercely loyal friend. He's Lucas's best friend, he's known Riley and Maya forever, he is their glue. During the whole triangle arc, he's the one constantly trying to put everything back together, for better or worse. That's where Farkle's strength is, and I wish they'd focused on it more. Instead of just giving Zay that board game for Christmas, let's see them all actually playing one of Farkle's favorite games together. Show us ONE THING that Lucas and Farkle do together when it's just the two of them. But like I said, he is fully intent on holding them all together. Indeed, when asked about Canada by Cory in Girl Meets Legacy, Farkle replies "Our greatest allies are the people right next to us." If anyone were to come up with "Lose one friend, lose all friends, lose yourself" in this show, it would be Farkle. That's important.

This post reads a lot more critical than the ones before it, so let me explain why. Previously it was "they're not around much, so we're explaining why they deserve to be on the list at all." But we're past that point. If you tried to list the remaining characters (not in order) you'd get all of them or maybe be off by one. Farkle has to be on the list. He is a main character for three seasons, interacting with and affecting all of the main characters, while either influencing or driving the narrative. In light of that, it's important to see which shortcomings led to him being ranked lower than the others. 

To chime in a bit based on what was being discussed on the blog, I have three major problems with Farkle that hold him back and even rank him below Lucas. From LEAST problematic to MOST problematic these are: 1) He's increasingly poorly used. We've mentioned it before, but if you took him out of this season entirely very very little would have changed. 2) He's consistently annoying, even if the way he's annoying keeps changing. 3) They have major difficulties settling on a personality for him. 

It's 3 that some people have difficulty with, especially I think because Lucas is so boring (and Farkle often isn't) that it seems like a lack of personality should really be more Lucas' problem. It isn't. Lucas has a personality, it's just not a terribly interesting one. Farkle, on the other hand, suffers from a (far more extreme) version of what I criticize Jack for - inconsistent, grab-bag personalities that seem to shift on a whim. I found this comment from me in the "Commonism" review, which kind of encapsulates what the issue is for me:
I mean, Lucas bothers me more in that... his personality is anathema to everything I tend to value in characters. But I do believe he's a developed, consistent character and that's important to me. Farkle, it's like... they know he's smart, they know he's 'weird', and that's it. Sometimes he's the sweetest most sensitive guy in the world, sometimes he's on his way to becoming a world-conquering dictator. Sometimes he's a skeevy perve who is utterly lacking in social skills and unable to pick up social cues and possibly autistic, and sometimes he gets social cues better than anyone else and knows what's in everyone's heart better than they do. It's really kind of a problem.
I can forgive just, like, not liking a character. Because that's whatever, what I don't like, someone else might. But when the show seems to struggle so much getting a firm grip on who they want this character to be, I do think it's a problem. They've reinvented him a few times, presumably because they recognize the problems themselves, and it keeps not working. The Farkle of now really has almost nothing in common with the original Farkle except for being smart, and yet...  he still doesn't work. At least for Sean and I.

So, that's where his problems mainly come down to. There are a lot of reasons he's important, and ways in which he's not so bad, and I really have come to believe in the strength of his friendship with Riley and Maya both, even as other friendships among this group are poorly realized. So it's not all bad. But it's a lot bad. 

P.S. I just tried to look up something about Farkle on google and the first suggestion after typing "Farkle" was "Farkle and Riley Fanfiction Rated M". *sigh*

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

20 Greatest Meets World Characters: #17. Harley Keiner

#17. Harley Keiner

Played By: Danny McNulty (1994-1995, 2014-2017), Kenny Johnston (1995)
Episode Count: 15 (9- BMW, 6- GMW)
Role: John Adams bully, John Quincy Adams janitor
Signature Episodes: Back 2 School, Sister Theresa, Cyrano, He Said She Said, Girl Meets Flaws, Girl Meets Rules

Much like Minkus, Harley is a character that helps define a single season of Boy Meets World, but plays basically no role in any others. More than any other character besides Cory himself, the Season 2 premiere (one of the best episodes of that entire season) is largely defined by Harley, setting the stage for the big role he'll play in the season to come. It's a testament to how well he's established in that premiere that when we see Turner stand up to him at the end of the episode, we're genuinely impressed. Here's a guy we've known for less than 30 minutes, who's being taken to task by someone with obvious authority over him, who's also clearly bigger and stronger than Harley is, and yet his being cowed by him makes us go like "Whoa, Harley's intimidated by you?" It's a great scene for Turner, but actually says more about what a good job they'd done with Harley in that premiere.

Adding to that first paragraph, Harley presents a world for Cory to grow into. This setting existed before our story got there, and it exists and functions off camera when the main characters are doing other things. Harley shows us that this world is bigger than the protagonists. In contrast, I'm convinced JQA High would just cancel all classes if Riley were to stay home sick. 

A flat-out villain in a show that doesn't really have any others, Harley is bombastic and larger than life. The mere mention of his name sends chills down character's spines, and he takes over the energy of a space simply by walking into the room. There is probably no other character on this list of which this is true - if Harley Keiner is in a scene, that scene becomes about Harley Keiner, because he demands it become about him. Cory and Shawn can't just continue their conversation, they now need to deal with the fact that Harley's here and the scene's energy changes accordingly. That's a big impact for a recurring character to have. 

And as a villain, he's also fairly unique. School bullies are a dime a dozen on TV shows, and while Harley is eventually presented with moments of humanity that causes us to look at him in a sympathetic light (Sister Theresa remains his best episode), that's also not unheard of. It's the way he's a bully that I always liked. In real life you might expect him to be crass, vulgar, and violent. But, he's not. Instead, he speaks with exaggerated elegance and a terrifying politeness. He doesn't have to actually beat the shit out of you, because he'll calmly explain his plan to do so and you'll give him what he wants to avoid it. The faux sophistication is all bluster, of course. Guys like Harley are usually pretty dumb, and Harley's no exception, so beneath the flowery prose there's always the sense that this is is a put-on, an attempt to portray class where class doesn't exist, and it usually seems like he barely understands the words he's saying himself. 

It's a fun mixture of quirks that always made Harley pop onscreen - and it very much comes down to McNulty's performance. The one episode Kenny Johnston is just... weird. Harley loses all of that and just seems like a piece of shit. It's probably a more realistic example of how a bully would act, and Johnston's performance is actually not bad, but it's just... not Harley. It's not Harley at all.

When Harley leaves near the end of Season 2, it really becomes a different show. He helped flesh out the world of John Adams, and without the scope of his villainy, it starts sort of feeling like a school that only a small handful of self-involved kids attend. Still, it also felt like his time was over and that he'd served his purpose of being the personification of what's scary about high school. Cory and Shawn were getting older and more confident, and it was starting to become clear even to them that Harley was ultimately small potatoes who they were more than capable of outwitting, so it was time to move on. Even in the episode featuring his return in Season 3 (another great episode) Cory and Shawn don't have much to do with him, because they no longer seem like the Cory and Shawn who'd care much about him.

It may seem surprising that I'm the one writing about Harley, considering I was pretty vocal in not really digging his reappearance in Girl Meets World. A lot of this was because of Danny McNulty's atrophied acting skills (which improved as time went on, in fairness) but it was also because Harley seemed a really odd choice to bring back into Cory's world when people like Eric, Alan, Amy, Jack, and Angela either hadn't yet appeared or hadn't appeared much. And this is still true. But, he did appear, and it's helped further cement him in the lore of this show by making him such a large part of Girl Meets World. While this show has featured other teachers than Cory - a professorial science teacher, two different inspiring art teachers for Maya and, most significantly, Harper the Turner Clone - Harley's the only one of much significance. His demeanor, tone, and life experience is vastly different than Cory, and so he shares a perspective that Cory can't, and although Girl Meets Flaws isn't a good episode, his role in it was important. I'm still not entirely convinced that the show ultimately justified his recurring role, but it's certainly helped add to Harley's significance.

As a side not, some may be surprised he made the list while the more likable Griff and the longer-lasting Frankie and Joey (spoiler alert) did not, but the reason is that despite the fleshing out that they (especially Frankie) received, ultimately their significance on the show comes back to Harley himself. They're Harley's replacement or lackeys first, and their own characters second.

I wanted to toss in this line from Harley's final scene, in Girl Meets Legacy: "I respect a nice place where good decisions get made. It's gettin a little... worn down... a little old, as time goes by... but aren't we all?"

Monday, December 12, 2016

20 Greatest Meets World Characters: #18. Lauren

#18. Lauren

Played By: Linda Cardellini
Episode Count: 3 (2 corporeal, 1 dream)
Role: An alternative to Topanga, harbinger of chaos
Signature Episodes: Heartbreak Cory, Torn Between Two Lovers (Feeling Like a Fool), The Psychotic Episode, (sort of) Girl Meets Pluto

It's season 5. Cory and Topanga are madly in love. Topanga just ran away from her parents (and Pittsburgh, but who can blame her) to be with Cory. There was an episode named The Last Temptation of Cory. That was the last one! They're rock solid! 
Uh oh.

Lauren seemingly does the impossible by steering Cory's heart away from Topanga Town, making her perhaps the most controversial character in Meets World. She defines the most notorious arc in the series. And the Breakup Arc doesn't only concern Topanga and Cory, as the fallout of the breakup extends to Shawn and Angela as well. So there is no doubt that Lauren's impact on the story and characters is colossal. Years later, in Girl Meets Pluto, Topanga explains that she felt threatened by Lauren, and stashed her letter in the time capsule, hoping she could tear it up without caring in the future, which she does. That's a pretty huge deal. Especially with how seriously the episode treats the concept of a time capsule. I mean Shawn put in the items that made him fall for Angela, and Cory put the denim jacket from What I Meant To Say. So Lauren's letter is in the same tier of significance as that stuff. It seems like that might be the real end of Lauren's effects on these people, but the mere mention of Lauren by her son in Meets Ski Lodge is still enough to get a rise out of Cory and Topanga. 
All of this? With just two real episodes? That's insane.

But here's the thing, while Lauren has an immense effect on the story and characters, she isn't just a plot device. We get sucked in, just like Cory, because she's engaging, and entertaining, and fun. The audience is forced to feel the same conflict as Cory. This is a girl that any of us would want to spend all night talking to. This isn't a conniving homewrecker trying to seduce the male hero, this is a real issue, wondering if you might actually be happier with another person. Lauren's writing is a master stroke by Jacobs et al, especially in Torn Between Two Lovers. We see Cory and Lauren having their fun, goof-around date, a counterpoint to the strict, by-the-books Topanga. The Topanga relationship tends toward dramatic moments rather than fun, so the date with Lauren emphasizes the fact that this isn't so much a competition, but rather seeing what else is out there, what kinds of different relationships you can have. And it goes so far as to show Shawn, Amy, and Alan all admitting to each other that they like Lauren. 

Ultimately, from Starry Night, The Psychotic Episode, and Girl Meets Pluto, we know that Lauren's real effect on Meets World is allowing both Cory and Topanga to learn, independently, that no one else will do, that there will never be anyone better for them than each other. To quote Cory directly from TBTL, "I don't have to be afraid of what I feel about anybody else because I know that it could never take away from loving you." That's huge.

To sum up, Lauren explodes into this series. EXPLODES. That is the best way I can describe it. From out of nowhere, we get this compelling character with clear personality, motivation, and goals, who changes the lives of four lead characters. In two (sort of three) episodes. Impressive.

20 Greatest Meets World Characters: #19. Joshua Matthews

#19. Joshua Matthews

Played By: Cameron and Corbin Ur (1999), Daniel Jacobs (2000), Uriah Shelton (2014-2017)
Episode Count: 11 (3- BMW, 8- GMW)
Role: Cory's baby brother, Riley's uncle, Maya's crush
Signature Episodes: My Baby Valentine, Resurrection, Brave New World, Girl Meets Home for the Holidays, Girl Meets First Date, Girl Meets the Tell-Tale Tot, Girl Meets Ski Lodge

Josh was an interesting point of discussion, and is another selection I advocated for and Sean wasn't so sure about - in fact, Josh probably wound up the biggest factor of debate, as I kind of wouldn't let it go. There's a lot of reason to not include Josh, and there's a lot of reasons why, despite being a Matthews brother, he's not higher. He wasn't in much of Boy Meets World at all. Not only was he obviously too young to play much of a factor, he also was kind of forgotten about after the episode of his birth (which was, admittedly, significant) and not picked back up until the finale, where he'd grown to be a toddler remarkably quick. This is, of course, forgivable. Season 7, the only season where he's alive the whole time is, by far, the one that spends the least amount of time at the Matthews home, and where else would you see him? And what would he do if you did see him? He's a baby.

Girl Meets World could have been his time to shine - and it was. He was being set up to be a very significant character. But, because of the unfortunate accident Uriah Shelton suffered, had to be written out of all of Season 2 except for one episode and, though appearing more in Season 3, Season 3's kind of all over the place and story arcs keep getting forgotten about and then picked up way later. Had Josh taken the place in the series he seemed to originally be headed to (whether that would have changed had Uriah's accident not taken place or not) it's likely he'd be much higher, maybe even on the outskirts of the Top 10.

So, cool, I've just told you why he's not higher. So, why is he here at all? I mentioned Minkus operated a fairly singular, unique role - but he's got nothing on Josh. As the only character actually born before our very eyes, we have a connection to Josh that Riley and Maya can't quite match. Riley and Maya are great, but they just kind of showed up one day. We've known Josh for years, and like a real child, we've wondered how he would grow up, who he would be. Theoretical sequels to BMW have been bandied about over fan communities for years, and there was always the Josh question - what kind of guy would he have grown up to be? Is he like Cory? Eric? A mix of the two? Did he inherent some other qualities from his parents? 

There felt like a lot of potential on Josh's shoulders - and him being the person that Cory gave his "Boy Meets World" speech to in the series finale (a big, memorable moment in the series) only accentuated that. Long before Riley was on the radar, he felt set up to be Cory's heir. If they'd decided to make a sequel five years earlier than they did, it likely would have been decided to use Josh instead of a Copanga child, with him living with Cory and Topanga for some arbitrary reason. 

And like a real baby, his potential and impact existed before he even entered this world. Think about how many episodes are about his eminent arrival. The very fact of his existence is a driving factor in "Prom-ises, Prom-ises", "Things Change", "Cutting the Cord", and more. He had a profound effect on Alan and his coming arrival was a big part of that character's latter seasons story arc.

So, there's all that - and that's just Boy Meets World. Of course his major impact comes when we actually know him Girl Meets World. We don't see him as often as we'd like, but he serves not only as a nice bridge between the adults and the kids (closer to Riley in age, but technically of the same generation and a peer to Cory) and of the two different shows, but for Season 1 and now again in Season 3 (when they remember to deal with it) he's Maya's major love interest. He also kind of represents the young adult ideal - unlike the rest of the kids, he's self-confident, generally angst-free, goes to parties, and is set up as the maturity ideal in much the way Eric was for Cory in Season 1. And his own attraction to Maya mixed with his feeling that dating her would be inappropriate is actually a pretty interesting character arc for Josh himself. 

Plus, Josh is a character with a clear personality, someone who leaped off the page the moment we met him. It took them quite a while to really build an identity for both Lucas and Zay and some may argue (though I'd probably disagree) that they've yet to really get there with Lucas, and Farkle's ever-shifting personalities have been so unsuccessful that they have to keep changing them. Not so with Josh. After Riley, Maya, and probably Zay, he's the strongest young character on the show, and that speaks to how well he's written and performed, considering we've seen him so much less.

So, that's how Josh winds up here. Not because of one specific driving narrative role, but because of a grab-bag of small things that, when you add them together, equal a character unlike any other. While I get the knee-jerk of including more appearing characters of Zay and Rachel over Josh, I felt strongly that the small, specific roles they operated in were not of equal stature to the complex and fairly momentous role that Josh has been able to carve out, despite being one of the technically least appearing characters on this list. I'm sorry Josh came too late to really get to know him on Boy Meets World, and I'm sorry for the off-camera circumstances that has kept Josh from having as big a role as he was supposed to on Girl Meets World, but he wound up making his mark. 

You called me out, so I'll chime in. If it weren't for the effect that Josh's birth, and the pregnancy in general, had on Alan, we would probably still be arguing over his placement. I agree with everything Christian wrote, I suppose I just weigh it differently. For example, Daniel Jacobs standing there with his goofy toddler face while Cory makes the Boy Meets World speech doesn't give Josh any points for me. Regardless, the "oh crap, I'm an old man" struggle Alan has is special, so when I finally thought of that, I was happy to place Josh here at 19. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

20 Greatest Meets World Characters: #20. Stuart Minkus

#20. Stuart Minkus

Played By: Lee Norris (1993-1994, 1998, 2014-2017)
Episode Count: 25 (20- BMW, 5- GMW)
Role: Class nerd/Cory's nemesis/Farkle's father
Signature Episodes: Cory's Alternative Friends, Model Family, Class Pre-Union, Boy Meets Girl, Graduation, Girl Meets Maya's Mother, Girl Meets I am Farkle, Girl Meets Money

Sean and I had some contention over Minkus, with me generally supporting a higher rank, and him a lower one and so 20 is where he ended up. Sean and I are splitting the posts for the rankings 50/50 with me generally writing the ones for those I advocated (like Minkus) while he writes for the ones he advocated (Like Zay and Rachel), along with some obvious divisions like me writing Eric and Sean writing Shawn.

Minkus was in danger of dropping out entirely, and Sean had some understandable reasons. Minkus was a main cast member when he was on the show, but he wasn't on the show long, and was by no means a lead when he was. And, as I myself have argued in the past, Boy Meets World’s first season bears little resemblance to the show it became. The structure of the show (along with basically everyone’s personality except Feeny and the parents) really became codified in Season 2 when Minkus is already gone. So, all of that is why he’s not higher.

But what got him on the list, over the likes of more frequently appearing characters like Zay and Rachel? Singularity. Minkus plays a very interesting, dynamic role within the context of the series. In Season 1 he’s Cory’s nemesis, the only real rival he ever has in the series (unless you count Harley as one, and considering them ‘rivals’ probably gives Cory a bit too much credit), and just as important in the classroom scenes as Shawn is. He’s also a big part of the early year’s theme of “Cory feeling inadequate”. While Eric represents the maturity he doesn’t possess and Shawn the toughness and coolness, Minkus is academic prowess. Cory gets mediocre grades, and he’s recurrently resentful of Minkus for doing so well.

And the portrayal of Minkus as a super-nerd is also refreshing. He’s no Urkel - characters who intend to prank him or bully him generally wind up outwitted or ignored. He doesn’t just wind up giving as good as he gets, he gives far better than he gets. If you only watched Minkus scenes, you’d be forgiven for assuming he’s the hero of the series, and Cory and (particularly) Shawn mean-spirited idiots who tend to get their comeuppance in the end. Everything about him is different than you’d expect. Shy and inept with women? Nope. He’s extremely confident, behaves as if he’s an alpha male (because he sort of is…), and is way more comfortable and knowledgeable about the opposite sex than cool guy Shawn and then-cool guy Cory. Sure, Topanga never returns his interest but she doesn’t exactly express disinterest either. Hell, she even got a little into him when he had that tattoo. Is it any wonder this guy wound up building a corporate empire and marrying a rich, hot Amazon woman? Stuart Minkus is a testament to what most ultra studious, hard-working folks kids actually wind up being - straight-up winners. 

This identity, of course, became the blue prints for the character of Farkle, but as detailed before, Minkus was a much more successful example. He never went too far, he never came off creepy, and he never ignored repeated requests to back off. The Minkus-clone version of Farkle was such a failure that in Season 2 they more or less abandoned that entire personality. But Minkus worked.

All of that might be enough, but he continued to have a relevance beyond almost all returning vets by being Farkle’s father. We’ve spent more time with him as an adult than the likes of Eric, Jack, and Angela and seen what he’s become. Now a titan of industry, he very much maintains his personality, but also feels like he’s matured and evolved into someone this character would have become. Still brilliant, competitive, and self-confident, he carries himself with more swagger, presumably now that he’s not being picked on anymore. Still, despite some arrogance, he’s shown as a caring, dedicated father and loving husband. Unlike most in this show, Minkus is different things to different people. Everyone, adult or child, generally thinks of and treats our heroes the same way. Cory is Cory to everyone, and everyone sees him exactly the same way and everyone treats him the same way. To know Cory is to love him, but also to think he’s weird and exasperating. But Minkus' dynamic with Cory (and Shawn) is so different than his dynamic with Topanga which is so different from his dynamic from Farkle. That’s pretty unique. 

We’ve seen a lot of people grow in this franchise, but by far the most fun is the scope that has been for those Cory’s age, growing from actual children to adults and parents themselves. Even Eric was already past puberty when we met him, so despite changes in weight and hairstyles, he looks and sounds exactly the same as the day we met him. Minkus may not be what Cory, Shawn, and Topanga are to this show, but he’s the only other one besides that main trio we got to see this happen to, and it’s part of what makes this series so epic.

Not bad for a guy barely on the show.

You did a great job with this. Christian initially roped me into this saying each bio would be about one paragraph, but I tell ya, once you start writing about this show, it all comes pouring out.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

20 Greatest Meets World Characters: Honorable Mentions

Welcome to our countdown of the Top 20 Meets World Characters! As leading experts on Meets World content, Christian and I have put together a ranking that we both agree on. It was difficult, but the justifications are thorough, so we hope you enjoy it.

 There's no fixed schedule for these posts, but expect 4 a week.  Feel free to chime in with your predictions of who the top 20 will be and in what order. Whichever (named, because we ain't tracking down Anonymouses) commenter is closest will get a PRIZE of some sort.

Today I have the honor of writing about our two honorable mentions, before diving into the proper list. I need everyone to understand the brutality of the debate over these two with ranks 19 and 20. Leaving these two out of the top 20 was not easy. So let's talk about why.

#21. Isaiah "Zay" Babineaux

Played By: Amir Mitchell-Townes (2015-2017)
Episode Count: 28 (and counting)
Role: Lucas' best friend, wise-cracking new kid
Signature Episodes: Girl Meets the Secret of Life, Girl Meets Texas, Girl Meets the Real World, Girl Meets Bear, Girl Meets A Christmas Maya

Zay didn't enter Girl Meets World until season 2, and he was terrible. Mostly random attempts at comic relief that never worked. He is allegedly Lucas's best friend, but we didn't see that in season 2 except for a great moment at the end of Meets Legacy, and the story about Lucas getting expelled in Meets the Secret of Life, which was a good moment for both of them, but the actual action happened some time in the past, off camera. So Zay has almost no value in season 2. 

In season 3, we've seen an enormous improvement in Zay. He has personality, he starts relating to the other characters on a tangible level, and his humor is some of the best in the show. And Amir is possibly the best actor of the kids. Zay is now this confident guy who's visibly trying his hardest to form relationships with these other people. After watching Meets Christmas Maya, it's impossible to deny his potential. But that's the problem. It's mostly potential. If we had a fourth season with the Zay we've been seeing lately, and he keeps improving these relationships and we really see him being there for Lucas, and we explore his feelings for Maya, I have no doubt that Zay would shoot up the rankings. 

One of the biggest factors Christian and I looked at was how much someone impacts the other characters' lives. Unfortunately, Zay just doesn't have enough of that yet. Don't get me wrong, Christian and I both love Zay right now, but looking objectively at how this character relates to his world and story, there just isn't enough to justify placing him higher than the other characters. It is true, however, that by virtue of receiving an honorable mention, we have placed him higher than anyone who is neither on the list nor an honorable mention. So he's certainly not "worse than last place" or anything.

#22. Rachel McGuire

Played By: Maitland Ward (1998-2000)
Episode Count: 42
Role: Eric and Jack's new roommate and object of desire
Signature Episodes: Hogs & Kisses, And In Case I Don't See You, Getting Hitched, The Truth About Honesty, The War, Seven the Hard Way

Within the realm of honorable mentions, Zay is higher than Rachel, but she still deserves one. Rachel is in 42 episodes. A lot of the time she does nothing, but she contributes enough to the story to be important to the series.

Rachel's best episode is The Truth About Honesty (I mean, I think it's The War/Seven the Hard Way, but okay - C). It's her+Jack's first dinner party, and she tries so hard to make everyone happy. This is something that needed to be expanded into a running theme because it makes her extremely relatable. She doesn't really know these people that well, she wants them to like her, that's a strong enough story to tell. That should have been her arc, ending with Seven The Hard Way. Can you imagine her speech in STHW if more episodes had been devoted to that struggle? Like if we had seen her deliberately making an effort to get closer to Cory and Shawn and Topanga for two seasons, and then dropping that bomb about how she's still the outcast of the group? That would be heart wrenching. But as it is... she never really tried that hard. Eric and Jack only took her in because she's pretty.

And that leads to the second problem. Who is she? Tell me something about Rachel. I dunno. The closest I can get is to talk about Honesty Night and Seven the Hard Way, but what else is there? 

To close it out, let's look at her impact on other people. The only possibilities are Jack and Eric. Yeah she dates Jack for half a season, but is there any growth there? There's that one moment where they're both insecure about their heights, which I love, but compared to any of the other relationships on this show, it's lacking. What's more important to look at is the end of that relationship, in State of the Unions. Eric and Jack both realize that it was more about the competition than about Rachel. I think that's an important revelation for both of them, although Christian disagrees. Eric has been shallow since season 1. There was a song about it. And it's nice to think that that finally ended with his revelation about Rachel at the end of season 6, but it's hard to say. He's such a different character in season 7 that it wouldn't be right to say one way or the other. The fact of the matter is, even if that were the development they were going for, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter did it better, in one episode. Then at the very end, Rachel leads Jack to joining the Peace Corps, but that's really more about the effect Eric had on Jack, and she's just there to give Jack an idea of what to do.

So those are our honorable mentions. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Episode Review: "Girl Meets a Christmas Maya" (#3.18)

Wait, PURPLE font, whaaaaaat? I know, I know. I've been tardy. Just be glad I'm here at all, I tried to quit but Sean wouldn't let me. Also, I updated "Hollywood" quite a bit, so check that out. Oh yeah, I remember you. Name's Crimson, right? Cribbage? Crabcakes? It's one of those.

But let's not go crazy. Sean's still the lead singer these days. 
Pictured: photorealism 
I'll be singing back-up vocals from here on out, except the last episode. I'll do a real review for that, and I'll even start it off. And I get to do that because while I've bequeathed the company to Sean to run, I maintain my seat as Chairman of the Board. I may have mixed my metaphors.

But I'm going to write some errant thoughts down:

Don't get me wrong. I'm not an idiot. I knew Shawn wasn't going to be in this episode. But that's because I'm fairly plugged into the comings and goings of the cast of this show. If I was a civilian just watching this episode, I would kinda feel like they built it up that Shawn would be here to spend his first Christmas with Maya, since he was brought up as being a part of her issues here. I am an idiot, I didn't know, and now you've ruined Christmas. Or maybe Rider ruined it by not wanting to be here. 

Maya's scared that her Christmas might still suck. This is standard Michael Jacobs fare because it sort of falls under the "learn so much ... still be so stupid" umbrella. Shawn consistently proves to her that he's going to make shit awesome. She consistently learns to be excited about having Shawn around, that her life is going to be better. But now she still doubts it. So yes, the theme is consistent, but I would much rather have progress than consistency.
Ultimate boyfriend Lucas ran away from his girlfriend's Secret Santa. Okay.

Topanga finishes reading The Gift of the Magi to Ava and Auggie, only she got a rare misprinted copy where the ending is at the front.

I find it totally acceptable and okay that Zay wouldn't know Smackle well enough to know what to get her. She's only kind of in their group, she usually doesn't hang out with them, Zay wasn't there in Season 1 to be a part of how they got to know her, and she didn't even go to JQA so he probably has only spent four months of real time with her. I like Farkle explaining the theremin. Being enthusiastic about a quirky bit of knowledge is what makes the nerd archetype lovable. Like Christian explaining soap operas in the previous review. More of this, less of whatever we've been getting lately. But Farkle not knowing Zay well enough to know what to get him rings false. They've spent a lot of time together, and Lucas, Farkle, and Zay are a unit. Hell, I feel like I know Zay well enough to get him something he'd like. Dude likes cookies. Get him some cookies. Actually, call up his grandma, explain that Riley ate his cookie and try to get her to send one more.  Get your billionaire father, with his private jet, to fly her out even for a visit. That would be an amazing gift. Asshole. This was easy. Yeah that would have been an amazing gift. I do like the idea of Farkle being a hypocrite on his own self righteousness about knowing people in the group, you know, having this flaw that clearly upsets him. But like you said it just can't work with their history.

Also, while any episode without Lucas is a gift from the heavens above, this was a weird one for him to miss. Like, he could've missed last week's no problem. But the group's Secret Santa episode ought to have him in it, and as the lynchpin of the LZF trio, he's probably a good person for Farkle to talk to about his indecision about what to get Zay. 

So Riley wants Maya to go home and Ava is having a (more than likely) placebo-effect sugar rush. Please make it stop. I have no tolerance for this.

Also, can I figure out the rest of the Secret Santas based on the info I have? Probably. Riley has Farkle, Farkle has Zay, Zay has Smackle, Smackle has Maya. So, either Maya has Riley (which seems like a thing they'd have happen in this episode) or, if Riley really is making Lucas do it, then Maya has Lucas and Lucas will get Riley. But that seems unlikely. That would Lucas would be significant in this episode and not be in it. 

Riley throws some glitter and declares it's time for a miracle. Funny. She does some dramatic Riley-ness to introduce her new living room production, "A Christmas Maya." Funny. If Ava Morgenstern ever played me in a touching dramatized account of my Christmas-past, I would never be able to recover my sanity. It has to be Martin Freeman or I would never sign over the rights.
Christian says at the end that Rowan was good but not particularly good.  I didn't mean she's not particularly good, I meant, for her, this was nothing unusual. She's as good as she ever is - which has become the best of the kids, in my opinion. So, since she wins all the time, and she did nothing she doesn't normally do, I went with someone else. I think she's been amazing with this Riley weirdness. You can't really script that stuff, you know? The best you can do is write that Riley does some overly dramatic gestures and throws glitter, and then Rowan takes it from there. 

Wait, there was a Christmas when Maya was little where she didn't get a single toy? I call shenanigans. They weren't that poor. You can get some simple toys for like 8 bucks at Walgreens. Katy could scrape together 8 bucks. Shows and stuff always show poor kids getting nothing for Christmas, and always rings false. No, they can't get that new video game console or a new racing bike, but you get something. 

BAHAHAHA. Zay getting Smackle a book on etiquette is HILARIOUS. Yes, it's absolutely a mean gift, and kind of a dick move, but I'm sorry, Smackle is rude and obnoxious and deserves to be called on it. Also, Farkle way overreacted with Riley's gift. That actually seemed pretty thoughtful and was about him, and he totally spazzed. No one said he shouldn't be celebrating Christmas, and he knows Riley better than to accuse her of that. She just thought, during the holidays, he may want some symbol of his newfound Jewish ancestry. He's acting like she drew a swastika on his locker. Farkle is an absolute moron here. 

It's Farkle who was the worst gift-giver in my opinion. Smackle's so out-of-touch she may have genuinely believed Maya would like a broken clock she can fix for fun. I love Smackle's gift for Maya. The symbolism of "you can fix it yourself" is not at all trivial. I think that's awesome. And Zay's gift, at least, was about Smackle and is something she could use -- she acknowledges her difficulty in social interaction and has shown a desire to improve this. (Though, I acknowledge, a gift pointing out her flaws is maybe not a great choice for a Christmas gift. To quote Amy Matthews, that may be better as a gift for, like, a Tuesday.) Farkle, on the other hand, knows perfectly well Zay wouldn't like that gift and if he doesn't he should get out. It's just a gift Farkle would like. Shut up, Farkle. You haven't had anything to do all season, and let's keep it that way. It's funny that they combined Magic The Gathering, D&D, and Settlers of Catan for the game name though. That's the trifecta, baby. 
Pictured: Happiness
The gift exchange fades out with Farkle commenting that they don't really know each other at all. I maintain that Smackle knows the fuck out of Maya and gave her an awesome gift. 

Yeah, I bet you feel like a REAL dingus after Riley touchingly explained what your present meant, DON'T YOU, Farkle? You jackass. That was obviously not an insult. Does Riley go around insulting people? Shut up, Farkle. Riley's explanation is satisfying, but I don't really see what it has to do with a menorah. Get him, you know, "Learn to read Hebrew" or something. Also, your explanation to Zay about your gift sucks. The answer is, yes, that was a gift you'd want. Your idea of including Zay is to force him to do the shit you wanted to do anyway? I think a way to include Zay and not make him feel alone is to let him know you know who he is, and maybe try to do something he'd want to do. "It takes 17 years to play" is hilarious though. 

Oh, and Jesus Christ, Zay just wins the best Present of the Century award. Damn, that's a good gift, considering her situation.  Hell, I didn't mind it before I knew he'd edited it. And that's from a guy who doesn't know her very well. Besides Smackle, the rest of those assholes were struggling with gifts for people they knew. Zay rocks, you guys. ZAY IS THE MOST ROMANTIC MAN I HAVE EVER HEARD OF. OH MY GOD DUDE. I think that just got me pregnant.
There should not be an ounce of contention left over which of LFZ is the best. All you Farkle fans, I need to hear from you in the comments. Explain it to me. At this point, Farkle is my least favorite of the trio. Lucas is lame, but innocuous, and he's nowhere near as bad now that all the romance stuff is done. Farkle is actively irritating. 

Yeah, Smackle's explanation was pretty easy to figure out. It's fine. Little on the nose, but fine. My first guess about the symbolism was a bit off, but yeah, I like this too. 

You know how you prevent this from happening? You put a card on the gift. Like everyone on the planet does. "Hey Smackle, I saw this book and it was wrong in a lot of places, so I fixed it for you. Merry Christmas from Zay" and then nothing gets thrown across the room. 

Cory and Auggie doing a Chet and Shawn impression, only Shawn is portrayed like Fonzie, wins the episode. But, like, where's Shawn? Because... and hear me out on this... I actually think Shawn may do a better job of explaining what Shawn's Christmases were like than Auggie can. Still, I would have liked some direct references to Shawn's Christmases growing up. "Hey boy, lost my job again. Here's an old basketball net. Go get some charity from the Matthews." or Zay and Farkle coming in as those mobsters from "Easy Street" and trying to get Shawn to run drugs for them to buy presents. I agree, but I like to think that someone in the cast or staff has had that "cheese log" line in their pocket since season one of BMW. 

The swan is Riley's because she saw it and named it "Swany" it was her new best friend and she had to have it.
The Santa that looks like The Flash is Cory's because YOU HAVE TO HAVE SANTA ON CHRISTMAS, TOPANGA!
The owls and pears is obviously Topanga's because her weird hippie parents gave it to her as a kid.
The drummer boy/nutcracker is Auggie's because it's the dumbest and also by process of elimination.
Four points to Sean, I win.
Yeah, no, you're right. The bird one is a total "Mom" stocking, leaving the swan to Riley by default as the other "girl" stocking, and of the two "boy" stockings of Santa and nutcracker, I think Santa going to Cory (the gift-giver) and nutcracker (who looks like a Little Drummer Boy too) going to Auggie makes most sense. I think you got it. 

Oh, and right at the end there Riley turns glitter into butterflies and we discover she's a witch. On her way to Hogwarts. Sorting Hat says... Hufflepuff!

Episode Review: B-
Episode Rating: Hmm. Rowan was good, but not particularly good, and she wins this a lot. Nothing about Sabrina struck me much. Cheryl wasn't in it much. Amir Mitchell-Townes, I think. 

Like I said I thought Rowan was great with the weird physical Riley-ness, but Amir takes it for me too. The ending is really significant for you to not have mentioned though. This idea of Maya not having to rely on the Matthews anymore is satisfying. I'm glad we got that in here before the end of the series. Nothing about Maya's storyline did anything for me. As you said, I feel like we've covered this ground so many times it barely registers to me when they do it again. 

The episode was mostly enjoyable, but they definitely could have done better with the Secret Santa. And you really need Lucas for something like that. And you really need Shawn for the other half of the episode. I mean damn, "Let's do a big friendship episode, but one of the friends isn't there. And let's talk about Maya's new life with Shawn and Shawn's old life but Shawn won't be there." It's no good. Skip having Shawn in "Meets True Maya" and put him in here. What? Shawn wasn't in "True Maya"... are you thinking of "Upstate"? He's only been in two episodes this season, "Upstate" and "I Do" both of which had to have him. So if you only get three, and one has to be the finale, they did make the right calls... the issue is just doing what it takes to get Rider to do more. Yeah, I meant Upstate. I was thinking that I'd rather have Shawn in this episode than do the whole "learning to wear the leather jacket again" crap from Upstate, but damn, he proposed in that one didn't he. I guess that does require his presence more than this one does.