Wednesday, January 11, 2017

20 Greatest Meets World Characters: #12. Amy Matthews

#12. Amy Matthews

Played By: Betsy Randle (1993-2000, 2014, 2017)
Episode Count:  138 (136- BMW, 2- GMW)
Role: Matthews family matriarch
Signature Episodes: Cyrano, Ain't Gonna Spray Lettuce No More, Fishing for Virna, A Long Walk to Pittsburgh, Security Guy, Raging Cory, How to Succeed in Business, My Baby Valentine

BMW has a lot of positive traits, but its writing for women was not necessarily one of them. All the depth and complexity is centered around the male heroes, while the girls are generally just relegated to typical female "voice of reason" roles. There is probably no better example of this than Amy - her husband gets a lot of depth, and quite a bit of story and pathos for a parent on a teen sitcom, but Amy more or less is just... there, serving dinner, trying to mediate whatever interesting conflict is taking place between the men in her life. It's a problem, that Alan and Amy, though often presented as a unit, have such a disparity in terms of depth. 

Still, while Amy's mostly just there - she's there a lot. She's there for seven seasons. No, it's not a flashy role, but then... sometimes moms don't get flashy roles in their families. If Amy's role in the Matthews family lacks complexity, it may be because moms often don't get the benefit of having complex roles in their family. Traditionally, Dads get to be the fun parent and the scary parent, and not much in between. The day to day parental drudgery - making sure people are fed, have clean clothes, get to school on time - the much more time-consuming and less exciting stuff. The perfect representation of Amy's role in the series, to me, is the episode "Fishing for Virna". Amy has a small storyline in that one, she keeps making breakfast, and the family keeps being too busy or distracted to notice or care and she starts to feel, silently, ignored. Cory eventually notices, stops to have breakfast with her, and thanks her. It's a tiny moment (obviously the episode's primarily about Virna's return and the lunchlady's death) but it fits who Amy is perfectly. She's there, working hard, providing support, not getting the attention, but ultimately her presence matters in a big way.

The Matthews family needs her. Cory, Eric, and Alan are plagued by such angst and self-doubt that they'd fall apart without Amy there to offer rational advice. Her contributions may lack the profundity of Feeny's, but it's generally just as sound, and given without all the fanfare. Feeny can be a bit of a fortune cookie as he's accused, and when he gives advice there's often some dogma attached to it, a sense that he knows he's an advice wizard and is pleased with it and you better LISTEN UP because you're about to get WISDOM you'll remember FOREVER. Amy doesn't get any glory, she doesn't got time for that, she just tells you what's up. As we saw in "Brothers", when Amy goes to Feeny for advice it's useless, because she doesn't need his help, she knows the answers herself. And considering even Feeny has moments where he needs what's up explained to him, I'd argue Amy may well be the wisest character on Boy Meets World. That's... bold. Prove me wrong! When does Amy ever seem genuinely stumped when it comes to making a decision or in some emotional matter? When does she ever seem to not have the answer to a problem and need the answer explained to her by someone else? 

I've always enjoyed the practicality of Amy. This is a very idealistic show, filled with characters with all sorts of romantic notions, and generally passion and emotion are seen as superior to logic and rationality: 15 year-old girlfriend's going to be gone for a week? HOP ON A PLANE AND FOLLOW HER! Didn't get into college because you're a fuck up? HIT THE OPEN ROAD AND EXPLORE AMERICA! Got into one of the best universities in America? GO TO SOME LOCAL COLLEGE AND MARRY YOUR BOYFRIEND! But Amy, though perfectly able to understand those instincts and understanding of them, is one of the few characters (even including Feeny) who's like "Wellll..... hooooooold on." Amy thought Cory and Topanga were being ridiculous in "A Long Walk to Pittsburgh" and they were. Cory maybe should have tried dating other people, and Topanga running away from home to be with Cory isn't the answer. When Cory and Topanga announced their engagement following their college graduation, she thought it was a horrible idea, and, yeah, she was right about that too. Sure, in the end, romantic idealism had its day, but it's worthwhile that Amy's there to be, like, "Well, okay, hold on, guys, let's talk about this." She's the same with the rest of the family too. She's harder on Eric than Alan because she knows it's the only way he's going to grow up, and she can identify when Alan's behavior is out of whack as well. 

Again, it's not a flashy role she plays. Nor is it a particularly fun role. I doubt Amy is anyone's favorite character. And of the seven core characters who appeared in all seven seasons, there's a reason she's ranked last. But, I do think Amy's an underrated character in Boy Meets World, and I don't think this show would have been the same without her. The Matthews family certainly wouldn't.


  1. Beautiful writeup. Definitely hit the nail on the head with the aspects of why she is an important and under appreciated character.

  2. Amy, in short, had her shit together and made others get theirs too.

  3. This is Cryptid.

    Man, Christian, it seems that these write-ups keep getting better and better.

    Amy is not my favorite character by any means, but her importance is tragically under-stated. She's a mother and yes, under-utilized, compared to Alan, but she's still brilliant. If Alan Matthews is the pillar of the Matthews household, then Amy Matthews is the foundation. And it is a foundation of stone.

    You bring up a good point about how Amy can bring people down to earth, surpassing even Feeny in that regard (though it was after HIGH SCHOOL graduation, not college).

    Amy Matthews is not my favorite character by any means, but truthfully, I think she measures up to Alan, at least in terms of shaping her children on a day-to-day basis. I find it a pity that we never really saw Cory speak to her as anything other than her son. With Eric, we got glimpses, through the fiasco with the Creative Writing class, that Amy could be an equal to her children, just as Alan was. Amy was firm, but loving, sweet but serious. For those of us meeting the world, here was someone who had met the world. She wasn't fun, she wasn't flashy, but by God, she was necessary.

  4. Great write up, guys.

    We never really saw the depth to Amy because BMW had a male lead and developed the father-son relationship more than mother-son. We saw her through the eyes of a teenage boy and therefore see her as more of a comfort blanket to break away from than as an independent character in her own right. I can of several times she was crucial to a story (e.g. A Long Walk to Pittsburgh) but she never really got the growth that Alan got. It is probably one of the fairer criticisms of BMW to say they didn't do as good a job with the women as with the men.

    In fact, Amy Matthews in many ways sums up a key reason why I think GMW failed. In a show with a female lead, we've had next to no mother-daughter relationship. They seem to have foregone some very interesting and engaging storylines in favour of Cory as a 'teacher' and that is sad. We never had an Amy/Riley storyline either, which seems like a missed opportunity.

    Amy Matthews was an important voice of reason in BMW and her relationship with Alan was the cornerstone of everything Cory became. She belongs at this point in the list (in fact, I only had 9 people ahead of her on my list, so curious as to who is #11) and is a character I really appreciate/remember more now I'm in my thirties than I did as a child.

    1. Who were the 9, I'm curious who you left off too - though I have a guess.

    2. I had Shawn, Eric, Cory, Mr Feeny, Maya, Riley, Topanga, Alan Matthews and Mr Turner ahead of Amy (more or less in that order, although I was really unsure of putting Riley and Maya so high) and Chet just behind - as such there is someone else on your list and I'm not sure whether it's Katy or a complete curveball.

    3. Katy seems like the only logical choice outside of those 9. I wouldn't necessarily agree with Katy being above Amy but that may be my bias for the original show showing

  5. Not only that, female back-up characters with depth were sadly lacking in the early-to-mid '90s.

    The only disappointing thing about her role in Long Walk to Pittsburgh Part 2 is that she caved in to Cory/Topanga/Alan. If the reasoning they gave 'it would be bad for her to be transferred to another school at this stage of her school career' was actually used as the real reasoning, it's actually true. But the way the episode was framed was a 'this isn't the real reason, this is a BS reason we're giving'.

    Amy was a very good character for the time. Sure, sometimes you had strong -leads- back then who were female, but strong back-ups were nearly always male. Even now that happens a bit too often, though it is better.

    1. I'm not sure if I agree that they used that as a B.S. reason. It was a b.s. reason on Cory and Topanga's part, but it seemed pretty clear that it was why Amy was arguing on her behalf, and that it was why Prudence caved.

    2. Oh, it was certainly why Prudence caved. But it felt like, when I watched it last year, that Amy had gone off Alan's 'she knows what love is when she sees it', and thought about how best to get Topanga to stay. I mean, maybe we didn't see some talk between Alan and Amy to convince her, but her switch from 'this is not the right thing to do; you can't make a decision based on your views on love as they are now' to 'oh she should stay' too suddenly.

    3. I hate how the Yale argument, which could have been much more 'if you're in love, time apart won't hurt your relationship, it could strengthen it, we all love Topanga blah blah' becomes this 'Topanga's Amy's rivalry for who gets to take care of Cory' as if he's a baby.

      Which they seemed to have liked well enough to revisit, so the last season of BMW we see Topanga and Amy getting on fairly well (Amy offers her her own wedding dress, Topanga's at her baby shower etc.) and then in GMW it's back to 'lololol women be fighting over who takes care of the men!'

      Like, Cory could cook fine even back in BMW, if anything it's Eric who gets the references to having been spoiled (and by his dad rather than his mom) and not being able to do domestic stuff; Cory never seemed chauvinistic about doing household stuff - if anything, I'd see him as far more nurturing than Topanga (not that she's cold, just that her characterisation is flatter - she's super competent and she generally is the one who's right and explains why people are upset; rather than the one who overly coddles like Cory.)
      Not to mention Cory has a job that's far more flexible in terms of hours than a lawyer/restauranteur which is like, two full-time jobs as it is.

  6. This is a good write-up, but I'd rank Amy a bit higher, myself. Even within the Matthews family, I think she's far more effective at her role than the somewhat unlikable, precocious-joke-dispensing Morgan (who, for a comic relief character, has a pretty iffy hit-to-miss gag ratio).

    I'd argue that Amy was in the wrong with her whole "Why couldn't you have gone to Yale?" outburst was pretty over-the-line. And yeah, Cory and Topanga needed a wake-up call but that was a pretty brutal thing to say to her son's childhood sweetheart.

    One of the more interesting Amy plotlines to me was the season 1 episode when she was sneaking out with Alan to get some alone time. It was the rare plot that focused a bit on their romantic relationship and was one of the first times when the show portrayed Amy as more than just "the mom."

    By and large, I agree with the main criticism that Amy doesn't get quite enough depth considering her presence on the show, but I do always find her character endearing and enjoyable thanks to Betsy Randle's relatable, warm portrayal.

    1. "This is a good write-up, but I'd rank Amy a bit higher, myself. Even within the Matthews family, I think she's far more effective at her role than the somewhat unlikable, precocious-joke-dispensing Morgan (who, for a comic relief character, has a pretty iffy hit-to-miss gag ratio)."

      You say that like you expect Morgan made this list...

    2. I agree that "Why couldn't you have just gone to Yale?" was a startlingly cruel thing for Amy to have said, but I do think the... sentiment was correct. It just wasn't the time to say it and shouldn't have been said like that.

      And, yeah, I considered "Once in Love with Amy" as a signature episode, not sure why I ultimately didn't make it one. I guess because it seemed like the episode mainly was about Eric and Cory's quest to figure out what was up.

    3. We are getting towards the top ten and when you write them down it's hard to put Amy any higher than #10. Similarly I'd be pretty surprised if Morgan made the list and shocked if it was this high!

      Betsy Randle did a great job with the role and I'm sad she didn't get some proper grandmother storylines in GMW.

    4. What I think was never focused on enough; is that if Cory and Topanga were really as in love as they stated (GMW does suggest they are; given they don't appear to have even gotten close to a divorce), the forced separation of her going to Yale would have been good - which is what Amy probably should have said; and I hated they turned around and made her outburst be about jealousy.

    5. Whoa, didn't even consider the idea of Morgan not making the list for some reason. Yeah, I guess that makes more sense then with Amy's placement!

      Looking forward to the rest of the list, as usual.

    6. This is Cryptid.

      I figured Morgan wouldn't make this list once we saw Farkle at #16. Not sure if I agree she wouldn't make the very bottom of Top 20, or at least the next two Honorable Mentions, but I respect the decision Sean and Christian made.