#6. Riley Matthews
Played By: Rowan Blanchard (2014-2017)
Episode Count: 72
Role: Titular 'Girl', Cory and Topanga's daughter
Signature Episodes: Girl Meets World, Girl Meets First Date, Girl Meets the New World, Girl Meets Yearbook, Girl Meets Semi-Formal, Girl Meets Rileytown, Girl Meets Rah Rah, Girl Meets New Year, Girl Meets Jexica, Girl Meets the Real World
Riley is by no means a perfect character. It seems like a lot of you guys thought she might be lower ranked than this, and in particular, most seemed to think Maya would be ranked higher. I definitely don't think this should be, and it's for a few reasons. One, importance. There's a whole show about her. Maybe it wasn't always successful in the way she's depicted, but she's still focused on so much that by default she winds up mattering a great deal, and at the end of the day, she's become the new character on GMW that I care the most about.
Another is individuality, while Maya is essentially a Shawn a clone, Riley is really her own thing. She has some traits she inherited from both her parents, but her core identity - the optimism, the cheeriness, the sunshine-and-rainbows goofiness is unique to every character in the Meets World universe besides one-shot Corinna like Sean mentioned. In the comments, it was mentioned that she was meant to be the Cory, and I agree she was probably meant to be that, but on the strength of Rowan's performance it became something new. Cory's nothing like Riley. Eric's more like Riley than Cory is, as Sean and I have mentioned a lot. Cory's signature trait is neuroses, he's always freaking out because he thinks the world's falling apart, he's upset and anxious about everything. This is the exact opposite of Riley. But she did inherit the trend to micro-manage her friend's lives to keep everything perfect from him. And she inherited a tendency to work really hard in school and dominate her problems with sheer personality from Topanga. But in someways she's her own beast. And I really like that about her. I like that we're seeing someone new tackle these problems. In the first episodes, she is written a bit more like a girl Cory, but I think the writers learned quickly what Rowan's strengths were as an actress, and that they were different from Ben Savage's. Rowan's funniest when she's happy, Ben's funniest when he's not. And they worked with it and built a character it was great to spend time with.
Her strength as a comedian brings me to her last trait. Pound for pound, Riley is the funniest character in Girl Meets World, and this is a sitcom. Eric is her only competition, in that he's got the best humor-per-line rate, but he doesn't have a lot of lines. Maya's funny too, but Sabrina's main gifts were in dramatic stuff. Farkle and Lucas are rarely funny. Zay's great, and funny too, but no way he did he make me laugh anywhere near as often. Riley is legitimately hilarious a lot, and I'm sure if the MVP awards are totaled (and they will be) that Rowan has the most handily. She's just good, a lot. Her development isn't always great, but she's almost always enjoyable anyways and, unlike Maya, she doesn't just feel like she's doing a not-as-compelling version of someone else's story.
There, of course, things to quibble about with her. I would have liked to explore her interests more, and they dropped the ball with her and romance entirely. But all in all Riley anchors this show, and for the most part, as an anchor, she works. And that was a tall order, and one I was skeptical about. Riley proved me wrong. She's getting a lot of leeway here for being the only central character of a show in the franchise besides Cory, and while great, she's not exceptional in a way that would allow her to pass up the epic supporting characters who will rank ahead of her, but all in all Riley works and of all the problems GMW had, Riley being who they had to center their show around was never one of them.
I'd like to add on that one of my biggest early problems with Riley was that she wouldn't be able to function without Maya. Like her day to day life would completely fall apart if Maya weren't supporting her and giving her an outlet for her endless energy. World of Terror 3 is a standout episode for me because it proved that wrong. Riley turned out to be headstrong and confident and independent all on her own, and that really made me think about her differently.
5 characters left. THE TOP 5! Look, you know who they are, we know who they are. It's Alan, Cory, Eric, Feeny, Shawn (listed here in alphabetical order)... but what will the order be? FINAL PREDICTIONS PEOPLE!