Friday, January 20, 2017

20 Greatest Meets World Characters: #9. Jonathan Turner

#9. Jonathan Turner


Played By: Anthony Tyler Quinn, (1994-1997, 2015, 2017)
Episode Count: 54 (51- BMW, 3- GMW)
Role: Foil for Feeny, surrogate father for Shawn, teacher for all 
Signature Episodes: Back 2 School, Pop Quiz, Home, I Never Sang For My Legal Guardian, Cult Fiction, Girl Meets Goodbye

The biggest mistake people make is to see Turner as "Feeny-lite" and dismiss him on the grounds that he wasn't as wise or emotionally profound as Feeny. "He wasn't as good as Feeny" is the wrong way to go. Indeed, it is precisely their differences that make Turner so great. We saw this immediately in his first episode, Back 2 School. He drives a motorcycle, he reads X-Men, and his class is way more laid back than Feeny's, with whom he butts heads almost immediately. But that's all fairly superficial, as if they decided to introduce a "cool" teacher for "cool" kids to watch on television. And what's exciting about Back 2 School is that we fall for that bad first impression, like Feeny does. "Great, he's got long hair and an earring, who cares." It's not until the ending, where Turner protects Cory (and Eric) from Harley, this guy who's been a massive threat the entire episode. He does so without using the word "detention" (hey Feeny), and closes it out with a reference to their classical literature assignment as it relates to Cory's life. He calls Cory "Odysseus", and I fall in love.

Turner's teaching style is to meet the students on their level, and bring them up as they go, while Feeny prefers to start with the end point in mind, "this is the level you need to be at," and work toward that. To his credit, Feeny gave some at-their-level assignments in season 1, like Model Family, but by season 2 that's mostly transferred to Turner. (This is my one main complaint about Turner, which isn't his fault - the effect he has on Feeny. When Turner's not around, Feeny is perfectly capable of explaining things to them on their level, and is perfectly willing to go outside the box to teach lessons, he does it all the time in Season 1. But in order to make Turner seem cooler they seemed to be feel they had to make Feeny a conservative stick-in-the-mud when it comes to teaching, and I think that does him a disservice. But anyway!) We saw that pretty quickly in season 2 in Me and Mr. Joad. Kids hate tests, meet them at their level, fine, no test if you do the work. And again in Pop Quiz. Feeny is blatantly having trouble getting Cory and Shawn to listen, but Turner understands how these kids think and by the end he's got them wanting to learn and pay attention. Me and Mr. Joad, Truth and Consequences, Cyrano, and Pop Quiz are four rock solid examples of Shawn and Cory actually learning the material in class. It's not until they're disgraced on national television in Quiz Show that they actually want to learn in Feeny's class. 

But the strength of this character extends outside of school, and what's cool is it continues to set him up in contrast with Feeny. It kicks off in Career Day, when the two teachers are discussing how Shawn stayed on Turner's couch the last night, and Feeny warns him about getting too close. Turner asks "Come on, really, what would you have done?" Feeny answers, "I truly don't know." It's a fantastic character difference, how this was a no-brainer for Turner, letting Shawn stay, while Feeny isn't even sure what he would do. And that launches Turner into his biggest contribution to the story, as Shawn's not-so-legal guardian. 

Through season 3, Turner continues to defy Feeny's advice about getting too close, and we start to see how necessary this role was. Some authority figure needs to talk Shawn through his unrelenting emotional problems. Feeny won't do it on principle, Chet is gone and couldn't have done it anyway, and Alan has his own kids to deal with. I loved this in particular in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Turner helps Shawn with the Dana situation, something the other three adult males couldn't possibly have done, and hits Shawn with maybe the most important thing he's ever heard: "See this guy right here? (pointing at Cory) This is your best relationship." Turner becomes an effective buffer between Shawn and his self loathing, which is a full time job. And of course that climaxes in Turner's last BMW episode, Cult Fiction. 

He's not the perfect authority figure though, which of course makes him an even better character. He makes his fair share of mistakes, like in The Double Lie and later going out with Dana's mom, he regularly admits he doesn't know what he's doing (a theme of the whole show), and struggles to find enough resolve to sign the legal-guardian papers. It's always a struggle for both him and Shawn, it's always gray, both doing the best they can. 

Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks. Likely due to the popularity of shows like Friends, the showrunners decided to try to explore Turner's character through his adult friend Eli, which is almost entirely a waste of time. Eli tells Shawn that Turner comes from a rich family, and left that behind to find personal satisfaction, which does add to his overall character, but I can't think of anything else Eli does to improve Turner's character. As a result, the only actual piece of development we saw from Turner was his acceptance of responsibility for Shawn. He had no threads to follow in season 4. Second, Turner is written out of the show with no real explanation or closure until the end of Girl Meets World (it was worth the wait). Third (and least important) is that his role as superintendent on Girl Meets World is largely unimportant, even though we all loved seeing him.

The story needed a compelling and effective teacher to set up a fun contrast with Feeny. The story needed an authoritative emotional support figure for Shawn. Jacobs decided to weave those two together, which added the struggle of trying to maintain those two separate identities. I would really love to know where Jacobs could have taken this character without Eli. As it stands, though, Jonathan Turner is still pretty fantastic.


25 comments:

  1. I'm going to really miss you guys. I wouldn't have my blog without yours.

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    1. thanks man. how's that going?

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    2. It's going pretty fine for now, thanks for asking! I certainly wouldn't mind it if you and Christian continued this blog thing or even if you have any other projects you're working on.

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  2. This is Cryptid.

    Spectacular write-up Sean. One of the best things about the original show was how George Feeny and Jonathan Turner had two very different teaching philosophies, but that one was not inherently better than the other.

    One thing I do find curious, and as I recall it has been discussed here before, is that Riley (and possibly Auggie) call Jonathan "Uncle." My own position is that Jonathan just prefers this as opposed to being called "Mr. Turner" by the children of his former students, but I still find it significant.

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    1. I always thought it was Jacobs's standard ham fisting at proving how much everyone loves each other, that they address him as a family member.

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    2. I thought it was an extension of Shawn. Shawn was like a brother to Cory; it was suggested in the episode he was taken out in, that Turner was like a brother to Shawn. Therefore, he's like a brother to the pseudo-uncle so therefore, he's an uncle himself.

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    3. Will van Roekel-That was possibly the most well thought out explanation for "Uncle Jonathan Turner" that I have ever read. I would have gone with, close adult friend of the family who doesn't like being called "Mr." goes with "Uncle" because it's still a title of respect, but it's not as formal. I like yours better.

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    4. "Uncle Jon" was originally used to play up the closeness for humor's sake, since the principal in "New Teacher" thought he had Turner in the bag.

      Still, it is weird. Cory and Turner were close-ish, but not close enough that it feels like his kids would call him "Uncle Jon." I mean, Riley doesn't even call Shawn "Uncle Shawn" does she?

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    5. I actually think she does...

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    6. yeah, girl meets home for the holidays, 6 and a half minutes ish, ROASTED

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    7. Yeah, I never thought Turner -by himself- was close enough to Cory. But he's close enough to Shawn. I'm not denying it's weird, It -also- could be Topanga who drives it, because, for at least -most- of BMW, she never wants to see herself as a wedge between Cory and Shawn. (Yes, I know she gets kinda jealous/possessive at times, but that's not the norm).

      Also, it does vary from person to person. With my nieces, I just go by 'Will'. My brother though goes by 'Uncle XXX'. And yeah, it's clear that Riley was making sure the principal knew that he was in trouble.

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    8. This is Cryptid.

      Interesting thought on Topanga, Will, but at the same time, I still more or less lean towards Turner saying something along the lines of "What?! You're too little to call me "Mister." I'm a teacher, but I'm not your teacher. And I'm not old like Feeny. Call me Uncle Jonathan."

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    9. If you're talking what the writers were thinking, I agree. I just don't think it -really- makes a lot of sense. When I was Riley's age, the only adults I still called 'Mr' and 'Mrs' were my teachers; and usually parents of friends. Friends of my parents though were usually introduced by their first name. Uncle indicates a degree of closeness that has to explained by more than 'I don't want to be Mister'; in my world view. The bit about Topanga was just an added thought; the main thrust is that I think given Shawn was considered their uncle, and Shawn considered Turner like a brother, what else could Turner be?

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  3. Shipping Wars Are StupidJanuary 20, 2017 at 5:37 PM

    Sean, you bastard.

    I got chills.

    Oh man, I love Turner. He was...he was....the best way I can sum up how I feel about Turner is:

    When I become a teacher, Jonathan Turner is the fucking teacher I want to be.

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  4. As a teacher myself, I've always agreed with Turner's methods and polices much more than Fenny's.

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    1. In fairness, Turner's methods are Feeny's in the seasons where Turner isn't around. They blunt Feeny to help Turner out in Season 2 and 3.

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    2. Yeah I wanted to mention Turner reading the kids' poetry in class, rather than what I imagine would be a dry Feeny lesson of reading classical poetry, but then remembered he has them read their own poetry in Ode to Holden Caulfield.

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  5. Jonathan Turner is one of the best things about the MW universe. Where Feeny operates at this sage like level throughout the show, Turner is the proverbial "street smart" teacher, who can reach them on a more even plane. Granted, both have their place on the show, and in reaching the kids. And the best thing is that they work in concert with each other, not in direct opposition.

    The arc with Shawn is what really brought Turner to the dance, in my opinion. The way we connected with him, because he was being the rock for Shawn, when the others couldn't be, and show him a path was simply amazing storytelling. Right up to the time he was gone. We all went on the roller coaster with Shawn, and it was a hell of a ride.

    Absolutely a fitting spot for Mr. Johnathan Turner.

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  6. literally will friedleJanuary 20, 2017 at 11:35 PM

    "Third (and least important) is that his role as superintendent on Girl Meets World is largely unimportant,"

    Not true! He saved the cool new teacher's job so that she could disappear immediately!

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    1. literally will friedle-"Not true! He saved the cool new teacher's job so that she could disappear immediately!"

      I was disappointed by that. "Boy Meets World" showed that the series could work with two teacher characters (Turner and Feeny). I never understand why they couldn't have two teacher characters on "Girl Meets World."

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    2. That was though the problem that it was their last year at that school. They should have had this happen in season 1; or season 3 if they expected another season.

      Or had them be different ages from the beginning I guess.

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    3. They still could have used her for the entire school year, instead of just one episode.

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    4. Don't forget though, that in that year we had both, we rarely got both teaching a class in the same episode, and Disney, or possibly Jacobs, wanted Cory as teacher at least once nearly every episode.

      I don't necessarily disagree with you, but it's not something I ever expected to happen.

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