(Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you haven’t yet seen the series premiere of “Girl Meets World”)
As a staple of ABC’s “TGIF” lineup for seven seasons, “Boy Meets World” had plenty of sentiment, and artificially induced moral lessons, but it was nothing compared to its Disney Channel progeny, “Girl Meets World.” I just can’t tell if that’s a good thing or not.
Certainly, on the surface, it would seem that “Girl Meets World” isn’t targeting fans of “Boy Meets World.” After all, “BMW” went off the air back in 2000, and even Disney Channel stopped airing repeats back in 2007. Repeats that it had to alter, mind you, or delete altogether in the case of three episodes, for content that was deemed too mature for Disney’s target audience. So of course, “Girl Meets World” was going to be sanitized for the protection of the children.
And yet, by casting Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel as the parents in this new sequel series, Disney was practically asking “Boy Meets World” fans to tune in. Why then did they not bother to make a program that could appeal to them, too? Children’s programming with dual layers of comedy, one for younger viewers and another for adults, has been around since the dawn of film entertainment, with examples ranging from “Looney Tunes” to “Rugrats.”
With those kinds of shows, parents and kids could sit down together and enjoy the program, even if they were laughing at different parts. On the premiere of “Girl Meets World,” though, there was nothing for adults beyond the fun of seeing Cory and Topanga again, unless it was a quick moment with Mr. Feeny (William Daniels) at the end.
Longtime fans could enjoy introducing these characters they loved so much in their younger years to their kids, but they might then find their own attention flitting back to their smartphones as the adventures of Cory and Topanga’s daughter, Riley, took center stage. As for “BMW” fans without kids, I’d wager many of them didn’t even make it through the full episode.
That’s not to say that there weren’t enjoyable parts of the pilot, along with plenty of room for growth and improvement. Rowan Blanchard shows enough potential as daughter Riley, even if she is trying a little too hard with her line deliveries.
Her performance is nothing to that given by Corey Fogelmanis as Stuart Minkus’ son, Farkle, who’s giving as earnest a delivery as any child actor on Nickelodeon or Disney has ever given. If there’s an award for child overacting, this kid gets it hands down, and it’s annoying in a whole different way than even “Family Matters'” Urkel was. That said, younger viewers are gonna love him.
The most natural among the child actors, at least so far, is actually Sabrina Carpenter as Riley’s rebellious best friend, Maya. Perhaps it’s because she’s had the most emotionally complex arc so far on the show. While Riley waffled with being a rebel like Maya, it was the glimpse into why Maya acts out that proved compelling.
“I have nobody at home who helps me with my homework,” she said in an episode that saw her lead Cory’s class on an anti-homework crusade. Kids and adults watching may take something different from that tease into a troubled home life, but for both it adds dimension to her character. Will the show dig deeper or back off?
Based on the overall tone of the premiere, it’s difficult to imagine “Girl Meets World” tackling some of the tougher issues about growing up that “Boy Meets World” tackled, without glossing over it or painting rainbows all over any harsher realities. It’ll be a shame if it does shy away from meaningful issues in young people’s lives, because with a young girl as the protagonist now, there’s a whole new set of issues the show could explore in a meaningful way to both parents and children.
With plenty of “Boy Meets World” castmembers and guest stars scheduled to make appearances as this first season goes along, it remains to be seen how palatable this new show will become to fans of the original. It’s probably a bit hasty to throw in the towel just yet, though, as this premiere served very much like a pilot, setting up the premise by almost literally having Cory hand over his “World” to his daughter, establishing her as the new center of the franchise.
It would be nice for the adult cast to find more to do than be window dressing behind the kids. Savage got some decent lines as he transitioned control of the show to his daughter, and because he’s also her teacher, but Fishel had virtually nothing to do. I can’t imagine she’ll stay that uninvolved as the season progresses, or why would she have signed on to come back?
I suspect that young parents who’ve become numb to the Disney Channel way will barely recognize the ham-handed performances, or overly direct dialogue that is a staple in children’s entertainment. I’m hopeful, though, that the kids will settle into their roles and mature as actors relatively quickly. That would go a long way to elevating the quality of the show for all ages.
If fans remember the smarter “Boy Meets World” they fell in love with, they’ll sense that something’s amiss in this sequel series so far. In some ways, it felt like Cory and Topanga grew up in a world as real as our own. Now, however, they’re clearly raising their daughter on a soundstage in a sitcom. Here’s hoping some “real” finds it’s way into this new “World.”