TV Review: Girl Meets World

Anyone that grew up in the 80s and 90s knows about the ABC lineup of programming called TGIF, short for "Thank Goodness It's Funny". Consisting of nostalgic shows like Full House and Perfect Strangers, TGIF enjoyed more than two years of popularity before being phased out in 2000. One popular show from this block was Boy Meets World, a coming-of-age tale of young Cory Matthews who experiences all of the ups and downs of life from middle school to marriage with the aid of his friends. Airing during many people's impressionable years, the show is remembered fondly. So fondly that it's made a resurgence in the form of a spin-off, Girl Meets World which premiered on the Disney Channel just last night.

Focusing on the 12-year-old daughter of Cory and Topanga Matthews, Girl Meets World attempts to introduce the wholesome fun of Boy Meets World to a new generation. Given its Disney Channel roots, it attempts to appeal to a certain demographic, the iCarly/Dog With A Blog/The Suite Life of Zack and Cody crowd, all the while trying to capture the "life lessons" angle of its predecessor. For the most part, it manages to be entertaining with a fairly solid concept, once you get past a few inherent flaws in the execution.

Rowan Blachard plays the role of Riley Matthews. A relative newcomer to acting (not surprising given that she's only 12 years old), Rowan tries to embody the same youthful quirkiness and enthusiasm that Ben Savage gave to his character of Cory 20 years ago. For the most part, it makes her appear awkward and inept; unfortunately I can't tell if that was the end result or not. The real flaw with the approach, however, is that it makes Riley a mini-Cory. Instead of imbuing her with her own personality, they tried to cut a cloth from Cory, taking away from her opportunity to shine.

Riley's best friend is Maya, played by Sabrina Carpenter. With a few additional roles under her belt, Sabrina's character comes off much more natural than Rowan's and at least the pair manage to work well off of each other. Maya is the free-spirit, rebellious, fearless girl who does and says what she wants. Sound familiar? It should because that's the basic description of Cory's childhood best friend, Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong). And at this point, we run into the biggest problem with Girl Meets World; they aren't trying to create new characters. Instead, they are reimagining the characters from Boy. In some cases, this works, such as Maya. But in others, it's downright annoying. Take, for example, Farkle, the class nerd and suck up that proclaims his love for both Riley and Maya and the way they embody two sides of the same coin. Farkel carries himself with a flamboyancy that would make Jack McFarland jealous, leaving viewers to wonder if he wouldn't be more in love with Mr. Matthews instead of his daughter.

"Just Jack...er... Farkle!"
Oh, did I mention that Cory is the new Mr. Feeny? Yes, Riley must endure facing middle school being taught by her father just like Cory had to face middle school taught by his neighbor. This approach flounders hopelessly as you have to wonder if a school board would even place a girl into a class taught by her father. But even this idea is an attempt to ape Boy Meets World. Despite Savage playing Cory, he's attempting to be the role model that Feeny was. And you can see this approach in the class lesson during the pilot episode. "Find a cause you're willing to fight for." Which, of course, strengthens the bond between Riley and Maya over the course of the episode. Meanwhile, the writers completely overlooked a perfect life lesson in a simple line of dialogue Riley proclaims early in the Pilot; she states that she wanted "to be" Maya. Not be like... Be. This, to me, was an even more important plot point, one that could have taught the lessen of the importance of finding oneself and not aspiring to the personality of others. Meanwhile, this gets completely glossed over for the idea of friendship. I won't argue that that's not an important lesson to learn, just one that should take a backseat to being happy with oneself.

But all of this pales in comparison to the show's biggest disappointment: the laugh track. The fact that they included a laugh track is understandable, even if it is slightly insulting. However, it was used far too often, and far too annoyingly. The recorded laughter sounded like it was being played back through an aquarium filled with petroleum jelly, giving it an abrasive echoing timbre. At first I thought it was a problem with my speakers but the rest of the show sounded fine. It almost made the show unwatchable.

By the end of it, Girl Meets World shows promise. It's not your standard Disney Channel fair, putting a group of tweens into insurmountable situations and allowing the hijinks to ensue. Instead, it tries to recreate the tone of 90s sitcoms and does so well enough. Even a few of the throwbacks to Boy Meets World were done cleverly enough, such as naming Riley's school "John Quincey Adams Middle School". If the writers are willing to tone down the caricatures a bit and give the new cast personalities of their own, I could see Girl Meets World being a worthy successor to Boy Meets World.

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