Girl Meets World

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The opportunity to write a timely piece about Boy Meets World? Heck yes.

Around Thanksgiving Ben Savage, star of Boy Meets World (and yes, brother to Kevin Arnold), announced on Twitter that the sequel to the long-running ABC hit is happening.

Cory and Topanga will have a 13-year-old daughter named Riley, the main character and “new Cory.” Maya, Riley’s best friend, will be the new Shawn Hunter: a roughly C student, defiant, who never knew her father. Riley has an older brother named Elliot, 14, a proverbial sibling antagonist; and Cory will become the next-generation Feeny–a teacher. Riley’s, to be precise.

Before explaining what a great opportunity this is, a little indoctrination for those who were reared bereft of the most beautiful sound in the world.

Boy Meets World was the finest of the 80s-to-90s morals-driven sitcoms. I say this not just as the huge fan I am, but for several reasons.

The series started out as a simple sitcom about an eleven-year-old sixth-grader facing bullies, tests, and social fears. As protagonist Cory Matthews grew, the series grew with him to straddle the sitcom-drama divide, by gradually pouring more and more substance into its characters. Topanga faced her parents’ divorce; Shawn faced the death of his father; the Matthews dealt with the birth of a premature child. These characters intersected with life in some of the realest ways imaginable. The reality of this TV stemmed from their reactions to these situations. Most TV consumers in the millennial generation probably don’t remember when television episodes ended with a moral, but every installment of Boy Meets World did–early on with a classic Full House-esque heavy hand, but later in a softer, pensive way. After their prom, Cory and Topanga get a hotel room; and when Cory’s parents find out on the same day that they’re pregnant, they let the weight of that news serve as a lesson, leaving the two teenagers to decide for themselves how to spend that night. When Cory and Topanga get married and have to live in the “stinkhole” on-campus marrieds dorm, Cory goes to his father for help–and is promptly shut down. He struggles for two episodes before deciding he and his wife don’t need a handout from his parents, and he’s successful at fixing both his attitude and the rusty sink pipes. Shawn fights his own rebelliousness for the entire series, and gains peace and insight from that journey.

It’s getting harder to imagine this kind of atmosphere in today’s television. Granted, I don’t watch much of it because its necrosis is nearly fully realized, but the advent of reality TV alone has been enough to remove most edifying qualities from the airwaves. The line between hero and villain is about as defined as the Milky Way. Finding a female character who will guard her virtue as fiercely as Topanga did is like picking out one star by memory in that same expanse. This is where this sequel can offer America not just great entertainment, but a window into healthy family life. Cory and Topanga had good parents, so there’s no reason to believe they won’t be equally beneficent to their children in both love and discipline. Were this series to take on a Two-And-a-Half Men kind of dynamic, it would rip apart the heart of the original series and totally invalidate the characters.

Danielle Fishel’s recent words give me heart:

“[T]he seven wonderful years we spent making ‘BMW’ … were among the most warm, hilarious, insightful, educational years of my life and I wouldn’t trade them for the world,” Fishel said.

“Another thing I wouldn’t trade for anything is the integrity and the heart with which ‘BMW’ was made. I promise with the entirety of my heart that we will make ‘GMW’ with the same honesty, innocence, and intelligence that you learned to expect from ‘BMW.’”

(http://www.wptv.com/dpp/news/national/girl-meets-world-boy-meets-world-sequel-release-date-news-ben-savage-danielle-fishel-are-in)

If the original cast and creator (Michael Jacobs is back on board) are as involved as it seems in this early stage, and their words hold true, this bodes very well for the new series. Cocky producers and pressure for ratings are always concerns, however. Several opportunities to intersect with specific aspects of young life present themselves.

History versus science. Contrary to BMW‘s seventh season flash-forward, Cory will not become a CPA but a teacher (or maybe he just jumped careers). Reports differ on whether he will be a history teacher or a science teacher, and this could make all the difference. Mr. Feeny’s immutable advice almost always came from literature or history wisely interpreted. While the wonders of science and nature can afford many valuable illustrations to young Riley, they might equally risk breeding valueless ones. In today’s world, Cory the science teacher could explain to his daughter chemically why she lusts after boys, but Mr. Matthews the history teacher could draw on endless events to teach his daughter and the other students object lessons. Boy Meets World was about prudence: putting ideas in their proper place; responding with civility and discipline to adverse situations. Girl Meets World can be the same, and in a relativist medium can set itself apart via lessons from history.

The reemergence of the say-no female. It’s now Girl Meets World, and with that one-word change comes the chance to reawaken a fight within young women everywhere. With a strong mother guiding a budding teenage daughter who will face consistent invitations from boys, new episodes can show all the ways a girl can protect herself and simply say no. Topanga has plenty of stories to share: Shawn and Cory’s attempt at a “midnight switch” during the senior ski trip; Cory’s ham-fisted, grapes-on-the-bed approach at seducing her when they were in high school. BMW fans will light up at the references, and new-generation viewers will see something they may never have seen before: a mother raising her daughter in confidence and self-control. Old messages can take on a new originality: something producers should want out of every show they’re involved in.

Acknowledgement of biblical principles. Unless you’re knowledgeable about it you may have missed it, but the lessons in Boy Meets World smacked heavily of the Bible. Take judgment, for instance. One fourth-season episode saw Shawn lured into a local cult led by a charismatic man named Mr. Mack. “The Centre”, as it was called, billed itself as a place of belonging, where no one was judged and everyone was accepted. Shawn, lacking a solid family foundation, easily takes to the message and his personality changes dramatically. Mr. Feeny confronts him about it, stating with authority, “These aren’t beliefs. This is just a way to escape a life that doesn’t have beliefs.” Shawn accuses him of making a judgement. “You’re damn right it is!” says Feeny. In addition to the often mis-applied “Judge not lest ye be judged” (which Mr. Mack and The Centre have likewise perverted), Jesus tells us to make right judgements, and judge for ourselves what is good (Luke 12:57-59; John 7:14-24). Mr. Feeny demolishes the idea that judgement is always a bad thing–he’s proud of his good judgement–and within and around his stern tones lie understanding and compassion for Shawn. Feeny very often separates out the extremes in his students’ lives, forcing them to consider the true choices before them, not the fallacies they’ve constructed for themselves. Girl Meets World can do the same if it abides in the spirit of its predecessor.

I have seen everything in this meaningless life, including the death of good young people and the long life of wicked people. So don’t be too good or too wise! Why destroy yourself? On the other hand, don’t be too wicked either. Don’t be a fool! Why die before your time? Pay attention to these instructions, for anyone who fears God will avoid both extremes.

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 NLT

A display of true sexuality. Sadly, television is often synonymous with sex. Sex is so much a part of humanity that almost any piece of art that spans a period of time (like television or theater) will expose a view of it. Boy Meets World was set apart in the way it approached the subject of sex. Eric’s sarcastic advice to young Cory (“Cor, sex is like a bike without training wheels. If you try it too early, you’ll fall off and break your head.”) was one way they went about it, but a deeper understanding resonated in BMW, and it’s visible in Cory’s condition on his wedding night. After years of begging Topanga, “Let me touch something!”, the gates are open, and Cory is giddy–like a child. The fruit of their patience is a new relationship where they can be entirely free in marriage, and innocent. The writers were intentional in making that clear, and the power of that genuine example will not be lost on this generation either. Girls need that message just as much as boys do.

Admittedly this is something of a wish list from a devoted fan, and as much as so many love the original, Danielle Fishel had some sober words:

“It isn’t ‘BMW’ brought back to life,” Fishel wrote. “It will have familiar faces, familiar themes and familiar messages. It will also have new faces, new themes and new messages. ‘BMW’ never spoke down to the audience and we are going to do our best to never do that with ‘GMW.’ But please keep in mind that this will be episode one, of season one, of a brand new show. We started at the same place with ‘BMW’ but we evolved and we evolved quickly. For those of you who knew and loved ‘BMW,’ please allow this show to evolve as well.”

(http://www.abc15.com/dpp/entertainment/movies/girl-meets-world-boy-meets-world-sequel-release-date-news-ben-savage-danielle-fishel-are-in)

The only thing in her otherwise prescient words that gives me pause is the phrase “new messages.” I’m sure there will be new topics to explore, but the messages are timeless. Play with the ears, the eyes, the nose, the hair–but don’t tinker with the heart. The lessons don’t need to be reinvented.

There’s a reason why Boy Meets World still has such a large fan base 12 years later, and why Lions Gate finally released all seven seasons on DVD. Cory, Topanga, Shawn, and Eric are the kind of characters that show America self reliance, independence, tough love, and the rewards of responsibility. Setting Girl Meets World in the same firm foundation as its predecessor will place a gem in television’s rotted crown, and the right ideas in the heads of teenagers everywhere. I look forward to seeing what Savage, Jacobs, Fishel, and others do with it.

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