Like many Boy Meets World fans, I was excited to hear that development had begun on a sequel series two years ago. I was even more excited to learn that Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel would be coming back as Cory and Topanga Matthews. But, also like many fans, my optimism was tinged with a bit of caution, especially when I learned that the series would air on Disney Channel. One of the best characteristics of Boy Meets World was its honesty in dealing with the challenges of modern life. The show didn’t gloss over weighty issues such as sex, child abuse, alcoholism, and the deeper aspects of love. Disney Channel is known for making shows where the worst dilemma a character faces is whether they can find a mascot for the school football team, so I was afraid that they might water down this aspect of the show and create a product that was not true to the original vision. But the pilot of Girl Meets World allayed my fears for now.
While the producers want to make GMW its own show, itdefinitely has shades of its predecessor, and not just because of the return of classic characters. Immediately, main character Riley Matthews faces the typical preteen search for her own identity. Riley begins to discover what it means to be a loyal friend while still staying true to herself. It’s life lessons like that that made BMW great, and that was the most positive takeaway from the pilot.
The pilot also showed off the acting chops of its main characters. Rowan Blanchard & Sabrina Carpenter, best friends in real life, have carried over that chemistry onto their roles as best friends Riley Matthews and Maya Hart. Riley is truly a mix of Cory’s neurotic quirkiness and Topanga’s hardworking nature. Maya is in many ways a more rebellious version of Shawn Hunter, Cory’s best friend from BMW. Rowan has a slight lisp when she delivers some of her lines, and sometimes that’s all you hear when she talks. But otherwise, both girls play both roles very well. Ben Savage showed that while Cory has matured considerably since the end of BMW, he’s still got the same traits that made him so likable before. This is especially evident when the concerned teacher & father inserts himself into every conversation that Riley has with the cute new boy in class, Lucas Friar (Peyton Meyer). I don’t really know much about how Topanga’s character has evolved, because Danielle Fishel only has about three lines in the first episode. But we see nods to her past in the opening credits, so I think we’re in for plenty “classic Topanga” moments in the future. Riley’s 5-year-old brother Auggie kind of drops into the middle of the episode without much introduction (for instance, had I not been following the development of the show, I wouldn’t have known his name), but August Maturo did a good job with his few lines. Not many conclusions we can draw there either.
The only character I didn’t care for was Farkle Minkus, the son of fan favorite Stuart Minkus (who is supposed to make recurring appearances on GMW). While Stuart had a sort of spastic charm to him (sort of like a super-geek version of Cory), Farkle has all his spasticity without any of the charm. He may grow on me yet, but as of now I felt like he got in the way of the other characters’ performances rather than adding much to the show (sometimes literally, such as in the scene where he crawls all over Cory in terror whilst the classroom fire sprinklers go off around him).
But, all in all, I liked the first episode, and I think GMW has every chance to be a great show like its predecessor. Some other bits of information have leaked out that will please BMW fans, such as the return of Michael Jacobs, the original producer who made the show great. Also returning are Cory’s best friend Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong) in a recurring role, and class bully Harley Keiner, whom Cory gives a janitor’s job at Riley’s school. Betsy Randle and William Russ will reprise their roles as Cory’s parents Alan and Amy, respectively, and Cory’s younger brother Joshua (Uriah Shelton) returns as a teenager. Will Friedle has so far declined to reprise his role as Cory’s older brother Eric, though in interviews he did not seem to rule out a future return. And the pilot featured a cameo by everyone’s favorite mentor…