Last week, I hosted a screening event of old sitcom episodes from ABC’s ’90s TGIF lineup. Of all the shows we watched, the crowd was predictably most enthusiastic for Boy Meets World, singing the theme song and recalling specific jokes from an episode that aired 16 years ago. The pilot premiered in 1993 but remains fresh in everyone’s minds (syndication helps) because it was a show that we connected to, one of the last great coming-of-age sitcoms that was both funny and heartfelt, and because we really, really love nostalgia. There was never a question about whether Girl Meets World would eventually exist, only the question of when it would come to fruition. Now the question is whether or not it can stand on its own.
“It’s not your world yet. It’s still my world,” Cory (Ben Savage) tells his daughter Riley (Rowan Blanchard, who wasn’t even born when Boy Meets World ended) in the premiere’s cold open. Girl Meets World wastes no time establishing where it came from. It’s acutely aware that the majority of viewers are tuning in for Cory and Topanga (Danielle Fishel) — the distracting studio audience cheers wildly when they first appear — but it also wants to establish that this show isn’t about the older Matthews (even if the opening titles include scenes from their Boy Meets World days, blatantly catering to the older audience).
Both Cory and Topanga are in the main cast — Topanga doesn’t have much to do in the pilot, but Cory is Riley’s teacher — and Boy Meets World regulars are scheduled to show up throughout the first season. Feeny (William Daniels) even pops up at the end of the first episode. There are many similarities, such as Riley’s best friend Maya (Sabrina Carpenter), who is the cool friend from the wrong side of the tracks. Their friendship is very reminiscent of Cory and Shawn’s, but from a girl’s perspective. There is even a nerdy character named Farkle Minkus (Corey Fogelmanis), the son (and clone) of Stuart Minkus. Thankfully, that’s about as far as the fan service goes, and the rest of the pilot focuses on establishing what this new series will be about.
Cory and Topanga are still happily married and dreamily in love. They are in New York City now — though the subway ticket machines say otherwise — with two children: the aforementioned Riley and her younger brother Auggie (August Maturo). Riley and Maya are the stars of the series, two seventh graders trying to navigate an awkward adolescent (OK, that’s definitely familiar) while forging their own way — Riley, in particular. Cory repeatedly tells her to find her own path, make her own world, and other silly platitudes. It’s all so obviously a metaphor for Girl Meets World‘s attempts to get out of the shadow of Boy Meets World.
It doesn’t need to fight so hard. Taken out of the context of its predecessor and viewed from the perspective kids who have never seen it, Girl Meets World isn’t actually a bad show. It is, without a doubt, a Disney show, with all the basic elements of one: jarringly bright sets, wild laugh tracks, tweens in too-stylish outfits, and a helpful lesson to learn. It’s sweet and charming, with some chuckle-worthy moments and the expected Disney antics. It’s a show that the whole family can watch; the kids tune in for Girl Meets World while the parents tune in for their own nostalgic purposes.
As a children’s Disney TV show, Girl Meets World is perfectly adequate. If you’re looking for a throwback to your favorite childhood show, you won’t find it here. There are cute references, but it’s not the reboot that you wanted. And that’s OK: Girl Meets World is a show for a different generation. Let them have it.