Entertainment

09.24.13

‘Boy Meets World’ Turns 20: The Silly Show We Can’t Help but Love

It’s been an unfathomable 20 years since Cory Matthews first met Topanga Lawrence and ’90s kids fell in love with a simple teen comedy. Two decades later, why are we still so obsessed with ‘Boy Meets World’?

Mention Boy Meets World to a certain set of people and watch an almost unmanageable swell of joy light up their eyes.

These are the people who not only remember what a Tamagotchi is, but also are still haunted by the time they neglected to feed it while they were at the mall and the poor digital creature died. These are the people who remember what a Furby is ... and remember chucking the blasted thing against a wall because they couldn’t figure out how to shut it up. They’re the group whose bedrooms at their parents’ homes have Beanie Babies on shelves with tags still on them in mint condition. They’re still going to be worth something one day, right?

Mention to these people, however, that Tuesday is the 20th anniversary of Boy Meets World’s first episodes, and watch that look of joy transform into shock.

Boy Meets World launched on ABC on September 24, 1993, introducing viewers to sixth grader Cory Matthews (Ben Savage), best friend Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong), their beguilingly odd classmate Topanga (Danielle Fishel), and their wise owl of a teacher Mr. Feeny (William Daniels). The show ran for seven seasons and 158 episodes, with viewers watching as Cory had his first kiss, fell in love, graduated from high school, and even got married.

It was a silly show. It never did particularly well in the ratings. It wasn’t particularly well reviewed. But those who watched loved it. Twenty years later, they still do. A lot.

Two decades later, fans’ fondness for Boy Meets World extends far beyond warm memories of overdosing on Mountain Dew and Orville Redenbacher’s on “TGIF” sleepover nights. It has, in the age of Tumblr and BuzzFeed and .GIFs and fan forums, reached obsessive levels.

Obsessive, of course, can be cute and fun. Head over to Complex.com, for example, for a thoroughly entertaining, absurdly specific history of Cory’s sneakers. Type “Boy Meets World” into the search bar on BuzzFeed, and a nearly endless scroll surfaces.

Highlights from the site’s exhaustive coverage of Boy Meets World nostalgia range from a play-by-play of the cast’s Twitter debate on a Rebecca Black music video to updates on what favorite cast members look like today to a meticulous list calling out the show’s inconsistencies, such as Cory learning about Romeo and Juliet in the pilot yet being surprised to hear that the main characters die in a future episode.

Video screenshot

Watch Cory and Topanga's Love story in 84 seconds.

Obsessive, however, can also be alarming, as proved by this Tumblr dedicated to exposing the show’s connection to the Illuminati. “We will analyze how these actors and actresses from Boy Meets World worship Satan and how they’re connected to the Illuminati and Freemasonry,” the site promises. Roughly 6,000 words making the case follow. The analysis is riveting.

What was it about this show?

Cory Matthews was the perfect Everyman. Er, Everyboy. Boy or girl, we were, in many ways, him. Topanga was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl before we even knew the Manic Pixie Dream Girl was a thing. She was so delightfully weird and beautiful and mystifying. She hypnotized Cory with her free spirit, freer hair, and asinine name, coaxing him out of his shell and into love with her. She did the same to all of us, too, so that as Cory came of age with her by his side, we were along for the ride. It was our ride.

We were so invested in the relationship that each time Cory and Topanga’s relationship took a step forward, our hearts came that much closer to exploding, like we were all Grinches, they were the Whos, and every Friday night was Christmas morning. (It kind of was, though.) It could be argued that we were ridiculously invested. Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks, Mad Men) is still accosted, all these years later, for playing the girl whom Cory kissed at the ski lodge in a Boy Meets World episode 15 years ago, briefly interrupting Cory and Topanga’s bliss.

“I remember these kids coming up to me and calling me a ‘home-wrecker,’” Cardellini told The Daily Beast. “Kids! They were mad. And I was like, ‘Why don’t they blame Cory? Why are they blaming me?’”

Perhaps what made Boy Meets World brilliant was its very simplicity, a rarity among other higher-concept ’90s shows, particularly ones geared at younger demographics. The shows from the period, you’ll notice, that resonate most today are the ones about people just coming of age and learning life’s lessons along the way—often to the soundtrack of twinkling piano keys. There’s Full House, Clarissa Explains It All, Family Matters, Saved by the Bell. Boy Meets World was about a boy trying to figure out life.

It proved addicting to see someone kind of like yourself on TV who was kind of also a little bit lost but offered hope of attaining happiness through the most basic of pleasures: a really cool best friend in Shawn, an understanding set of parents, a wise spirit guide in Mr. Feeny, and a girl worth going crazy about in Topanga.

It’s extremely rare for fans who have marinated for years in their fond memories of a favorite show to, years later, get a glimpse of its characters’ happily ever after. Boy Meets World fans will soon be living that pop-culture fairy tale when Girl Meets World premieres next year on the Disney Channel. In it, Cory and Topanga are still married, living in New York City with two kids. This time around, the Matthews’s daughter Riley will experience the awkward middle school years.

When the series was announced and all those Boy Meets World feelings of our youth—which was, admittedly, not that long ago—resurfaced, reactions were mixed. After all, we’ve sat through far too many depressing Brady Bunch Thanksgivings and Facts of Life reunions featuring aging stars to approach the revival without a touch of skepticism.

We were so invested in the relationship that each time Cory and Topanga’s relationship took a step forward, our hearts came that much closer to exploding.

The Daily Beast’s Sujay Kumar worried that the show’s edginess—there really was some!—would be neutered by the House of Mouse. “The channel’s ‘teen-friendly’ sitcoms don’t dare tackle controversial issues,” he wrote. “In fact, three groundbreaking episodes of Boy Meets World are actually banned from airing on the channel.” (The episodes in question tackle premarital sex, teenage drinking, and, laughably, the fallout when Topanga moons Shawn and his girlfriend.)

Others wondered whether our own nostalgia for the series is overblown. Excitement over an announcement is one thing. Watching the reboot is another.

“People in my generation revel in our glorious pre-teen years as if we’re now active members of the AARP,” wrote Aisha Harris at Slate. “I’ll admit to succumbing to such fodder from time to time ... But then I realize the sad absurdity of obsessing about the good ol’ days while still in my 20s. And actively rooting for the spin-off of a show that premiered 20 years ago is where I draw the line.”

That’s fair.

But at least for today, let’s root at least for the memories of our love for the show that premiered 20 years ago, when a boy met the world ... and many of us did, too.