Girl, meet the world’s fickle citizens.
We’re the ones who turn nostalgia into an empire, blanketing the Internet with .gifs, essays, and homages celebrating the pop culture we held near and dear in years gone by. We’re the ones who campaign ceaselessly for revivals, reboots, and resuscitations of that same pop culture, tantalized by the opportunity to maybe, just maybe, revisit the characters and fictional universes once again all these years later. And we’re the ones who will trash, reject, and ignore those revivals once, after all that effort, we finally get them.
Such is the problem facing Girl Meets World.
About 18 months ago, word got out that the Disney Channel would be developing a follow-up series to the long-running, beloved-by-millennials TGIF sitcom Boy Meets World. The original series wrapped in 2000 after airing 158 episodes and aging its precocious lead characters—Ben Savage’s Cory Matthews and Danielle Fishel’s Topanga Lawrence—all the way from sixth-grade sweethearts to married college graduates. The planned follow-up was a TV fan’s dream: Girl Meets World would insert us right back into Cory and Topanga’s married lives as if we never left, 14 years later.
But something wild happened in those 14 years. Cory and Topanga had a daughter. She’s in middle school. Now, she’s also the star of Girl Meets World. And those of use who were clamoring for more of the Cory-and-Topanga story we fell in love with over a decade ago? Well, we don’t want her to be. In fact, we—if I could be a bit of pop-culture Lorax for the moment and speak for all of us—are kind of annoyed that she is.
Here’s the peculiar issue with Girl Meets World: It’s a show that’s been created for a certain demographic, but it’s also a show that’s been created because of a certain, different demographic.
Its mere existence is owed to the legions of Boy Meets World fans, most of whom are grown adults now, reminiscing about how much they loved it on social media and devouring remembrances of it on sites like Buzzfeed. The hoopla surrounding the nostalgia hinted that those people would be beside themselves with excitement over a reboot of the show. Disney was right. When the show was announced, they flipped for the news.
But the series Disney Channel made isn’t for those people. Instead, and logically, it’s for the Disney Channel audience, a group as young as we were when we first watched Boy Meets World and who may not even have any idea what Boy Meets World is. Girl Meets World is simply a tween show with tween humor and loose ties to a series that grown ups used to love.
In anticipation of Friday’s Girl Meets World premiere, social media research firm Fizziology scoured Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and other popular social media platforms to gauge opinion on the show’s revival. It found that more that 80 percent of the people talking positively about the show’s upcoming premiere were over the age of 18. Of the people who were interested in watching the premiere, 70 percent indicated that they grew up on Boy Meets World and would be watching the show nostalgically. Only 30 percent were younger Disney Channel fans—problematic, considering they’re who this show is for.
The pilot for Girl Meets World was made available earlier this month for online streaming. One college-aged former Boy Meets World fan who checked it out said, according to Fizziology, that it is “too Disney.”
Actually, it is just Disney enough. We just don’t want it to be.
Girl Meets World is a perfectly pleasant Disney Channel show. Newcomer Rowan Blanchard plays Riley, Cory and Topanga’s oldest daughter. It was mentioned before, but the point needs to be made again: Riley is the star of Girl Meets World. The series is told through her eyes, which is frustrating for people who wanted to exclusively see what married life’s like for Cory and Topanga, but completely understandable for a network that has young kids to entertain.
Cory and Topanga, then, are really supporting characters. In a poetic move, Cory is now a middle school teacher himself, following in the footsteps of his mentor, Mr. Feeney.
Riley gets her version of a Shawn Hunter with loose cannon BFF Maya, and Sabrina Carpenter, who plays Maya, is a worthy successor to Rider Strong in the part. The pilot centers on Riley proving she’s mature enough to get a subway pass (the Matthews clan lives in a hip SoHo apartment) so she can make “the world” her own. It’s cute a premise and a cute pilot. And throughout the whole thing you don’t want any part of her world. You want to go back to Cory’s old one.
The cool thing about Boy Meets World is that it grew up with us. What started as a kids show about first crushes and dog-ate-my-homework schoolyard hijinx eventually developed into a thoughtful series that (lightheartedly and humorously) explored what happens after the boy meets the world and becomes familiar with its more mature, sometimes darker realities: heartbreak, loss, sex, alcohol, and, in one infamous episode, cults.
Enjoying Girl Meets World on its own merits, however, requires us to age in reverse and go back to the mindset of the first episodes of the Boy Meets World, which were, frankly, far more juvenile than the series grew to be. A major plot point in the Girl Meets World pilot has Riley leading a “No homework! More freedom!” rebellion in her father’s classroom. It's funny, but not to us. Because we're not 12 years old anymore. But the Disney Channel's audience is.
This is all to say that, aside from the initial flutters of glee you’ll get from seeing Ben Savage’s and Danielle Fishel’s first entrances, there’s little for Boy Meets World fans to get excited about in Girl Meets World. In all likelihood, the millennials who couldn’t wait for it to begin are the ones who aren’t going to bother to watch a second episode. But we shouldn’t really be surprised.
We have a history of doing this. We campaigned tirelessly for a revival of Arrested Development, and then whined when it wasn’t as good as the original series. (Because these things are never as good as the original.) We even gave our own hard-earned money to a Kickstarter campaign to produce a movie version of Veronica Mars—we literally put our money where our mouths are—and then didn’t bother to show up to watch the film once it was released in theaters.
We’re all primed for the joy of the idea a pop-culture revival. But we’re never prepared for the sorrows of its disappointing reality. Maybe, then, there’s something to be learned from the message of this Girl Meets World pilot. The crux of the episode follows Maya and Riley’s discovery of who they truly are and learning to embrace it. Maybe we should do the same with this show, instead of wishing that it was something else.
But girl, meet the world's lofty expectations.