The nineties were the golden age of the situation comedy. This was the decade that saw the likes of Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, and Boy Meets World. Yes, Boy Meets World. No, it wasn’t critically acclaimed. No, it didn’t have the best ratings. But for members of Generation Y, Boy Meets World was childhood. It’s an instant shot of nostalgia that proves impossible to resist. It’s time for this hugely underrated classic to take its place with the greats.
The younger brother of the Wonder Years’ Fred Savage, Ben Savage starred as the titular boy, Cory Matthews. The perfect balance of precocity and naiveté, Cory formed the backbone of the show. His partner in crime was bad-boy Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong— yes, his real name), who lived in a trailer park, and so naturally had an endless supply of biker jackets and angst. Will Friedle played big brother Eric, and love interest Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel) rounded out the gang. Overseeing these crazy kids was the ever-wise teacher Mr. Feeney, played by William Daniels.
Even I’ll admit that so far, Boy Meets World sounds like your everyday, utterly disposable, family-friendly cheese-fest: 7th Heaven with a laugh track. And to a degree, it is. BMW is entertainment, not art. The show has become notorious for its continuity issues. Shawn and Topanga both had older sisters who appeared in one episode each and were never mentioned again. Corey, Shawn, and Topanga are sixth graders in the first season and college juniors by the end of the show’s run, seven seasons later. Cory and Eric’s little sister Morgan disappears from the show, only to reappear a season later played by a new actress.
What sets Boy Meets World apart from its fellow sloppily made family sitcoms like Full House and Family Matters is that BMW wasn’t above laughing at itself. When the new Morgan appears onscreen, her first line is “Wow, that was the longest time-out ever!” The entire cast spoofs itself in an episode in which Eric becomes an actor on a sitcom called Kid Gets Acquainted with the Universe. Boy Meets World was often terrible, but it was always in on the joke.
But even through all the antics, Boy Meets World featured true moments of tenderness, mostly between Eric and Mr. Feeney, who happened to live next door. In typical BMW style, both had absolutely ludicrous character arcs: Eric starts off as the handsome and suave older brother, only to lose IQ points with every season until he becomes basically a bumbling lunatic, while Mr. Feeney goes from middle school teacher, to high school principle, to college professor as the characters age. Feeney is the Mr. Miyagi to Eric’s moronic Daniel-san, guiding him through his torturous academic career and offering sage advice for any situation.
Needless to say, Boy Meets World set me up for a fall. As a kid, it was more than a show to me: it was a sort of handbook to life. The lines between television and reality blurred before my six-year-old eyes, until I believed that middle school would be relatively pleasant, high school relatively quick, and life in general relatively painless. It was a while before I learned that real-life problems aren’t solved in 22 minutes.
In the end, Cory marries Topanga and all the kids move to New York—boy has finally met the world. But it’s not the real world, it’s still sitcom world. Cory’s married to his sandbox girlfriend, and from middle school to college, the gang hasn’t broken up. Strange to think that we ever believed that life could be like that, but watching Boy Meets World as elementary schoolers, we did. But even now that we know better, it’s impossible to resent Boy Meets World for lying to us. At least we know that somewhere, best friends are forever, Mom and Dad always have the answers, and Mr. Feeney’s a picket fence away.