Like a lot of people my age, I grew up watching reruns of Boy Meets World every day after school. The ABC show about Cory Matthews (Ben Savage), Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong), and Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel) was always one of my favorites. Like Cory, I’ve had the same best friend since I was 3 years old, and we’ve gone through life together calling ourselves “Cory and Shawn.” I even ended my high school graduation speech with my favorite quote from Mr. Feeny (William Daniels): “Believe in yourselves, dream, try, do good. I love you all. Class dismissed.”
So, when Disney Channel announced a spinoff show about Cory and Topanga’s daughter, I was skeptical. As we all know, for every spinoff like Frasier, there are 10 spinoffs like Joey, and this was going to be on a children’s network instead of ABC. I felt a little better once Savage and Fishel signed on as series regulars, but I still worried the magic of Boy Meets World would be lost. Eighteen episodes of Girl Meets World later, I’m thrilled to say I was 100% wrong. Honestly, there is a part of me that is starting to like Girl Meets World even more than I like BMW.
I’m so grateful that young kids have the opportunity to watch Girl Meets World. Here are five reasons it is so important to me that they do.
1) A strong female friendship.
The greatest thing about this show is the friendship between Riley Matthews (Rowan Blanchard) and Maya Hart (Sabrina Carpenter). Blanchard and Carpenter are incredibly talented young ladies who have actually become best friends offscreen, which helps their television friendship seem effortless. From the first episode, it is clear to older fans that these two are meant to be like Cory and Shawn. Riley is a slightly awkward young girl who wants to believe she’s as rebellious as her best friend. Maya is the cool and calm best friend whose single parent struggles to provide everything that she needs in her life. However, the writers do a wonderful job of making Riley and Maya their own people too. They are smart, funny, and adventurous, and most importantly, they completely negate the stereotypes given to preteen girls. Riley and Maya have a strong, loving friendship in which they maturely discuss their wants and needs with each other. They’re quick to support each other in any way possible. They fight, of course, but who doesn’t? But as they work through their conflict each week, viewers young and old are able to see a healthy female friendship on a children’s television show.
2) A discussion of nontraditional families.
In an interview, Sabrina Carpenter said “To my knowledge, there has never been a character on a Disney Channel show with an absentee mom and a dad who has another family, because that’s not a typical, perfect life. But that’s what life is. It’s not perfect.” The 15-year-old actress is so right. Like her Boy Meets World counterpart Shawn, Maya doesn’t come from “a nuclear family.” Her parents are divorced, and her mother is often nowhere to be found because she’s working extra shifts at a restaurant to provide basic life necessities for her daughter. Unlike her best friend’s life, Maya’s family life is often difficult. She sees the Matthews family as her own, like Shawn did on BMW, which also brings up the important realization for kids that family does not always mean you are related to a person by blood. Maya’s situation is not an unusual one for children to experience. Shows made for kids rarely feature families that are not the “normal” family lifestyle of a mother, a father, and two or three kids. It is refreshing for young children who don’t have that family life to see one a little closer to their own on television.
3) Cory’s continuous growth.
I’m new to this whole adulthood thing. So far, I’m not a fan. As a kid, I thought when I became an adult, I would magically know everything I needed for life. All of the adults I saw on television seemed to have it figured out. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. On Girl Meets World, they not only understand that but they show it in every episode by allowing Cory to grow as much as his daughter and her friends do. He’s grown tremendously since we first met him in middle school on BMW. But Cory still has a lot to learn about being a father, a husband, a teacher, and a human being. As a 22-year-old fan of a children’s show, I’m thankful that the boy I watched every day on TV after elementary and middle school still has not figured it all out, and I hope kids are able to watch this and see that adults do not know what they’re doing either.
4) Tackling world issues.
While I take issue with the fact that the middle school featured on Girl Meets World lacks a significant amount of diversity amongst their students for a school in New York City, this show has tackled many vital issues for kids in just 18 episodes. In one episode, we learned that Lucas (Peyton Meyer) has recently moved to NYC from Texas. He didn’t want to leave his friends and family behind, and as someone who experienced this twice in my childhood, I connected deeply with Lucas. It is not easy to do, but Lucas and I are far from the only children to experience this life event. I never saw it on television as a child, and I wonder if it would have been easier if I had seen some small representation of it on one of my favorite television shows.
Like most shows for young people, the writers have also tackled an episode on bullying, but they addressed popularity, bullying, and self-image in unique ways that made the episode standout from the other shows. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of that episode was Cory’s lesson on cultural appropriation to Riley and his other students. When Riley begins dressing in Harajuku style to become popular, he discusses the dangers of cultural appropriation. Since viewing the episode, I have seen some interesting discussion on the fact that Harajuku is meant to be shared with the world and is therefore not cultural appropriation. And while I do not know a lot about Harajuku and cannot speak to that, I found the overall explanation of cultural appropriation incredibly important for a children’s show. In a time when singers like Katy Perry, Iggy Azalea, and Selena Gomez are appropriating other cultures for their music videos and tours, the issue is rarely discussed in the mainstream media. Instead, it is either ignored, or even worse, celebrated as “art.” By explaining to children what the issue is, even if they did not explicitly use the term “cultural appropriation,” they are helping kids learn early that it is exploitative and racist.
5) Allowing former fans of BMW to enjoy it with their kids.
I know I am not ready to be a mother, but a small part of me wishes I had a child who was old enough to watch this show with me. One of the things the Girl Meets World writers have done so intelligently is bridge the gap between the old show and the new. In doing so, they provide a perfect opportunity for the two generations of fans to watch this show together. People who enjoyed BMW as teenagers now have kids around the ages of Riley, Maya, and Riley’s younger brother Auggie (August Maturo), and the show is more than enjoyable for these adults to watch. So far, GMW has featured the return of Shawn Hunter, Cory’s parents Amy and Alan Matthews (Betsy Randle and William Russ, respectively), and Topanga’s school rival Stuart Minkus (Lee Norris). We even saw a brief appearance from Mr. Feeny, and season two promises even more Shawn and Mr. Feeny as well as the return of Cory’s older brother Eric Matthews (Will Friedle). They use flashbacks creatively to show the younger fans what they missed on BMW in a way that is not confusing or overwhelming. By keeping the new generation of viewers informed about the past, they make the show nostalgic and exciting for loyal fans of BMW and build a deep connection between the two shows. And even though I am a huge fan of GMW without having kids to watch it with, I know I would love to spend my Friday nights watching this Disney Channel show with my children if I was a parent.
I don’t know how long the show can last without moving to ABC Family to keep it relevant to the aging audience, but for now, Girl Meets World is exactly what this world needs.