‘Girl Meets World’ activates nostalgia despite missteps

When news broke that Disney Channel would launch “Girl Meets World,” a spin-off to the hit series “Boy Meets World,” I felt the warm touch of nostalgia stirring in my heart. Though nowhere near the age of the show’s cast, I had grown up with Cory, Topanga, Shawn and Eric. I sat back collecting lessons from Mr. Feeny, wondering if I, too, was destined to find the love of my life in sixth grade (I wasn’t).

“Girl Meets World” picks up with Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel reprising their roles as Cory and Topanga Matthews, respectively, 14 years after they departed for New York. The couple are now parents to 13-year-old Riley (Rowan Blanchard) and her five-year-old brother, Auggie (August Maturo). Watching Cory and Topanga struggle to cross the tightrope that is parenthood is what I imagine it will be like when my best friends begin having children, raising teenagers, living adult lives.

They’re flawed and awkward, and in Topanga’s case, struggling to hold onto a familiar sense of self as career obligations begin to close in around her. In the middle of their thirties, neither have figured it out, and the show tells us that’s entirely okay.

But the focal point of the show is Riley, a girl with a heart as big as the world she sets out to meet. Blanchard’s portrayal leaves no room for doubt—Riley is Cory’s daughter. She’s loud, socially awkward, unpopular and a genuine goofball. She cares deeply about her best friend Maya (Sabrina Carpenter), the same way Cory does about Shawn. Maya is much cooler than Riley, though, and like Shawn she walks around with a chip on her shoulder. She comes from a broken home and the Matthews have kindly taken her in; Cory vows to treat her as a daughter and to never leave her behind.

This is where “Girl Meets World” loses its appeal. Cory serves both as teacher and father to Riley, the Mr. Feeny and the Alan of the show. But in having him occupy both these positions, the extra voice of reason is missing. Instead, we watch as Cory’s role as the authority figure constantly hangs over Riley’s life. And while the lessons in “Boy Meets World” seemed natural, the ones in “Girl Meets World” are heavy-handed, alway drilling in the importance of friendship and staying true to oneself.

Cory had seven seasons to grow up and meet the world, from sixth grade to college. It feels like Riley’s clock is already counting down and she must cram the lessons Cory and Topanga learned in multiple seasons into one season of her life.

In spite of the show’s flaws, the neon pop of color that characterizes it as just another Disney show and the awful laugh track, “Girl Meets World” still holds much of the heart of its original and resonates with longtime fans. Even if we aren’t the intended fanbase for this new series, the references to the original series, cameo appearances and the fun of Cory and Topanga’s relationship make it worth checking out, if only for the sake of briefly quenching the thirst of nostalgia.

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