By the sixth season of Boy Meets World, the popular series had already been past its prime, and the format of TGIF, the three hour variety of sitcoms that Boy Meets World called home, was fading into the new millennium. This significant season made a huge leap from high school to college in order to gain back the generation that grew up with the gang. It was time for the show to reinvent itself. Season six saw Cory (Ben Savage), his fiancé Topanga (Danielle Fishel), best friend Shawn (Rider Strong), and Shawn’s girlfriend Angela (Trina McGee) as freshmen at Pennbrook College.
Although most of the environments are vastly different, and the obstacles are fresh for the gang, the boy in Boy Meets World, Cory, hasn’t left high school or his narrow-minded way of thinking, which comes off as self serving and impulsive throughout the majority of season six. Proving that you can take the boy out of his comfort zone, but don’t expect him to learn anything from it if the character proves time and time again, like in prior seasons, that he can’t see past his own nose.
At the start of the season Cory and Topanga spend most of their time in the first two episodes trying to get out of limbo and transcend into the beginning of their adulthood together. This is something Cory struggles with after he agrees to marry Topanga, specifically when it comes to taking responsibility and letting his parents and Mr. Feeny in on their engagement and upcoming nuptials—showing from the start of the season that he’s not mature or confident enough to let his past position in the world go and isn’t ready to move forward with the rest of his friends. To Cory’s horror, even Shawn realizes that it’s time to grow up and explore their options, and he breaks up with his long time girlfriend Angela to take time out for himself.
Cory struggles with doing everything in his power to overcome his own inadequacies, and often acts on impulse in order to launch himself into adulthood. In “Ain’t College Great?” Cory signs up for advanced classes, convinced that the beginner classes are for the mediocre students. Cory somehow signs up for a whole schedule of them, without taking into consideration just how hard they are going to be.
In a scene that carries a strong dramatic performance by Ben Savage, Cory visits Mr. Feeny (William Russ) at his new place of residence in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and tells him, “You never prepared me for life. You failed me. I’m in way over my head, and I have no idea how I got here.” Although at the end of the episode Cory is able to register for beginner classes, it seems as though he’s in way over his head for the remainder of the season and makes rash decisions in coping with the changing world around him.
Keeping true to its formulaic ways, each episode follows a specific pattern that allows Cory to meet his world and the problems he faces each episode. The pattern is as follows: Cory faces a new obstacle that threatens to spring him into adulthood, he acts on impulse in defiance to everything changing, and then he learns his lesson through a peer or an authority figure. He only over analyzes situations when they’re incidental and small, and seems to overlook the big decisions by treating them hastily.
Take episode seven titled, “Everybody Loves Stuart” guest-starring Fred Savage. The elder Savage plays Professor Stuart, a colleague and peer to the students. When Stuart steps out of line by hitting on Topanga at her dorm room, Cory confronts him at the Student Union, pushing him out the glass doors and facing expulsion.
The huge struggle Cory faces, but fails to get past through each episode is the need to feel safe in his changing environment. In every episode he reverts back to this behavior, and wants to keep what he knows to be true, which is mainly his relationship with Topanga. In episode 16, “My Baby Valentine”, Cory feels disconnected from Topanga because she would rather plan a nice baby shower for Cory’s mom, Amy (Betsy Randle), than spend her favorite holiday, Valentine’s Day, with him. Throughout the episode we see Cory do everything in his power to be close to Topanga, which results in him taking over the baby shower planning, ordering a stripper for his mother, and then when she goes into the labor on the same day, not caring about his ailing premature baby brother.
The writing for Cory’s one-dimensional character is even addressed throughout the episode with laments from Topanga “I don’t like it when you use us to hide from the rest of life.” And even Mr. Feeny adds in a small quip when Cory approaches him in the hospital with his problems, “Oh here we go into Cory land.” Although the character may be one dimensional, Ben Savage does a magnificent job with what he’s given, and Cory’s only tolerable because of the innocence that Savage portrays through his character.
Truth be told, although the writers did set up a whole slew of new problems for Cory and Shawn to deal with, Cory’s lessons never seem to stick past the 25 minute mark of an episode, even though, for the most part, all of the story lines ran throughout season six. Perhaps it’s too easy to blame Cory for not sticking to the lessons he’s learned to better his personal growth when the problem really falls on the inconsistent roster of writers. Aside from Bob Tischler, Matthew Nelson, Gary H Miller, Barry Safchik, David Brownfield, the other writers haven’t penned more than a singular episode out of the entire season.
The continuity problems with character development don’t stop at Cory. Eric (Will Friedle) who over the seasons has become the comedic relief finally gets his own character arc. In episode 11, “Santa’s Little Helpers”, he meets Tommy who has no family and later on questions God about why he has placed the boy in his life. He then decides to become his big brother. However, the character of Tommy disappears after “Santa’s Little Helpers” and doesn’t return until episode 18. With the exception of episode 12 where he helps his mother in lamaze class, Eric returns to his doofy shtick and the competition he has with Jack (Matthew Lawrence) to win over Rachel’s (Maitland Ward) affections resumes. Although Tommy returns and Eric considers adopting him in episode 18, it’s introduced too late and the lack of continuity interferes with the otherwise poignant performance that Will Friedle gives.
However, putting Cory’s defunct character development and storyline continuity issues aside, Boy Meets World does get it right in a few glimmering moments throughout the season, and it primarily has nothing to do with Cory. Shawn’s journey into adulthood is executed with sensitivity and clarity at the start of the season, as Shawn distances himself from his friends by hanging out with the boys in “Cleavage”, to feeling emotionally disconnected and then mourning the death of his absentee father, Chet, brilliantly played by Blake Clark. Unlike Cory, Shawn’s actions aren’t impulsive, and they come after much thought and consideration for the people he loves. He even brings Cory on a road trip so that he could get Cory’s blessing to leave Philadelphia.
All of Shawn’s decisions are made purposefully, with the intent of growing up and figuring himself out. His journey, although it was a little too dramatic at times, was perfectly portrayed and closer to how a real teenager questions his life. The same for Topanga, who is the voice of logic amidst Cory’s blunders, but who finds herself at the end of the season questioning her thoughts and feelings on love once her parents reveal that they’re getting a divorce.
For all its flaws and cheeky turns, Boy Meets World found a rejuvenated voice in the sixth season, where as in the earlier seasons Cory’s issues were downplayed with humor. The writers handle the dramatic moments of the gang’s problems with a firm, realistic hand and a great amount of respect, which says a lot for being a half hour TGIF sitcom. It might not have been the most poignant show in the world, but it served a purpose for the generation that grew up with these characters.