[5 November 2013]
There are two types of people in this world: 1. people who delight in the “Feeny call” and 2. people who should. For the generation of young viewers who wished they had the wisdom of Mr. Feeny at their beck and call like Cory and Eric Matthews did, Boy Meets World beautifully portrayed the best and worst parts of adolescence.
Growing up isn’t easy, it’s like a rollercoaster; just ask Cory, the wide-eyed titular “boy” that Boy Meets World followed from his sixth grade classroom to his college dormitory and beyond. As the show so charmingly captured, there’s plenty to marvel at along the way to adulthood, but there’s plenty of angst, confusion, and disappointment, too. Like Cory (Ben Savage), his best friend Shawn (Rider Strong) and his girlfriend Topanga (Danielle Fishel) reminded viewers each episode, there’s plenty to learn as you grow up, too.
The sitcom, which ran on ABC from 1993-2000, was an honest coming of age story that combined surprisingly worthwhile life-lessons with corny humor, teenage romance, and melodrama—and that wacky reoccurring “Fee-hee-heenay” call. There were always lessons to be learned, but they were peculiarly relevant to the audience the show targeted while hardly ever being preachy. Though the storylines were predictable and the jokes were often cheesy, the series was also smarter than it had any right to be.
Now, more than a decade after completing its initial run, Boy Meets World: The Complete Collection has arrived on DVD to again thrill the 20- and 30-somethings that made the show a hit in the first place, but also just in time to delight a whole new younger generation that’s primed to make the much publicized Disney Channel sequel series Girl Meets World a success, too.
When it was announced that Savage and Fishel would be returning on Girl Meets World as one of modern television’s most beloved TV couples, the entire Internet almost shut down due to the overload of clamoring excitement on social media. Make no mistake, that’s because everything on the original show—the heart, the humor, the hair—holds up. Okay, so maybe not the hair.
As with almost any sitcom that went on to find success, Boy Meets World didn’t really find its footing until its second season. Yet, the first season had the remarkable dynamic between Cory and his sixth grade teacher George Feeny, the wisest man on earth, at its foundation. As the series progressed it became more about Cory and Shawn’s friendship and from the third season forward, it was centered around the much-celebrated romance between Cory and Topanga.
Viewers who were the same age as Cory Matthews identified with his hopes, dreams, and struggles as much as anyone else they saw on television. Average guy Cory was perfectly relatable to youth and his modest suburban problems seemed as big as he made them out to be.
As a result, fans wanted a romance as meaningful as Cory and Topanga’s, a friendship as enduring as Shawn and Cory’s, and a brother as entertaining as Eric. Certainly, Mr. Feeny was the mentor you wished you had. Not to mention, just like most viewers, Cory and friends managed to make even more (and much bigger) mistakes as they got older.
Cory failed a lot, but he learned a lot about life and, yes, the world he encountered. And no matter what happened, Cory and Topanga always found their way back to each other in the end.
Cory’s journey in the show’s 158 episodes deals with his inability to deal with change even though the world around him was always in a state of flux. And, though it remained about as edgy and innovative as celery, to its credit, the show changed just enough each year to carry the narrative forward and uncover more aspects of “the world” for Cory to meet.
In season two, Cory and Shawn entered high school, became interested in girls, and were challenged by “cool” young teacher Jonathan Turner, who was hip enough to assign X-Men comics along with The Odyssey. By season three, Topanga and Cory officially began dating, which would fuel most of the storylines for the remainder of the series. Season five found Cory’s brother Eric getting an apartment with Shawn’s long-lost brother Jack (Matthew Lawrence). And the seventh season found the characters with both feet planted firmly in adulthood, letting Cory and Topanga finally tie the knot.
To say that not every episode was a homerun would be quite an understatement, but Boy Meets World was as consistently entertaining and intelligent as anything else that came from ABC’s TGIF lineup. In hindsight, by the end of the fifth season, the show steadily declined in quality, inexplicably becoming both zanier and more sentimental with each passing episode. But at that point, the show’s core audience had fallen in love with the characters and they could overlook some lapses in overall quality.
All in all, whether in reruns or primetime, there were more memorable scenes than forgettable ones. There were shocking moments. Remember the episode when Topanga spontaneously cut her magnificent, long hair in the middle of the John Adams High School hallway to prove to Cory that outer beauty didn’t matter? Or when Cory kissed Lauren on a ski-trip and was scared to tell Topanga?
Though it was never gritty, the show had dark moments too, none more difficult to watch than when Shawn’s father Chet (played by the woefully underrated Blake Clark) suddenly died of a heart attack after finally coming back into his son’s life.
Yes, there were countless syrupy sweet moments too, like when the couple slow danced inside a wrestling ring after Cory missed Topanga’s sweet 16 party, and the time when a very young Cory tells her, “If I had to dream up the perfect woman, she wouldn’t even come close to you.”
And there were wacky moments, especially in the later seasons, like when Eric, Jack, and their roommate Rachel (Maitland Ward) had a gigantic food fight or when the group envisions a future where Eric has hilariously become the crazy hermit Plays With Squirrels.
Plus, there were fanciful experiments in storytelling, too. Do you remember when the show parodied Scream with Jennifer Love Hewitt guest-starring as Jennifer Love Fefferman or when Cory was warped back to the Happy Days-inspired ‘50s complete with Tom Bosley as Cory’s father and the appearance of Shawnzie Hunterelli?
Fittingly, over the seven seasons, characters grew and changed. Every character under the age of 30, save for Shawn’s girlfriend Angela (who just never quite worked) is a tremendously dynamic character by the end of the series. Shawn, the slacker kid from the wrong side of the tracks, was dealt more hardship than any of the other characters, yet emerged as confident and caring as anyone else. Topanga was introduced as a quirky, free spirit who welcomed moments of transcendental meditation but she grew into an incredibly confident young woman.
Thanks to the comedic talents of Will Friedle, who had the cartoonlike energy of a young Jim Carrey, Eric became a total scene-stealer who foolishly pined after Rachel while trying so hard to make something of himself. Of course, by the end of the tale, Cory became a man and a much more complex character, too. He’s not the innocent 13-year-old we met in season one, anymore, but he’s better for it.
Though cynics could easily make light of the gang at John Adams High, you can count the number of more beloved sitcoms from this time period on one hand: Seinfeld, Friends, The Simpsons, and maybe Frazier. In its heyday, there were funnier and certainly more innovative sitcoms, but Boy Meets World earned its rightful place in the pages of television history if for no other reasons than its bucket loads of sincerity and the characters’ outstanding relationships.
Furthermore, it was one of the last successful shows on primetime broadcast television to focus on a group of teens as the central cast of characters. Nowadays, Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel take care of that niche audience, cranking out the sort of formulaic pre-teen-focused sitcoms that hardly anyone will remember a few years later, but Boy Meets World gave these shows a matchless blueprint.
Though the continued success of reruns of the sitcom is certainly linked with ‘90s nostalgia and its target demographic, the show’s continued popularity over the years is due to its ability to speak to both kids and adults. Cory’s sitcom-perfect parents Amy and Alan (beautifully portrayed by Betsy Randle and William Russ) performed every parenting duty under the sun, admirably steering the Matthews boys and their friends in the right direction.
However, one cannot underestimate the value of Mr. Feeny to Cory and Eric, or to the show’s fans. Powerful Feeny quotes like “Friendship, for example, is a real gift. It’s given with no expectations and no gratitude is needed, not between real friends,” when combined with William Daniels’ polished delivery still carry great impact today on the current DVD collection.
It would be wrong to say Daniels was too talented an actor for the role of Feeny, but his skillful portrayal of the teacher, who also happened to live next door to the Matthews family, added a level of maturity and insight to the series. While many educators on sitcoms were portrayed as bumbling, out-of-touch idiots, à la Saved By the Bell’s Mr. Belding, Feeny was allowed to be difficult and firm even though he always had his students’ best interests at heart. It certainly helped that he was an insurmountable fountain of wisdom, becoming a sort of anchor or moral compass to Cory and friends even though he implausibly followed them during their entire academic career, somehow serving as their sixth grade history teacher and their college professor. As Cory jokingly says in the series finalé, Feeny hadn’t “talked to another student for seven years.”
The entire cast, at least in these roles, is quite underrated. Surprisingly, none of them went to star in anything remotely memorable since the show wrapped. But thanks to the sitcom’s legacy, they didn’t have to. Boy Meets World will keep them in the hearts and minds of America.
The show went out packing an emotional wallop. Few sitcom finalés have been more engaging or emotionally satisfying than the “Brave New World” episode. As a result, the last episode of Boy Meets World more than makes up for the zany missteps the show took in its seventh season. In the final scene, Cory, Eric, Shawn, and Topanga return to their classroom of old to say goodbye to Mr. Feeny, but not before they hear one last bit of advice from him. It’s appropriate that Feeny’s last bit of advice on the sitcom remains his best, “Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good.” It’s this sort of wisdom that makes the Boy Meets World all the more timeless.
The DVDs in Boy Meets World: The Complete Collection are seemingly just a mere combination of the other DVDs previously released by Lionsgate and ABC Studios. As a result, there are a limited number of bonus features and the audio/visual quality is less than remarkable. However, there are two newly created bonus features for the set that each clock in at roughly 20 minutes each.
The first of these, “Back to the Beginning” is a stellar retrospective where all of the major cast members, along with series creator Michael Jacobs, reminisce about filming the show and growing up onscreen together. If only this feature were longer. It’s a guaranteed joy for fans to see the exceptional camaraderie the actors have as they share production stories and tease one other.
However, the other new featurette that presents a random collection of fans talking about why they like the show is unfortunately grating. Instead of watching it, just actually go talk to your friends who also like the show. I’d rather have seen a special feature devoted to, let’s say, telling fans what happened to Mr. Turner, a vital character that ended up in a coma at the end of season four who was only briefly mentioned in passing afterward.
Perhaps, the answer to that often-posed question will find its way alongside Cory and Topanga on Girl Meets World. With all due respect to the upcoming next-gen sequel, it’s doubtful the sort of lighting in a bottle that came with Boy Meets World will happen again, even though Cory, Topanga, and apparently Mr. Feeny will be along for the ride. But thanks to the complete collection of Boy Meets World and the fond memories it created, fans wouldn’t dare miss it, especially because someone will surely be doing the “Feeny call”.