Just as soon as we reunited with Cory Matthews and his growing family–thanks to the spin-off, Girl Meets World–it seems we’ll be parting ways once again.
In early January, the Disney Channel announced the cancellation of the sitcom by saying it will not return for its final fourth season. Both the cast and fans of the show went into shock, sadness and protest. The decision didn’t make sense to them. And without a solid explanation from Disney, many are left wondering if the show and its subject matter are too much for the squeaky clean network to handle.
Girl Meets World, like its predecessor, carries a moral in each episode. We follow Riley Matthews (Rowan Blanchard), Cory’s adolescent daughter and the trials of her growing pains in New York City. When she and her friends struggle through a new issue, there’s a comforting soup of advice and waiting in the Matthews household, with enough helpings to go around for their relating audience.
This is an oddity in media today. Much of the shows centered around the youth on television rely on the aspiration to be famous or viral. Some barely scratch the surface of teen life by tossing in dashes of angst, self-esteem battles and hierarchies. But Girl Meets World, in its short span of three seasons, has covered a vast spectrum of life changes for the modern teen. From Asperger’s Syndrome, to bullying, spirituality and a number of additional things, the show’s cast and writers sought to gift something worth its weight in gold to its audience: a voice. As a devoted Boy Meets World fan, I never fully allowed this concept to seep into my mind. Nothing could ever compare to the greatness of my favorite show. Nothing.
I couldn’t see Girl Meets World for the maverick it is. It wasn’t until I heard of its cancellation and tuned into their special episode, “World Meets Girl”–where viewers are given a behind the scenes access–that I was able to understand how they achieved the accomplishment of emotional connection.
It’s the reason we found ourselves resonating with a curly haired kid from Philly in 1993.
It’s also the same reason why Ben Savage has been our Cory Matthews for twenty four years.
Cory Matthews: The Quintessential ’90s Kid
Cory Matthews once described himself as average, and in retrospect, perhaps that’s the best way to put it. There’s nothing sparkly about him. No frills. No riches. No magic powers. He was just an adolescent from middle class parents, fitted in plaids and the latest basketball sneakers. His grades reflected his image. There was no dire need to excel for him, just the desire to score a passing grade, make it through the school day and run home to hang with his best friend and their Nerf guns. Sounds completely ordinary, right? A snooze. A bore. On the contrary, it’s pure genius. Creating a regular joe was the first step towards capturing lightning in a bottle. The casting of Ben Savage to bring this particular character to life only sealed the deal.
Cory in all his regularity, was legit. He wasn’t threatening and he never reminded you of all the crap you wanted but didn’t have. He was right there with you–confused about life and plagued by the things he knew he’d never possess. This is a human flaw. We’re insatiable, and of course, we come with even more flaws. So as Cory grew and promoted to the next grade with each year, we were able to see all of his imperfections as we developed an uncanny bond with him.
The best part of Cory rested beyond his ‘average’ exterior and his ‘average’ aspirations. There was a unique quality within his approach to dilemmas. Everything he had went into his relationships. With him, there was no heart wearing on his sleeve, there was only the offering of it.
It lied in his palm, waiting for the moments the most important people in his life would need it.
This was Cory’s superpower.
No, he didn’t always hit the mark with it. Sometimes he could be selfish and irresponsible–spiteful even. And when those times came, there was a special hidden gem in their thickness: Cory always held himself accountable for his shortcomings. Whether it was with an apology, chore, gesture, hug or kiss, he fought to keep a place of value in his loved one’s lives. This action of battling to keep relationships on their deserving mantle was the one common thread of every show. It’s a potent moral for life and perhaps the keystone of the entire ‘Meets World’ family.
Remember when Shawn joined the cult called, The Centre, out of his need for a stable and loving family? He became a bit of a zombie under their influence and in the process started distancing himself from his circle. Fortunately for him, both the The Centre and its founder, Mr. Mack, were no match for the Matthews family and Mr. Feeny.
Don’t let the tight knit rope of the Matthews parents and Shawn Hunter fool you. There was once a point in time where their ties frayed–just a bit. And who do you suppose was there to step between the tension and defend his best friend after their run in with the cops for underage drinking? That’s right, Cory. He never allowed his (rightfully) angry father to forbid his friendship. Instead, he owned up to his mischief and challenged his parent’s thoughts about him.
Now, prepare to cry. If you end up keeping a dry eye after watching this scene, you’re a savage. I can’t make it through this episode–or any epic Cory and Topanga love-centered episode–without sobbing. What they had was celestial. They brought out the champion in one another and were ready for battle at the slightest hint of a threat. Especially when a promotion uprooted Topanga’s family to Pittsburgh. It’s this love and perseverance that brings Topanga back to Philadelphia to finish off her senior year under the guardianship of her Aunt.
Boy Meets World‘s moral fiber didn’t solely rely on Cory’s moral fiber. It also utilized the quirks and complexities of its supporting characters as a vehicle to lift us up.
Topanga taught us to embrace our peculiarity while also setting a positive example for young girls. She was regal, beautiful inside and out, and quick as a whip with her brain. Through her, we could see that being a good girl was an amazing thing to be. It was neither boring or without reward. It was enough, and the world would just have to take it or leave it.
Eric Matthew’s journey was one of relentless optimism. He reminded us to have heart and confidence in our abilities–even if we have to exercise the areas of our life we fall short in. As long as we believe our goals to be attainable, we can get things done.
This beautiful lesson extends beyond the span of Boy Meets World, and even fictional life. Will Friedle, the actor who plays Eric, spent many years grappling with anxiety. This struggle is documented in the sitcom. Will states his sudden weight gain during the series was due to the medications he had to take for his severe anxiety. Fighting through it became increasingly difficult after the show’s end. Anxiety prevented him from auditioning or completing any on camera work. So, Will stuck with voice over work (Kim Possible, Guardians of the Galaxy). But when Girl Meets World hit the small screen and Hollywood began to gossip about Will having agoraphobia (which is false), he decided to conquer his illness.
Will arrived to the set of Girl Meets World with the same fight I’ve mentioned throughout this article, and gave everything he had. He received a standing ovation from the audience and finally realized he CAN act on-screen again.
He credits the showrunner, Michael Jacobs, and the cast with making him feel at home enough to achieve this feat.
I’d like to think warming up with Eric’s legendary “Feeny Call” helped to ease his nerves also.
Shawn Hunter’s story arc did the job of telling us that our environment and card’s dealt in life do not define us. They are not parameters or blocked off streets. We can live outside of their limits as long as we don’t allow our demons to get in our own way.
Cory & Topanga: A Love Story
The union of Cory and Topanga taught us love is not absolutely unconditional. Everyone has conditions as to how they should be treated. Love is not the only reason to stay together. Respect, trust, communication and patience are just as integral for long term romantic success. It takes a phenomenal amount of work. But for the right person, it won’t feel like it.
Take a trip down memory lane and take a look for yourself. Oh, and queue the butterflies in your stomach.
It does not tell its audience to sit down and stay quiet.
It does not belittle their pains based on their age.
It does not cut corners and sugar coat. It pushes the boundaries of what Disney–who underestimates the power of the show–believes their audience can handle.
Girl Meets World is about empowerment and community for kids, teens and adults. Because after all, as Cory said,”We never stop meeting the world.”
This inherited bond between cast, crew and audience has sparked an immense amount of outcry. Fans are currently campaigning for other studio networks to pick up the show and save it. There’s high hopes for Netflix to carry the torch, and according to Michael Jacobs, there’s a good chance of success. In an interview with TV Line he states they’re currently in the early stages of deals and anticipates a final word in a couple of months.
I think there’s no question that the fan reaction to this is noticed. I think what is astounding is the places the fans have picked out for us are incredibly astute. I think in terms of not only what the show is, and what they want it to become, they have picked out those places accordingly. I should say the reason “Girl Meets World” — People always ask me, ‘Why did you go to Disney Channel?’ The original was on ABC. You dance with who brung ya. Disney Channel asked if we were interested in continuing the story. We put it there because that’s where the invitation came from. I think they were excited about seeing what happened to these characters. Within the parameters of the people that invited us, we created an executed a show for that audience. When it was announced, the old “Boy Meets World” fanbase was very excited about coming to this. The immediate realization was that we would not be able to do the exact same tonality we had originally done. And we knew that that might be off-putting to expectations.
However… Whether it was Cory Matthews or Riley Matthews, nothing’s changed as to how a young person grows up. But let me say that, the difference between “Boy Meets World” and “Girl Meets World,” if you examine the first three seasons of the two shows, what we attacked in those first 3 seasons are at least comparable in severity of stories to “Boy” and had we been allowed to continue — we were pushing down all kinds of walls at Disney, I don’t think they expected or had really ever seen — we would have kept going. But it becomes problematic because I think the mandate of that network is younger kids. If you examine what happened, it’s OK, no harm, no foul, we simply outgrew that venue. That’s why I perceive there might be interest somewhere else, because of the types of stories we could tell.
I’m not intimating or suggesting we would go absolutely crazy with license to tell extreme and severe stories. I would, however, love to continue the reality of what happens to these characters as they grow up in this world.
Call me crazy, but I have a feeling this isn’t the end.
I hope this isn’t where we leave Cory Matthews. He’s been a staple in my life–a character I always had the comfort of re-visiting via my DVDs whenever life got the best of me. His friends felt like my friends when I moved to a new town. I’d stomach my way through the school bullying I was subjected to, cry on my walk home, then rejuvenate as soon as the show’s opening song hit my ears. Eventually, I found my own tribe and created the circle I always aspired to have. Life changed. I grew up. And at times I wondered how Cory and Topanga would conquer marriage quarrels or parenting hurdles. So, when Girl Meets World arrived, I looked forward to visiting the Matthews family every Friday, and sharing their legacy with my daughter as we both meet the world simultaneously in two different ways.
Even if we never pick back up with Cory Matthews, his connection with multiple generations will still remain. It’s a rare situation–a character that stays constant for decades, along with the actor who plays him. All of which makes it difficult to say goodbye once more.
Girl Meets World will conclude its run on the Disney Channel on January 20th. You can expect a few familiar faces to surprise you and tug on your heartstrings. Mr. Feeny has even promised a cameo. His presence will be a stark reminder to keep all these lessons instilled in us and to do good for ourselves and one another.