In 1993, a 12-year-old boy named Cory Matthews walked into John Adams Middle School for the first time and, in so doing, met the world. In the following years, scads of TV-watching kids saw Cory grow from an insecure middle schooler to a self-assured college student who married his longtime sweetheart, Topanga. ABC's Boy Meets World, for them, became a cultural touchstone.
Life doesn't freeze once a show's cancelled, sometimes not even for the fictional characters. In the years since Boy Meets World aired its last episode (in 2000), Cory has grown up and grown older. In fact, he now teaches middle school history. And guess who's in his class? Riley, his tween daughter.
Welcome to Disney's Girl Meets World, a spinoff show that focuses on Riley and her best friend Maya as they enter a time of life when they begin to truly define themselves. Disney, clearly, would love to follow Riley for the rest of the decade, just as ABC did with Cory, tracing her development from middle school to college, from girl to woman.
And the House of Mouse does know a thing or two about developing sitcoms around growing kids. The year after Boy Meets World ended, Disney Channel introduced Even Stevens (starring a young Shia LeBeouf) and, the year after, Lizzie McGuire. That's So Raven, Hannah Montana and the Zack & Cody shows were all subsequent hits, and the tradition continues now with Austin & Ally and Liv and Maddie, among others. These shows are as reliable as a dinner at Cracker Barrel, really: Nothing wildly exciting about them, perhaps, but generally tasty and, often, quite wholesome.
But Girl Meets World, if it follows the template of its predecessor, may have deeper and potentially more problematic aspirations. While most Disney programs feature nice but softball lessons about the importance of friendship and being yourself, Boy Meets World at times wanted to express what adolescence really looked and felt like—and, as such, it sometimes dealt with some fairly serious issues. Cory got drunk and was arrested. He and Topanga even faced infidelity (well, OK, a few stray kisses).
And whenever you're dealing with stuff like that, there's always a chance that the morals the show teaches will differ from your own.
Case in point: In the pilot episode of Girl Meets World, self-styled wild child Maya proves to be a bad influence on good-girl Riley, and Cory's concerned that Riley's near hero worship of Maya may go too far. Riley, in turn, worries that her dad will tell her that she and Maya shouldn't hang out anymore. And so Riley puts her foot down. Maya's friendship, she tells her pop, is something that she values a lot. It's something she's willing to fight for.
That's a fine message so far as it goes. Maya, we learn, doesn't have a great home life, which prods her to act out. And Cory wasn't going to break up the friendship anyway. Sticking by your pals when they need a good influence in their lives is a really valuable lesson (and you can't have a coming-of-age sitcom without someone around to cause a little trouble). But parents know that sometimes it really is best to put some distance between their kids and some troublemaking friends. And Riley, for a while at least, is clearly intent on changing herself to be more like Maya than trying to reel her BFF in.
Maya and Riley are both attracted to boys, too, so flirtations and romances are already part of the mix and will only intensify as their story matures. Lying and cheating and other such things are sure to dog their steps toward adulthood. And we'll likely see lots of outlandish situations that you'd never want your own kids to duplicate when they meet the world.
Early on, we do see that Cory and Topanga are engaged parents, though. They love Riley and her younger brother, Auggie. They want what's best for them, even when they can't always figure out how to handle them (just like all the rest of us parents outside of TV Land). It's nice that the series seems to be trying to tell kids that even when you're at an age when you think you have all the answers, the adults in your life may still have some wisdom worth listening to—even ones who grew up on TV.
"Girl Meets World"
"I want to be exactly like you," Riley tells Maya, much to the chagrin of Cory. "I think too much, and you don't think at all!" So when Maya boisterously boycotts homework in Cory's class, Riley joins the rebellion—disappointing and disobeying her dad and teacher.
"Why didn't you stop your friend?" a boy asks Riley. "You're better than that."
Later, Riley admits to doing Maya's homework for her, but then learns that, in order to be a true friend, she has to protect Maya from her own worst instincts—not adopt those same bad behaviors herself. She then describes how their friendship will look for however many seasons Disney keeps this show running: "She'll get me into trouble. I'm going to get us out of it."
Riley and Maya try to sneak out the bedroom window to ride the subway, but they're caught by Cory … who allows them to go anyway. There they meet a cute boy, Lucas, and Maya and the lurching subway car collude to throw Riley into his lap (twice). Simultaneously—and a little jarringly—a middle age woman calls Lucas a "hunk" and seems to admire his good looks. Classmate Farkle is openly (and goofily) infatuated with both girls. Lip gloss is used as a symbol of growing up and rebellion. Adults are sometimes treated disrespectfully. Cory jokingly calls Topanga "stupid," but the married couple also hug affectionately.