You call yourself a ’90s kid? Let’s put that to the test: “When this boy meets wooorld …” Did you start singing in your head (or out loud)? Did you feel that internal leap of joy associated with the start of an episode of “Boy Meets World?” Congratulations. You have enough taste to recognize one of the greatest sitcoms ever.
Of course, even those of us now in college — in our humble opinion, the last of the true ’90s kids — were probably still too young to catch “Boy Meets World” when it first aired during the T.G.I.F. block of Friday night programming on ABC. Chances are, you fell in love with Cory, Shawn, Topanga and Eric once the show went into syndication on the Disney Channel around 1999. Since its conclusion a year later, “Boy Meets World” has become the cult favorite of a generation.
“Boy Meets World” began in 1993, during the golden age of situation comedies. It was born of the wholesome family humor and hilarious teen shenanigans that infuse other beloved sitcoms of the decade, like “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” Young Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) deals with the daily ups and downs of high school, family and romance. Nothing earth-shattering. Then why is it so damn good?
Watching a show more than 10 years since it ended is an excellent way to test its merit. (Warning: “Captain Planet” doesn’t hold up.) “Boy Meets World” was to its television contemporaries what “30 Rock” is today: individualistic and downright weird.
There’s a scene that exemplifies this, during season three’s “I Was a Teenage Spy,” the episode in which Cory dreams he’s in 1957. During the scene in question, he goes home only to find Tom Bosley and Anson Williams of “Happy Days” eating brownies in the kitchen. It’s utterly bizarre — then and now — but that doesn’t stop it from being hilarious.
That endearing weirdness emerges in dialogue across the seven seasons. In one episode, Cory says to Topanga (Danielle Fishel), “I don’t think it’s funny. I think it’s … wood.” Shawn (Rider Strong) attempts to hide a very visible Cory from a possessive ex-girlfriend by claiming “This isn’t Cory! This is cake!” Eric (Will Friedle) refers to himself in the third person — as “Kyle.” It prompts asking what the writers were smoking, but also endless gratitude for whatever it was.
The only thing keeping this show from timeless perfection is the blatant inconsistency. To be fair, sitcoms were almost never consistent up until the 2000s, but “Boy Meets World” almost tests the audience’s capacity for being toyed with. If the show were made today, Eric would never become as painfully stupid as he did in the last two seasons. Topanga’s parents wouldn’t be played by half a dozen actors. Stuart Minkus wouldn’t disappear for the high school years. And remember Mr. Williams and Mr. Turner? What even happened to them?
That being said, the things that mattered were consistent without fail. The fact that people still want to find love like Cory and Topanga (despite their few sporadic, contrived break-ups) is a testament to natural writing and magnetic chemistry. The Matthews parents (Betsy Randle and William Russ) were always positive role models, an idealistic example to juxtapose Shawn’s father — who harbors ambitions as a pearl diver — and Topanga’s estranged parents. Mr. Feeny (William Daniels) was and is the perfect mentor, from the pilot to the last emotional moments the main cast shares in his classroom.
Alongside the usual sitcom fare, “Boy Meets World” tackled its fair share of topical subjects. Among the episodes that never aired on the Disney channel is one in which Cory and Shawn go on a drinking binge as Cory copes with his break-up. Yet another sees Cory and Topanga planning to sleep together after senior prom. Though there is little talk of race or religion, there is a constant theme of social class struggles that comes to the forefront at least once a season. All these episodes choose the altruistic route — no more drinking, wait until marriage, don’t judge people — without the preachy voice of, say, “Full House.”
The show’s greatest strength is the sheer perfection of Cory and Shawn’s friendship. Best of buddies before Harry and Ron; a bromance to rival Turk and JD; the boys meeting the world. They are unfailingly loyal to one another throughout the most turbulent years of their young lives when siblings, parents and girlfriends prove unpredictable. They dress in drag, pee on a cop car, spend a night sleeping in Splash Mountain and always come to school to sit in the same desks, one in front of the other.
It’s best summed up by the boys themselves in the season four episode “Easy Street”: “Why are we on the ground?” Cory asks, after the duo mistakes a backfiring car for a gunshot. “Because it’s fun,” replies Shawn. “And we do everything together.”
A decade later, with the final season coming to DVD next week, “Boy Meets World” illustrates the importance of relationships in our lives. If nothing else, it instills a fervent desire to spend the rest of your life with your best friends at your side, helping you make sense of a random and chaotic universe. The fact remains that “Boy Meets World” is more intelligent, funny and relevant than most shows marketed toward today’s teens.
As Shawn puts it, “TV is the true mirror of our lives.” Amen, buddy.