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Girl Meets World - Girl Meets the Real World - Review

I’m going to begin with a question Girl Meets World has made me ask a lot this year: What should we expect from this show?

It’s a question I hate asking, because it feels strangely apart from Girl Meets World. It has everything to do with it—everything to do with what I see week to week, and get year to year. But, at the same time, I know it’s about me. It’s about me coming at this show as a Boy Meets World viewer, as a non-teen whose teendom was spent with shows quite a bit different from Girl Meets World.

Not that GMW is not trying to be for me. “Girl Meets I Do” walked the line with enthusiasm if not entirely grace, being a good deal about Maya but also, inherently, revolving around a moment in Shawn’s life I can’t imagine has much meaning for the show’s younger viewers. We have not seen much of Katy and Shawn’s relationship, or even quite enough of Maya and Shawn’s. But for those of us here for round two, we have seen much of Shawn. We know the road he’s talking about when he delivers his vows, and it means something to see him at that alter, after all of that. Younger, BMW-free viewers have a sense. Not much more.

It’s easy to see though, in episodes like “Girl Meets The Real World,” the ways in which the show can’t really be judged with BMW in mind. Structurally, it’s solid, with both the simplicity of the story and the inherent nature of a debate lending itself naturally to the show’s weaknesses. Cory is teaching the class how to debate, and when Riley refuses to compromise her beliefs to keep an open, informed mind, assigns her to argue for humanity being inherently evil. It’s a decent starter argument for what is ostensibly a history class, and a good initial lesson in point of view. Riley and Maya then take to researching, but as Riley becomes more informed about the world, the more cynical she becomes, even eating Zay’s grandmother’s mailed cookie and refusing to apologize because it felt good. Meanwhile, Auggie overhears Riley’s research about a local beach being polluted and strives with Topanga to do something about it—just in time for Riley to be touched by Topanga’s defense of his small, but measurable, aid and argue intelligently for something she now knows, but does not, herself, believe. In, out, done—it’s a school story, and nothing more.

But it’s precisely because it’s a school story that it’s easy to wonder how BMW would have done it. Would Cory’s devil may care attitude have escalated to actually hurting someone? Or would it be as simple as eating a cookie and not apologizing still, but treated with a lot more humor rather than the odd gravitas GMW sticks with all throughout? The structure works but there’s something missing still in “Meets The Real World” to really make it land—something hard to define, but I think easily spotted when we do see it, in episodes like “Girl Meets Jexica.”

Maybe it’s a lack of specificity. “Meets Jexica” comes at exactly the right time, dealing with exactly the right issues for a girl just entering high school. “Meets The Real World” feels divorced from all time, from all context. Are Lucas and Riley dating? Who knows—they certainly don’t act like it. Did Shawn move in with Katy and Maya, or are they getting a new place? No answers on that one either. It’s all too easy to believe “Meets The Real World” was constructed to slot in anywhere in the past three seasons, to work as is, give or take a Smackle. Maybe, just maybe, it would need some fudging for Riley’s character arc.

But then, the show’s fudged more dire conflicts than Riley discovering people can be evil, and it’s not like the idea doesn’t ring a little false to begin with. It seems unlikely, at this point, that Riley hasn’t understood the world can be a dark place no matter how her friends try to shield her. That Riley simply prefers to belief darkness and all, if you do good then good will come to you, certainly—but that Riley doesn’t know anything about what’s going on in the world? There’s a chance “Meets The Real World” would in fact play better somewhere in season one, when Riley was younger, and expectations are fewer.

I don’t know how to rate “Meets The Real World,” given all that. I know it works, strictly speaking on a writing level. I know I don’t feel like it works, even knowing it does. It’s easy to see how it could be better; hard to say, exactly, whether it actually can be. For all the connective tissue between GMW and BMW there is a clear divide too, some unknown quantity that keeps it from reaching the same heights even with most of the same team, the same characters, the same spirit. Maybe it’s fair to mention that, but unfair to measure based on it; to compare an episode about Riley’s evil id Sassy Haltertop to what, given Cory’s personality, might have been called “Dr. Danger”, instead of a highlight episode like “Meets Jexica.” It’s a hard place GMW finds itself in—and generally, over all, it succeeds. Like humanity, it frustrates often, but it charms just enough.

“Meets The Real World” argues that making a difference, even if just to one person, is still a difference; is still evidence of good. Maybe it’s time to admit the same is true for television—even television that continues beloved sitcoms of old.

About the Author - Sarah Batista-Pereira
An aspiring screenwriter and current nitpicker, Sarah likes long walks not on the beach, character-driven storytelling, drama-comedy balancing acts, Oxford commas, and not doing biographies. She is the current reviewer for Girl Meets World.