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Girl Meets World - Girl Meets the Great Lady of New York - Review

The United States, they taught me in middle school, is a melting pot.

I had never really seen an actual melting pot. I understood the concept perfectly well: a pot in which different metals are mixed together to form one. I could, if I tried, just picture it: bits and bobs of scrap and sheet thrown together, all turning a uniform bubbly grey. It was still easier for me to imagine a stew though. Stew, I got: the carrots, the meat, the celery, the onion, the pepper, the water. Put it in a bowl and I might not be able to tell, but they were all there, all distinct, when I really looked close. They were simply all now, for being cooked, one thing. Not melted together, not uniform, but still one stew, not a long itemized list.

We say “melting pot” because it sounds pleasing to the ear. Because it’s in our history books, because it’s in our theory, because a teacher we half-remember said it with a crooked smile. And sometimes, in glimpses across the US, it really is. I walk through the streets of Los Angeles and am swept away in a sea of people, no real distinction between them in the snatches I catch when I look up from my phone. But I still think the working model of society really is the stew—is remembering that the recipe calls for all these many distinct parts for a reason, even if the overall goal is to work as one. Take one part out, and the whole pot is changed, in ways that cannot be easily repaired. More pepper or more water will not replace a carrot; and while we might not think it matters much during the cooking, taking it out and swapping something else in will, with just one taste of the final result, be enough to show us what we’re missing.

It’s a lesson “Girl Meets the Great Lady of New York” teaches with grace, as it follows the gang while they try to find their cultural histories. Maya learns about her Irish roots, Zay traces his family’s history to Ghana—which the show notes and which Amir Mitchell-Townes conveys with surprising gravity, not every Black family brought over to the Americas can do—and Auggie makes a new friend we will likely never, ever see again from Cuba. Riley meanwhile enters crisis mode as she realizes she has no real ethnic background to speak of. The Matthews and the Lawrences been all over the United States, and they’ve been as white and American as one can get when one is a TV character on a spin off from an older, whiter TV time.

It’s rewarding, then, to see Riley take up the fight for the stew. Looking around at all the different parts of New York, she realizes that she’s just accepted it as a whole without thinking of every one of its parts, and how important they are to the whole that has become part of her identity. Girl Meets World is known for its reliance on touching speeches, but here, they prove why it can really work, when they’re conveying the right idea in the right way. Particularly now, as we enter an election increasingly about the fear of those who don’t understand how a stew works, and the fear of those who all too much do and would like to keep on simmering, it feels poignant and necessary to remember why this country has worked. Just how important we all are to each other, even if we can’t see it. Blanchard executes it with confidence and poise as well, proving once again that when called upon to be serious and wise, she’s more than capable of delivering.

It’s only unfortunate that the speech also feels a little empty, next to the reality of the show. Minus the occasional reminder that Zay is supposed to be a key part of the group, Girl Meets World is a pretty uniformly white program. It peppers in diverse casting here and there, mainly in one off roles on the sidelines, but it’s hard not to feel like this episode about diversity contains more examples of non-white actors than the entire rest of the show combined. (Not always successfully either. Topanga’s cooking a traditional Cuban dish, fine; Ava’s Carmen Miranda act, particularly when she was Brazilian not Cuban, less so.) It’s an effort I’d be happy to see the show make more, particularly if it followed up on some of we have already gotten. An episode studying the intersection of Maya and her Spanish-speaking neighbors, for example, would be a real kick. But for now, it feels forced, even as I’m more than willing to forgive it.

That said, it’s a minor complaint, given what else “Meets the Great Lady of New York” does. After spending a season relatively unexplored, we finally take a closer look at Farkle towards the end of the night—and while frustratingly short, it remains even a day later a deeply effecting scene. Through stops and starts, we finally discover what Farkle has learned about his own family: That with the sole exception of his great-grandfather, who was adopted by the Minkuses, his family was killed in the Holocaust. I admit I was expecting it, as anyone who knows history and their way around a story arc would, but the show deftly weaves together the said and the unsaid here, portraying a Farkle still coming to terms with a loss he never knew he suffered, and the burden of knowing that he now cannot ever forget. Not without disrespecting everything they faced.

It’s the important final ingredient to the lesson Cory tries to make all episode long, and perhaps the show would have done better to have seen it through to its end. Cory’s not Mr. Feeny, and GMW rarely succeeds when it tries to shift the teaching style of the student to reflect the master. I understand entirely why the show left it for the group to handle. But it’s a lesson too important to miss. Your story is not just what you see. It’s not how you dress or what you eat or what music you listen to. It’s the whole of it. It’s every individual part, even if it brings you pain.

Forget one part and it just may happen again.

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.

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