When I first heard that “Girl Meets World” was going to air on Disney channel, I was excited. Beyond excited, really. A chance to see Cory and Shawn and Topanga and Eric and Jack and Mr. Feeny again? Great. And then I saw the first episode, and naturally my sky-high expectations weren’t met. And I realized why: the show is suffering from the same symptoms that another recent spin-off/sequel did: 90210.
The original Beverly Hills, 90210 was tremendous. In my 9th grade English class, every Thursday morning I was allotted 5 minutes to tell the class what had happened on the episode the night before: Dylan’s coma, the Dylan-Kelly-Brandon love triangle, the saga of Donna and David, Steve looking 45 at his 21st birthday, Jack McKay, Rush Sanders, Colin the Cokehead, Valerie Malone, Brandon being the Chancellor’s lackey, who owned the Peach Pit After Dark, etc. The show ran for ten years, and though its later seasons (Hillary Swank? Vincent Young as Noah? Lindsay Price?) were a mess, I stuck with it through David and Donna’s wedding.
And then, in 2008, I heard that they were “rebooting” 90210, with a younger generation. Silver, David and Kelly’s half-sister, would be a central character, but the show would retain the original’s sensibilities by moving a Midwestern family (the Wilsons) out to Beverly Hills. All of this sounded promising. And then the first season aired and it was a mess.
While there are many reasons why the first season was poor (outside of principal Rob Estes and cool teacher Mr. Matthews, most of the show’s adults were caricatures of what adults should behave like), the biggest problem was that the show didn’t know whether it was supposed to honor and continue the original’s legacy, or make a show all its own. Episodes centered around Kelly maybe having Dylan’s child (spoiler: she did), Brenda being a drama teacher, and David and Donna being separated – in Japan – all went nowhere. The boldest choice the show made was to abandon all of these adult characters, have Annie go from gee-whiz simpleton to a drunk (who killed someone in a hit-and-run), and focus the show on Naomi.
And season 2, for me, was a revelation: Annie and Jasper (the best character on the show), Teddy inheriting the Ian Ziering I’m-40-but-playing-a-teenager mantle, Dixon meeting Snoop (!), Adriana being no-drama Adriana (but not really), Silver getting an identity beyond being bipolar, Ivy, everyone hating Annie for a good half season, Liam Cort, and, of course, Navid. The show just gelled.
But while the show eventually became a mess (did anyone go to college? Were they all going to work in Hollywood? Was Dixon supposed to be a good DJ?), it still lasted five seasons because it found out what it was supposed to be.
And herein lies the problem for Girl Meets World. Cory tells his daughter Riley that she has to make the world her own, that he’s already met the world. And yet, the showrunners keep promising returns of the Matthews clan, or Shawn, or a ghostly (!) Mr. Feeny. And while the first episode was a mess for a lot of reasons (Farkle? Come on) and plays more like a Disney channel show than the original’s prime-time ABC sensibility, I’ll still give it a chance. But only if it embraces its own internal story logic, and allows Riley to meet the world. I’m happy to see Cory and Topanga, and to get an occasional cameo here and there is great. But a spectral Mr. Feeny? No, Girl Meets World – please don’t continue to chase the ghost of good shows past. Embrace what you have. And hey, if you have an open casting role – that guy who played Jasper probably isn’t doing anything.