I've had a lot of reservations about the new Girl Meets World, a sequel that of the 1990s ABC TGIF show that picks up with former kids Corey and Topanga dealing with now being parents themselves. Especially after an overly saccharine Disney Channel TV spot confirmed fears that the show was going to be more of the same from Disney Channel and not exactly a harkening back to the glory days that ABC ruled the airwaves on Friday nights.
Admittedly, part of the resentment might stem from the realization of my own sheer mortality. Yes, it's a bit strange to see the characters who were elementary school aged kids at the same time that you were now as the teacher/parent roles on a spin-off of the same series. But I was also worried that the toothpaste commercial "hey, buy a bunch of songs off this Disney Channel Radio Pop Star's Album" show invading series creators' Michael Jacobs and April Kelly real vision was in store.
This weekend, I caught the first two episodes back to back and the pilot had me worried. All of my fears seemed to be realized, it was the same over-saturated hyper-real Disney Channel fodder that makes me never want to have kids. When my wife walked in during the closing moments of the show, she asked my thoughts (she had watched the episode previously on one of her days off) and I mentioned that it just felt strange. Something was just off. And where was Mr. Feeny? Granted, William Daniels who has been my hero since he quipped back and forth with David Hasselhoff is nearing 90 years old… yeah… let that sink in for a minute or two. But it seemed strange not having him there to get things kicked off on the right foot. Sure enough, he pops up for a brief fleeting moment at the end of the episode during one of the stranger sequences of the pilot. For that reason going into the second episode, I had zero expectations for the show other than for it to be white noise while I did other things on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
The second episode "Girl Meets Boy" had me intrigued, at least at first. Centering around the students' reliance on cell phones, the premise was something right out of TGIF. Changes and tweaks were made from the pilot going into the second episode, for example Maya (played by Sabrina Carpenter)'s overly sexual and incredibly creepy and off-putting make-up was toned down, thankfully. And overall, the second episode felt less stilted and more like a classic throwback to the 90s than the pilot did.
A funny, but a little alarming comedic moment comes when the kids enter a library and aren't quite sure what to do with a stack of books. I get that digital technology has replaced research and reading in 90% of applications, but I'm hoping that kids haven't completely become inept in a library. A legitimate Amblin-era giggle was elicited from me when an elderly librarian shushed the kids and their reaction was an in-unison "DAH!?!?!"
But the biggest reaction that I had to the series' second episode was just how creepy it is that the show has chosen to cast a male "romantic" lead who is three or four years older than everyone around him. Lucas (played by Peyton Meyer) may have the One Direction boy band charm that every male Disney Channel star is required to exude. But when he's standing next to anyone else in his classroom, it's a little on the side of creepy. The episode focuses on a budding relationship with he and Corey/Topanga's daughter Riley played by Rowan Blanchard, who is 12 years old both behind and on camera. But standing next to the driving aged Peyton Meyer, you get a really gross feeling as the two of them eyeball each other akin to when one of your friends suddenly sparks an interest to your younger sister.
I'm not completely oblivious to the production process, I know that it's preferable to cast old to look young. But that's the problem. This guy was cast to be the dreamy-eyed, bed haired love interest but he looks old enough to be babysitting all the kids. Especially given how young and precocious Riley has been cast to be, you just want to reach through the screen and protect her.
Other observations: the little brother Auggie, played by August Maturo steals the show. Farkle, played by Corey Fogelmanis) has potential to be the new Steve Urkel in terms of how quickly his "charm" will get old and he starts to overstay his welcome.
But bottom line, while overall the show still oozes Disney Channel it does have those glimpses of the Touchstone Television/ABC-era which is what I had hoped it would have. It's too bad that major audiences are too cynical now and a show like this can't fly on national networks so that the Disney Channel qualities of the show could be toned down immensely. But if the show runners are able to wade the Disney Channel waters and really hone this show into what it can and should be, it might actually be a fun watch for families with as much entertainment value as its predecessor.