Upon hearing news of Girl Meets World, I set about re-watching episodes of Boy Meets World to mark the occasion, as well as to gorge myself on nostalgia. My trek back through the series started with me picking episodes out at random, a practice I soon abandoned for fear that it was doing the show an injustice. Infamous for its lack of continuity though it may be – brothers and sisters long since forgotten about, characters vanishing, other characters portrayed by a revolving door of actors, history being rewritten – Boy Meets World functions best when its characters are given the chance to take root inside your heart and you step back to watch them grow.
At first, I couldn’t resist the temptation to hop around to some extent, wanting to hit on all the major arcs without having to sit through the series from start to finish. That soon gave way to marathons of entire seasons, as opposed to carefully chosen blocks of episodes. Currently on the docket for me is season six, in which Chet, Shawn and Jack’s father both reenters his sons’ life and is taken from them, all in the span of a single episode. Seeing Shawn’s interactions with Chet, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between their relationship and that of New Girl’s Nick Miller and his father, Walt.
Chet and Walt are, I think, members of the same order. Each has the propensity to abandon those he loves – and who, more importantly, love him. Moreover, in doing so, each shirks out on his promises and responsibilities, leaving his family to try and build a life out of the wreckage he leaves behind. While neither is short on charm and affability, winning others over with a likable sense of swagger, their families remain impervious. In particular, their sons, accustomed to disappointment after years of nothing else, find themselves incapable of making peace with them. It’s not until death enters into things, serving as a catalyst, that Shawn and Nick both are able at last to heal with the help of their friends.
Or, at the very least, they start that healing process. Due to their upbringing, or lack thereof, Shawn and Nick are stunted. To a certain extent, each one of them is a man-child. Shawn is stuck in the mode of his father; more specifically, his concerns that he’s destined to become just like his father turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, Shawn’s avoidance of commitment in order to save others from what he perceives to be an inevitable letdown only causing more disappointment. Nick, similarly, hates to be tied down, to be responsible for anything of importance and, in turn, bungles many of the things he would deem most important.
Which is why it’s bittersweet that it’s only in dying, which one could call their final act of abandonment, inadvertent and unwanted though it may have been, that they’re able to kill the resentment and fears their sons have been harboring their entire lives. It shows the two of them what they’ve been missing out on. For Shawn, it is Jack, the brother he’d grown up wanting, and Angela, the girl who can give him the other thing he’d grown up wanting, which is what Cory and Topanga have. For Nick, it is Jess, who was there for him even as he pushed her away. Though it’s no happily-ever-after in either case, as it took Shawn until late the following season to undo the damage he’d already done to his relationship with Angela, and as Nick has yet to figure things out with Jess, one doesn’t simply undo what’d been festering for years. What’s important is that they’ll figure things out eventually.
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