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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Now, having drawn all these parallels in my head between Boy Meets World and New Girl, I arrived at a thought I don’t expect many to agree with, that New Girl is, in my eyes, the spiritual successor to Boy Meets World. When I proposed this argument to friends who shared my interest in both shows, I was met, unsurprisingly, with disdain. One friend’s initial response was short and to-the-point: “No.” Perhaps I was too rash in comparing the two, I thought to myself. Maybe my friend was right when she said they’re only similar in that they’re both sitcoms.
The more I thought about it, however, the surer I became that the two are not as disparate as you might be led to believe. I don’t mean to contend that the two of them are one in the same; rather, I intend to express that the two are, at worst, distant cousins and that New Girl seems more poised to take up the mantle left behind by Boy Meets World than the show’s own spin-off, Girl Meets World.
Let’s kick things off by taking a deeper look at the show’s characters. The two shows aren’t interchangeable in that sense, which is to say it’s not as easy as me claiming Cory is to Shawn as Nick is to Schmidt, but I do see a lot of the Boy Meets World cast in the characters on New Girl. Jess, for instance, reminds me of both Cory and Topanga. Like Cory, she means well, and goes out of her way to try and teach others, but it’s her that most needs to learn. Like Topanga, she was initially the resident weirdo, yet has since matured and, shall we say, normalized by leaps and bounds.
Next, Nick and Schmidt’s friendship, particularly in the college-age flashbacks, hearkens back to Cory and Shawn’s. While they couldn’t be considered stand-ins for their predecessors, they likewise share qualities with them. When they first met, Schmidt was the Cory of their duo, a lovable, kind-hearted doof. Yet once he grew up, and in, in terms of his weight, he skewed closer to Shawn, acquiring the looks, inability to commit, and the slightly callous attitude. Nick, conversely, started on that somewhat uncaring end of the spectrum, befriending Schmidt mostly for his own entertainment, and grew up to the heart and soul of his group of friends, much like Cory. Neither embodies either Cory or Shawn entirely, though; at best, they’re each a mixture of the two, which gives the writers the freedom to take their characters more or less wherever they want.
That leaves Winston and Cece, who I liken to Eric and Angela respectively. Winston is currently trending towards what Eric went on to become in the later seasons, which is to say he starts out relatively normal, enough to snag himself a job as a radio host, much like how Eric once had a brief stint as a meteorologist, and soon devolves into arguably the zaniest of them all. The evolution to Plays With Squirrels territory has only just begun, but it’s easy to draw parallels between, say, his tendency to take pranks too far and Eric’s quest for vengeance upon Topanga, culminating with him disguising himself as a couch.
Now, to clarify, I don’t mean to be critical of Boy Meets World for Eric’s transformation, seeing as I appreciate characters such as Eric Matthews or Andy Dwyer, from Parks and Recreation, who are wonderfully dim-witted and prone to flights of fancy. If Winston continues to go down the same path as Eric, I look forward to seeing what he ends up playing with, if not squirrels. If nothing else, I’d appreciate him being given more to do, given how shortchanged he’s been story wise compared to the rest of the main cast.
Moving onto Cece, her complicated relationship with Schmidt shares a lot with Shawn and Angela’s, most notably the wedge Shawn and Schmidt’s struggles with commitment drives between them. It’s clear, even now with her about to get married, that Cece still has, at worst, residual feelings for Schmidt, just as you could always sense the same thing with regards to Shawn and Angela, the two of them never really letting go of one another. On top of that, I can’t ignore that both couplings are interracial, and that the parents of both Angela and Cece don’t approve. To that, you’re probably thinking to yourself that it’s nothing new, an interracial couple being met with disapproval, especially from their families. But keep in mind that I’m not saying it is anything new. All I mean to do is draw attention to another parallel between them.
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Of all the parallels I perceive these two shows having, though, most important of all is one which is altogether more vague than everything else I’ve mentioned thus far – New Girl is rare in that it’s one of the few shows to nail the same level of camaraderie that made Boy Meets World such a lasting part of popular culture. Whether they’re in a state of harmony or discord, what never fails to come through is that these characters love and befriend one another. That, I feel, will never change.
Schmidt and Winston recently worried that Nick was the glue holding them together, and that Jess would drive them apart from Nick and, by extension, one another. Cory scrambled to prevent the same sort of thing from happening with him and Angela when her and Shawn broke up. And in both instances, they came to the eventual realization that their friendship was more than a byproduct of another friend, that it could exist separate from them. In the process, they only became closer still, which I think speaks to them more than anything.
While strife would break lesser friends apart, it only draws the casts of Boy Meets World and New Girl closer together. A crisis might fracture them temporarily, but think of it as blocks being beaten into Legos, their matching wounds making it so they can fit more snuggly together. Few shows manage that feat with as much grace as these two, and Girl Meets World is going to have to leap through the same hoops if it ever wants to claim a spot in my heart alongside them.
That being said, even if it doesn’t recapture the magic, I won’t bemoan the show for it as long as it succeeds at bringing back the unforgettable characters from the original series without ruining what they were. Similarly, I just hope New Girl is afforded the opportunity to stick around for as long as its spiritual predecessor, Boy Meets World, and that the next generation will be talking about it like I and others talk about Boy Meets World.Previous