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A Really Long Boy Meets World Critique

Boy Meets World

Boy Meets World was a family sitcom that aired in the United States for a good portion of the nineties.  The show focused on Cory Matthew’s along with his typical middle American family, as well as his unique friends.  The show ran for seven seasons and followed Cory from grade school all the way until his completion of college.

Critical Orientation

Boy Meets World is a show I have been watching ever since I can remember because it contains a world filled with characters who I can relate and recognize.  I saw myself in Cory Matthews when I was younger and even to this same day somewhat.  Raised in a close, working middle class, costal suburban family I was able to relate with many of the family issues and scenarios that played out.  Early on Cory was controlled by his ignorance and naivety like a young Bradley Barnhard I once knew.  His overly bearing moral compass was sometimes tested with his less than straight laced best friend Sean Hunter, another characteristic I instantly drew comparison too.  Just last year the show was semi invigorated after a twelve year hiatus when a spin off was announced called Girl Meets World.  As Hillary Busis talks about in her EW article this is only possible because as she puts it, “Boy Meets World still resonates with the generation who grew up watching it, much like The Brady Bunch or Saved by the Bell before it.”  The show also does a great job of capturing gender roles and how they interact with one another.  Ruth Cummings examines interactions between males and females in her book and the show follows these relations during its episodes.  It is this realism within the social interaction that made this show so subversive for the audience.

Organization

Most episodes would follow a main conflict throughout the entire episode.  There was also always at least one side plot if not multiple that were usually expressed through Cory’s friends and surrounding characters.  For example in season four episode 13, B & B’s B N’ B, we see Sean and Cory attempting to turn Mr. Freeney’s house into a bed and breakfast while he is away on a romantic getaway with a distant friend is the main story line.  However there are a number of side story lines that each character brings with them into this episode.  For example Sean is beginning to think about the future and is fearing he will turn out like every other Hunter stuck in the trailer park.  Mr.  Feeney is wrestling with a love he has always had for this distant friend but could never act on due to conflicting life styles.  As with every episode these conflicts conclude at the end with the boys being caught, Feeney using it as a life lesson for Sean about the values of his business skills, and George having a new found eagerness for adventure.

Symbolism

Symbolism is abundant throughout this series weather it is in the characters, setting, or built into the plot.  For example Sean Hunter symbolizes the struggle of lower class American.  Sean resides in the trailer park, as well as all of the Hunters in his extended family.  His family is deeply rooted in poverty and struggle and he represents the portion of America stuck in similar scenarios.  He openly discusses his fear of never leaving the trailer park and never rising up from the lower class, a feeling that almost anyone who has been poor before can relate too.  Sean eventually is accepted to college and as well as we know is on his way to a life of upward mobility.  He is a representation of the American dream and how dedication and hard work can help someone achieve their goals.

Mr. George Fenney symbolizes the boys moral compass and is a father figure to both, but more so Sean who lacks a true one.  Although the together Cory and Sean find themselves in trouble almost every episode it is not the parents who usually bust them.  That job is left to their teacher, principle, and Cory’s next door neighbor, Mr. Fenney.  His effect on them is so strong that in episode thirteen of season four Cory and Sean almost get away with renting out Mr. Fenney’s house as a bed and breakfast.  However the closer and closer it gets to the end Cory begins to feel regret because he believes they actually got away with it for once.  George always catching them had actually made a difference and helped shape Cory, and Sean’s, moral compass.  In the end Mr. Fenney did catch them, and took this opportunity to restore faith in Sean that he is cut out for the real world and point out that he has a eye for business being the mastermind behind the entire bed and breakfast operation.  In Sean’s case these are duties usually left up to the father but since his is so distant he relies on Mr. Fenney for direction.

Context Of Series

The show took place during the nineties and defiantly represents a society different than modern times.  To begin with the middle working class families were thriving more than ever.  They were also the nations norm and were what most people strived for in life.  Now a days there is ever expanding divide between the upper and lower class causing the working middle class to shrink and almost evaporate.  This type of family nucleus with a single income house would most likely not be the central focus of a modern television show, however in the nineties where this lifestyle was thriving it was the social norm.  Modern Family is the only show that comes even close to comparing to the Matthews family although the Dunphy, family in Modern Family, are more upper middle class than working middle class.  This show thrived due to the nature of the genre, as Michael Tueth discusses in his book, Laughter in the Living Room: Television Comedy and the American Home Audience, comedies such as this one were so successful with families due to the way they appeal to each individual member of the family in some way.   However although this working middle class is shrinking today, the show still holds true and resonates with people due to the nature of its content.

Demographics And Business

Seeing as this show represented a middle working class family on the outskirts of a major city in the nineties, it represented the typical viewer of television during that time period.  The lower class families typically could not afford television, let alone cable, so the networks were not pandering to them where as the upperclass citizens would look down on television and focus on other art forms so they too were not the target.  The show also focused on a predominantly caucasian cast yet again pandering to the stereotypical american family of the mid nineteen nineties.  They brought in pop culture icons to draw fans from outside their usual fan base.  For example as Susan King examines for the Los Angeles Times in episode 13, B & B’s B N’ B, former television and musical star trio the Monkees preformed.  They have had others such as famous baseball pitch Jim Abbott who was one of Cory’s favorite player.

The show openly takes place in a suburb of Philadelphia and promotes certain characteristics of the city.  The most obvious one is the fact that Cory and the rest of the cast are all Phillies fans.  They also make references to the states abundance schools such as University of Pennsylvania as well as Pennsylvania State.  One of the shows major inaccuracies however plays into the target demographic being primarily white Americans.  While Philadelphia has a very high African American population as well as a slew of other races, almost none of these are represented and if so not to the level the caucasian race is.

Narrative Progression

The show progresses from grade school, to high school, to college, and as the shows characters matured, so did the topics they handled.  While early on issues were limited to light hearted bullies and random mischief.  However once hormones and testosterone start pumping the show addresses topics such as abuse and abandonment.  Cory and Toepanga break up and get back together more than almost anyone on television during those times.  Originally Cory would not think twice about females or relationships, hung up on stereotypical adolescent boy things. However as the series grows, as well as Cory, his issues and emotions become more complex.  The same happens with Sean who struggles with commitment issues later, on first causing friction with his parental guardian in Mr. Turner, and later pushing his girlfriend Angela away.

While there is no over arching storyline that continues through out the entire duration, there are certain story themes that are reoccurring while also providing extended conflicts that play out over multiple episodes or seasons such as Cory and Toepanga’s relationship.  Adventure and personal growth are two themes that reoccur quite frequently through out the course of this show as we saw with one of our earlier examples from season four.  Love is another topic not only handled in that particular episode with Mr. Feeney, but through out the entire series. Cory represents the monogamous man who falls in love with his life long best friend.  However the two other major male figures in his life are the polar opposite.  His brother Eric as well as best friend Sean are both womanizers who seem to focus more on physical connection than the emotional connection.  Sex is also a topic that progresses and grows with the characters as well as the audience.  To begin with boys main concern with females is kissing, however as we see in season seven episode Its About Time, sex is a topic that is discussed openly with the family.  This transformation happened over many seasons and was able to mature along with us and the characters.

Analysis

The show follows the comedy regiment almost to a tee and has a feel that is consistent with nineties culture.  Eric, Cory’s older brother, is clearly the comic relief of family being the stupidest and most ignorant.  Mr. Matthews is the straight guy who offers no real comedic value but is necessary to add realism. Sean is another form of comic relief in the form of a slacker without a true care in the world, somewhat resembling Eric but a lower class version.  His lack of direction and fear for authority are the two things the director uses to play for laughs.  His entire family is used for jokes due to the fact that almost none of them are remotely successful and easy targets.

In the first episode I examined, B & B’s B N’ B which aired as the thirteenth episode of season 4, we see many of the characteristics mentioned above.  The episode starts with Eric embarking on a trip for their recently opened family business.  Eric taking a large part in the operation of this business was the first step Eric made after high school towards being a real adult.    His departure is interrupted by Georges entry, where he informs the Matthew’s he will be heading to a bed and breakfast for a romantic get away.  Sean hears this and it hit with a stroke of genius seeing as how he needs to complete a business project for Fenney’s class.  The boys successful rent out the open rooms in the home to a group of elderly couples with the help of Toepanga.  Coincidently while on separate endeavors, Eric and Mr. Feeney happen to run into one another at a restaurant.  After both being left alone they decide to grab a bite to eat together and bond over that meal.  Upon Feeney’s return home the boys almost are able to pull of their heist until George revels that the cab driver had tipped him off to all of the activity at his household.  Expecting to be in trouble the boys confess only to be surprised that Mr. Feeney let them off only by simply confiscating the profits and setting up college fund for the once doubtful Sean.  This episode is a perfect example to the relationship between the boys and Mr. Feeney as well as the whole family dynamic of the Matthews family.

The second episode I looked at was from a later episode.  It’s About Time was the name of the seventh episode of the seventh season and depicts the crew as college students now.  The episode begins with Toepanga discussing and preparing for her wedding which has finally arrived.  During the festivities with Toepanga and her girlfriends continues, Sean bursts in and expresses his concerns about his future friendship with Cory now due to the marriage.  The scene cuts to Cory next who is freaking out about Sean’s tardiness with the list of tasks he gave him on the day of his wedding day.  As Cory is in the midst of criticizing Sean to his failure of duties, Sean arrives outraged with the excessive work that was placed on his shoulders.  Once Sean attempts to talk to Cory about their future and Cory will not cooperate, Sean exclaims that he will no longer be his best man or even attend the wedding.

This episode is one of the unique ones in the series because of how it focuses on the conflicts of Sean and Cory. However it is one of the most vital episodes because of the character traits it reveals as well as providing a realistic nature of this friendship which sometimes appear to perfect.  Eric steps in after this confrontation to become the best man and the comedy begins to roll as he steals another wedding parties recital hall for the ceremony.  Toepanga is the next one to express fear about her friendships moving forward when she reveals to Angela that she does not want to lose her.  We see continually though out this episode see the idea that marriage can change friends.  However we know this to not be true as even in the following episodes Sean and Cory are just as good of friends as ever, as well as Toepanga and Angela.  The wedding begins and while Cory and Toepanga are at the alter Sean shows up with the missing ring, however after a misunderstanding over an apology causes a fight the boys true feelings come out.    Cory can no longer run from the discussion seeing as how it just caused a fight in front of the entire wedding party, so right then and there they hash out their problems.  However after all of this the wedding proceeds without a hitch.  At the after party Sean delivers a heart felt speech about how they will be friends forever, and the audience is left with a feeling that things will work out.

Brad Lee

Work Cited

Busis, Hillary. (2012, Dec 14). What’s so great about ‘boy meets world’? Entertainment Weekly, , 1. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.rowan.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1288092234?accountid=13605

Cummings, Ruth. Understanding Group Behavior of Boys and GirlsThe Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 45, No. 6 (Feb., 1952), pp. 467-468

King, Susan (1995). Los,Angeles Times. (1995, Nov 17). NO MONKEE BUSINESS IN `BOY MEETS WORLD’. St.Louis Post – Dispatch (Pre-1997 Fulltext). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.rowan.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/305124580?accountid=13605

Tueth, Michael. Laughter in the Living Room: Television Comedy and the American Home Audience. New York: Peter Lang, 2005. Print.

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This entry was posted on January 26, 2015 by in Brad Lee, Television and tagged , , , , .

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