‘Girl Meets World’ review: Sorry, teens of the ’90s, this spin-off is not for you


The cast of “Girl Meets World” (Kelsey McNeal)/Disney Channel)

Hold on kids, we’ll get to you in a minute. First, we have to talk to the grown-ups, which now means anyone who was a teenager in the 1990s and was elated to hear of Disney Channel’s decision to launch a “Boy Meets World” spin-off. It’s called – appropriately – “Girl Meets World,” and it debuts Friday night, focusing on Cory and Topanga’s 13-year-old daughter, Riley.

Here’s the thing, grown-ups: “Girl Meets World” is not for you. You might think it is, given that it features some of the same actors (Ben Savage, Danielle Fishel) that you loved on the original series, which was an anchor of ABC’s “TGIF” nighttime lineup. But this is, without a doubt, a show for and about teens.

In other words, if you tune in thinking you’re going to get the same joy you did back in the day with Cory and Topanga and Shawn and Eric figuring out life in Philadelphia during high school and then college, it’s just not going to happen. Sorry.

Don’t worry – if you insist on watching for nostalgia’s sake, the creator (Michael Jacobs, also executive producer of “Boy Meets World”) throws in a few inside jokes. That includes a couple of flashbacks, such as in an episode that shows Topanga, now a corporate lawyer, going back to her hippie roots. There’s also a very sweet cameo in the pilot that could make any “Boy Meets World” fan tear up a little. (The show promises more guest stars down the line.)

Maya and Riley in "Girl Meets World." (Ron Tom/Disney Channel)
Maya and Riley in “Girl Meets World.” (Ron Tom/Disney Channel)

Okay, now for the kids: If you like lots of jokes about how lame your parents are, this is totally the show for you. The main character is Riley (Rowan Blanchard), a New York City middle schooler who has the misfortune of having her dad, Cory Matthews, as her history teacher. Riley’s best friend is troublemaker Maya (Sabrina Carpenter ), obviously the teenage girl reincarnation of Cory’s best friend, Shawn Hunter. Like Shawn, Maya comes from a difficult background and has absentee parents – which helps to push her into all sorts of mischief with Riley by her side.

And yes, Cory is now Mr. Matthews. He followed in the footsteps of his mentor, Mr. Feeny, and is now in charge of a classroom full of kids – well, not really, because none of his students respect him in the slightest. When he yells at them to put down their cellphones, someone turns his rant into a remix and the class has a dance party.

Many scenes take place at school and in Mr. Matthews’s classroom, with side characters Farkle (Corey Fogelmanis) – the annoying know-it-all who has a crush on both Riley and Maya – and Lucas (Peyton Meyer), the new cute guy who just moved from Texas. The scenarios are all very middle school: Riley struggles to fit in with the popular crowd. She texts Lucas all the time but can’t muster the courage to talk to him in person. Her parents don’t want her taking the subway by herself or going to a boy-girl party.

Some scenes also take place at Riley’s home, and when they do, it’s clear the chemistry between Cory and Topanga is still there. (Also, Savage and Fishel must have dabbled in witchcraft since the original show went off the air in 2000, because they have barely aged.) Fans of “Boy Meets World” may find these scenes way too few and far between, but remember, this is a whole new era.

Topanga and Cory, reunited. (Ron Tom/Disney Channel)
Topanga and Cory, reunited. (Ron Tom/Disney Channel)

“It’s not your world yet; it’s still my world,” Cory reminds Riley at the beginning of the pilot when he catches her and Maya sneaking out of the house.

“How long do I have to live in my father’s world?” Riley whines.

“Until you make it yours,” Cory chides her.

The word “world” is thrown in many more times, just in case we miss the point. Not surprisingly, by the end of the episode, Cory concedes that it’s his daughter’s time to shine.

“It’s not so easy handing over the world without making sure everything’s going to be okay,” he says.

That really sums up this venture in a nutshell. Disney knows it’s taking a risk, as old-school fans might tune in for the first episode but soon realize that they don’t find the word “Farkle” as funny as a teen might. After that, it’s essentially a brand-new comedy, and as much of a risk as any first-season show these days.

“Girl Meets World” (30 minutes) premieres Friday at 9:45 p.m. on Disney Channel. The show debuts in its regular timeslot on July 11 at 8:30 p.m.

Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter and pop culture blogger for the Style section. She joined the Post in May 2008, a week before she graduated from the University of Maryland, and worked on Lisa de Moraes' TV Column and blog.
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