Like the rest of humanity, I have complicated feelings about reboots. Reboots are what I do to my phone or computer when I cannot think of anything else to do to try to solve a problem. In my interactions with technology, a reboot is a last resort.
I have discovered that the entertainment industry views reboots in a similar way: When the bottom of the new-idea barrel has been thoroughly scraped, producers dig into the archives and attempt to jolt life back into a long-dead franchise. For moviemakers, it’s a hit-or-miss proposition, heavy on the misses. For every Christopher Nolan “Batman” trilogy, you get about 10 million unwatchable movies based on board games and action figures.
The latest TV reboot headed our way is a spinoff of “Boy Meets World,” a 1990s coming-of-age sitcom about everyguy Cory Matthews and his childhood sweetheart, Topanga. The newish take, “Girl Meets World,” will air on the Disney Channel and center on Cory and Topanga’s 13-year-old daughter. Actors Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel have signed on to reprise their roles. Fishel has already taken to Tumblr to express her excitement, gratitude and words of caution: “GMW is a new show. It isn’t BMW brought back to life but in current day. . . . Give us a chance.”
Ha! How cute of her to think we won’t compare the two. Out of loyalty to Topanga, though, let’s try to give “GMW” a chance. The odds of it being good are slim, even with original “BMW” executive producer Michael Jacobs at the helm. My skepticism overwhelms my optimism. And yet, there is hope, and here’s why:
“GMW” is entering a teen TV landscape that looks remarkably different from the one in which the original aired. When “BMW” ran from 1993 to 2000, it was one of many shows about everyday kids and their everyday experiences, a middle ground between cheesy-but-beloved hits “Saved by the Bell” and “Clarissa Explains It All” and cult favorites “My So-Called Life,” “Freaks and Geeks” and the animated “Daria.” Yes, Buffy was slaying the undead over in Sunnydale, but for the most part, teen programming had one thing in common — it was about the common problems of common people in common places.
Today’s offerings include wolves, vampires, wolf-vampire hybrids (I know; just roll with it), beasts, witches, murderous stalkers, scheming Upper East Siders and a high school so packed with pregnant teens it should consider spiking the tap water with birth control pills. A young adult in the market for something more straightforward, a show that eschews fantasy and zooms in on the honest, soul-crushing and life-affirming reality of growing up, finds zero options.
“GMW” could fill a gaping void just by being an honest show about regular adolescents. It could stand out by being ordinary.
Or it could stand out by being absolutely terrible. This is the risk. And there is a surprising place to learn how to avoid this failure, and that place is the ABC Family reboot of “10 Things I Hate About You.”
The 1999 film “10 Things” was its generation’s Great Teen Movie, with a swiped-from-Shakespeare story line and a remarkably good cast. (We’re talking Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.) Ten years later, ABC Family announced the premiere of a “10 Things” TV show. Fans were nervous and none-too-pleased, like parents watching their teenage child drive an expensive car.
Then, the impossible happened: “10 Things” turned out to be pretty good teen television.
What the “Girl Meets World” people can learn from “10 Things” is how to strike a balance between holding on and moving on. There is, in fact, a way to stay true to the DNA of one’s progenitor while not falling into the trap of making a nostalgia-fest for nostalgia’s sake (I’m looking at you, “Melrose Place”); hijacking a title for branding purposes and abandoning everything else about the original (I see what you did there, “Teen Wolf”); and also by just not being awful (ahem, “90210”).
TV’s “10 Things” cast Larry Miller, the dad from the movie, and kept the bare bones of the film’s premise: Two sisters who couldn’t be more different try to navigate high school life while their overprotective father stands between them and their desired dates. The show proceeded to ditch everything else about the movie, making a new program to please a new audience.
Before you rage at such blasphemy — “You can’t change anything about my favorite show! Bring back Mr. Feeny!” — here’s the hard truth for former “Boy Meets World” viewers: If you were a fan of the original, this new show is not for you. The question is whether a new generation will find “Girl Meets World” and enjoy it for what it is, not whether an older generation will determine it lives up to hyped-up memories of a TV show that has been off the air for more than a decade.
If I may be so bold, you probably wouldn’t even like “Boy Meets World” if you watched it now. Remember that time Topanga gave up Yale to attend a fictional university called Pennbrook and get hitched to her high school honey? Don’t even pretend you could watch that today without yelling at your television.
Besides, “Girl Meets World” will focus on a middle school girl. How old are you now? Thirty? Let it go. “Homeland” is on.