Life Lessons from ‘Boy Meets World’

What cheesy '90s sitcoms can teach us about our view of the world.

Disney will soon be airing a long awaited spinoff to the beloved ‘90s series Boy Meets World. The new version of the show, titled Girl Meets World, will center on young Riley Matthews, the daughter of the now all-grown-up Cory and Topanga, the two young sweethearts whose awkward romance provided the backdrop for the original show.

For anyone who grew up in the TGIF era, this is amazing news. If you’re somewhere near the age of 30, there’s a good chance Boy Meets World and its TGIF counterparts played a somewhat substantial role in helping you fill your Friday nights with a mixture of laughter, light drama, wholesome family problem-solving and amazing hair.

Boy Meets World knew exactly what it wanted to be, and it owned it.

But TGIF shows such as Boy Meets World also may still be able to teach you something about why cynicism can be such a bummer.

Boy Meets World was the complete opposite of similar, progressive-style sitcoms, such as The Wonder Years, that came before it. The show used canned laugh tracks, cheesy sets, implausible plot lines and demonstrated zero moral complexity. The antics of the Boy Meets World gang often revolved around relatively insignificant teenage drama, and conflicts rarely touched on topics more edgy than overcoming the temptation to cheat on a history test.

There were times when the show even seemed to relish in lazy writing and overly simplistic explanations to problems—even when the problems were within the show’s basic narrative structure. For example: Both Shawn and Cory’s characters originally had little sisters in early episodes; Shawn’s disappears without mention, and when Cory’s comes back after a long absence—as if the writers couldn’t decide whether she would actually be a character on the show—she simply says her prolonged disappearance was due to the “longest timeout I ever had.” The show literally disregards continuity and any acknowledgement of reality by even attempting to explain why a character went missing.

Thankfully, insane, belief-suspending twists were something that viewers were already accustomed to. Boy Meets World was a part of the TGIF line-up—a two-hour block of sitcoms that ran on ABC on Friday nights during the ‘90s. It wasn’t uncommon during these weekly programming blocks for actors from various TGIF shows to “host” the evening’s lineup. They would appear, in character, sitting on a couch, watching TGIF in some sort of weird, meta-reality, throwing to commercial breaks and teasing what was coming up next. Again, it made zero sense, but for some reason, at the time, it worked.

If you happened to watch an episode of Full House, Family Matters or Boy Meets World in syndication today, they’re still funny. Except now, they’re ironically funny. Danny Tanner’s one-line zingers while espousing corny fatherly advice are so painfully cheesy, they’re unintentionally funny. Urkel still gets laughs, but now we’re laughing at how his ridiculous nerd costume and series of basement science experiments actually once passed for conventional primetime comedy. (There were literally episodes in which the story arc centered on Urkel injecting his DNA with “Cool Juice” to transform himself into a suave alter-ego named Stefan Urquelle. Keep in mind, up to this point, Family Matters contained no other sci-fi elements.) Though Boy Meets World suffered from sitcom clichés, there was something earnest about its delivery—the writers may have been lazy, but they weren’t afraid of trying to be sincere.

If these shows aired now, the generation who grew up on them wouldn’t be able to look past these unapologetically goofy elements. Because of a refined cultural taste—which has a tendency to morph from criticism into cynicism—we would be unable to enjoy a show that was actually pretty great.

Girl Meets World will probably do well during the afternoons on the Disney Channel. But unlike its parents’ show, it would never work in network primetime. Times have changed. The generation that once sincerely loved the original show and its TGIF brethren, still thoroughly enjoy a reunion performance by John Stamos’ (Full House’s Uncle Jesse) Jesse and the Rippers, but we do so ironically, and hit “Like” because it’s funny—not because we actually like it.

Allowing your entertainment tastes to mature and developing a guarded view on simplistic morality is a natural part of getting older. Some problems do take longer than a half hour to resolve. Laugh tracks are pretty lame. It’s easy to be cynical and to point at what’s wrong with the world. Any cynic can bash a dated TV sitcom.

But what if the same thing happens in other parts of our lives? What happens when cynicism doesn’t just pervade our TV-watching, but our spirituality?

There’s something to be said for looking past the goofiness to see what makes something great.

The same generation that once loved TGIF without irony is the one now that has become jaded by the Church when they finally got old enough to recognize its flaws. Any cynic can bash an institution for things it’s done wrong. But, just like with old TV shows, there’s something to be said for looking past the goofiness to see what makes something great.

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Boy Meets World knew exactly what it wanted to be, and it owned it: a lighthearted, goofy, morally pure look at making the right decisions while growing up. Even though Boy Meets World ran in primetime, it was always for a younger audience, an audience that didn’t care about continuity or subtext. An audience that didn’t mind that any problem thrown at the characters would be neatly resolved within the 22 minutes allotted. Plot lines from Boy Meets World may have been about growing up, but the show was never about the loss of innocence—it was always about preserving it.

Youth isn’t just about maturity—it’s about innocence. It’s about being able to like what you like without the filter of artistic criticism, fashionable trends or cynicism that comes with growing up. There’s a cost that comes with injecting your DNA with cultural “Cool Juice.”

That’s the life lesson from Cory, Topanga, Shawn, Mr. Feeny and whatever long-lost sibling you’d also like to reference has taught. There’s always a place for criticism. But if you let that evolve into cynicism, you might just miss out on some really great stuff. For Boy Meets World, learning that lesson is what growing up was all about.


Max Pfeffer


Max Pfeffer commented…

Some good points in this article, but I completely disagree that "conflicts rarely touched on topics more edgy than overcoming the temptation to cheat on a history test." Boy Meets World could actually teach a lot more than simply not living a cynical life. What Disney shows, or any shows aimed at kids and teenagers these days, touch on topics like sex, drugs, abuse, neglect, racism in meaningful and respectful ways? I don't know of any. Yes, it was overly silly with major plot holes and continuity errors, but the heart of the show was about life lessons, lessons that don't often show up on the CW or Disney channel anymore.

Salina Roof


Salina Roof commented…

I'm 33 and I still love these shows! I rarely watch evening tv any more because it's so (in my opinion) morally corrupt. I agree with the person who said people are looking for more wholesome shows, hence Duck Dynasty blowing ratings out of the water. I'm tired of hearing about shows like Mistresses, I mean, really? A show about adultery? Or Devious Maids. Seriously, let's get back to the days of Cosby, Full House, Boy Meets World, etc.. maybe then America might find its way back to some morality. Then again, maybe they just don't want to...

Becca Rinker


Becca Rinker commented…

Zero moral complexity? Ok, yeah, there were episodes that weren't about much. But what about the episode where Cory thought Shawn was sleeping with a girl, but he was actually trying to save her from her abusive father? It's a show about kids trying to do the right thing (Remember when Shawn was about to join those guys in messing up the school because they didn't like Feeny's final exam schedule?). They are learning to love and learning what truly matters in life. I don't think it was a show about nothing. It was a show about friendship. I get the point of the article. Stop being so critical with everything... but I don't know if this was the best example.

Brenda P


Brenda P commented…

I still adore Boy Meets World, and not in an ironic way. Perhaps it's because of the strong nostalgia factor, but I actually genuinely enjoy watching the older, more innocent sitcoms. Growing Pains is still a favorite, as is Full House and Saved by the Bell. Many of my friends (and my sister) are really excited to see Girl Meets World. BMW dealt with some serious stuff (like sex, reputations, drinking, abandonment, family dynamics, etc), albeit interspersed with lots of silliness and unrealistic situations.

Benjamin J. Barlowe


Benjamin J. Barlowe commented…

This show dealt with issues like alcoholism, sex outside marriage, disrespect to women, physical abuse, acceptance of change, abandonment, the existence of God, friendship, fidelity, loyalty, trust...and you say it had "zero moral complexity?" Did you stop watching after season 3?

Benjamin J. Barlowe


Benjamin J. Barlowe replied to Benjamin J. Barlowe's comment

I get your point. There were continuity issues and awkward writing that probably wouldn't pass today. But I think this show had much more to say than just "don't be cynical, and hold on to innocence." That is one of its messages, and it is a great one. Nevertheless, this was a great show not just because it was goofy and innocent, but because it dealt with real moral whoppers. And no, every issue did not have an easy answer in 30 minutes. Some of those questions went unanswered.

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