Right out of the gate, Girl Meets World has to contend with two completely different audiences. There are the twenty-somethings that grew up with Cory and Topanga on Boy Meets World, who are nostalgically excited to follow up on their story. Out of all of the ABC shows that aired during their popular TGIF lineup, Boy Meets World probably has the strongest following, with the show still consistently airing daily. However the other half of this audience wasn’t even born when Boy Meets World ended, seeing Girl Meets World as another Disney Channel show vying for their attention. It’s a strange line this show has to walk, both appealing to the nostalgia of old characters, while mainly focusing on a new cast. But after its pilot episode, it looks like the people behind Girl Meets World have figured out how to appease both sides.
Now that it has been years since Cory Matthews met the world, moving to New York with his wife, brother and best friend in the series finale of Boy Meets World, it’s time for his daughter to meet the world. Riley Matthews is a seventh grader growing up with many of the problems her father had at the same age—young love and a troubled best friend—while also dealing with her father as her history teacher as well.
In this first episode, Riley wants to be more like her rebellious best friend Maya, much to the chagrin of her father. Maya fights against teacher Cory after a discussion about the Civil War, declaring war against homework. Riley sides with her friend, causing Cory to worry about the direction his daughter is heading down, while also trying to help her friend whose troubles seem all too familiar.
The duality of the story here works well, with the broad comedy for a younger crowd managing to not become too aggressively obnoxious, while the remembrance of the past doesn’t overwhelm and wink too much at the older audience. Gladly, Girl Meets World doesn’t just try to rehash the ideas of Boy Meets World with the genders crossed. Riley is awkward like her father, Maya has a sadness to her tied to her family, but it’s not like Shawn’s outlook. And while the weird classmate Farkle is nerdy, it’s also not in the same way his father Minkus was. Girl Meets World feels familiar, but not like a copy.
The biggest issue in the pilot episode is the relationship between Riley and Lucas, a new student that just moved to NYC from Texas. It’s clear the show is going to turn him into a love interest for Riley, but hopefully the series won’t chase after big dreams of a Cory/Topanga-level romance. Girl Meets World needs to avoid hitting the exact same points as its predecessor did. Making Riley slightly more conflicted than Cory, and also giving us someone who does not find true love at a young age will not only make this new show feel different, but also more realistic.
Girl Meets World starts off with quite a bit of potential. The pilot’s focus on Riley and Cory’s dynamic integrates the audience in a natural way and leaves the viewer compelled to see what happens next, and also who we might get to see next. For fans of the original series, Girl Meets World might come off at first as too broad or too silly, but at its core the heart is still the same. Even Boy Meets World started off, stylistically, very differently from the way it ended, so there’s no reason to think Girl Meets World won’t also grow and evolve as its characters do as well. However, with the weight of one World on its back, Girl Meets World comes out strong, finding its own way, rather than just walking in the footsteps of that which came before it.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.