Like many people in their 20s and 30s, Laura Hughes is excited about the new incarnation of the ’90s sitcom Boy Meets World. Hughes, a writer of young-adult novels who started publishing online reviews of the show in 2003 as a college freshman, is one of the fans who turned the coming-of-age story of a boy named Cory from a minor ’90s series into a franchise: Disney has taken note of its huge online fan base and commissioned a pilot for a sequel series. “I have high hopes for Girl Meets World if it understands why we love Boy Meets World,” says Hughes, who is based in Massachusetts. Who would have thought there’d be such a following for a show about a boy with a girlfriend named Topanga?
Since the news broke that both Ben Savage (Cory) and Danielle Fishel (Topanga) have signed up to appear in Girl Meets World,a show about their characters’ daughter, the pilot has had more coverage than many shows that are actually on the air. When Rider Strong, who played Cory’s best friend, Shawn, announced on his website that he had “no official involvement” in the sequel, it was picked up by major gossip outlets like TMZ, Perez Hilton and Salon. Jeff Menell, a writer on the show for all seven seasons, says the “emotional response” to the announcement has made him realize “the amazing and enormous impact Boy Meets World had.”
Usually a show that gets a sequel series was a phenomenon in its own time, like Dallas. But Boy Meets World was mostly ignored when it was part of ABC’s kid-friendly “TGIF” lineup from 1993 to 2000. “We never felt we got the respect we deserved,” says Menell. But when it went into reruns, it exploded. Like many fans, Hughes got hooked later. “I was thinking I might write an article for my comedy website,” she explains. “Before I knew it, I’d reached a level of massive obsession.”
She’s not the only one. Menell recalls a recent incident where a coat-check girl saw the Boy Meets World logo on his jacket “and went nuts. She was a huge fan. It was a cool moment that got a second’s worth of respect from my usually unimpressed buddies.” And apart from getting millions of views for its episodes on YouTube, the show has inspired tributes usually reserved for classics. Last year, the gaming website IGN ran an article called “Lessons learned from Boy Meets World,” and in October, Hollywood.com writer Matt Patches published a 2,700-word oral history of the episode in which the characters dream they’re all being killed by a slasher. “There hasn’t been a great family sitcom since,” Patches insists.
Why would a low-budget sitcom with huge ’90s phones become a cultural touchstone in 2013? Hughes thinks it’s because “the creative team got a little loopy,” writing meta-humorous jokes for older fans. She points to the one where Cory’s crazy brother Eric “joins the cast of the gentle family sitcom Kid Gets Acquainted With Universe,” or the one where “Shawn spends an entire episode looking disturbingly hot in drag.” These surreal moments gave the show more hip cachet than other TGIF sitcoms like Full House.
That doesn’t mean Girl Meets Worldis a sure hit; its style might be out of place 20 years on. Boy Meets World had grown-up jokes because it aired on ABC, and Menell says it was also “about the parents. It was about the teachers.” The sequel will be on the Disney Channel, where most shows are what Patches calls “niche entertainment” for today’s kids, who haven’t heard of Cory or his wise teacher Mr. Feeny.
Hughes points to Canada’s Degrassi: The Next Generation as an example of how to bring modern kids into the fold. It brought back some of the original cast, but “used them sparingly, instead allowing the new kids plenty of room to come into their own. Girl Meets Worldwill have to do the same.” Even if it doesn’t, the buzz around it may have cemented the old show’s unlikely icon status. It seems that way to Menell, whose contributions to the original series included the slasher parody and an episode where Eric disguises himself as a tree. “I always loved my time on Boy Meets World,” he says. “But now I have a new-found pride about it all.”