In the end it was about friendship, family, love and the relationship between a student and a teacher.
That’s how it began as well. A student and a teacher, Mr. Feeny and Corey Matthews, a best friend in Shawn Hunter, an older brother Eric and a mom & dad and a little sister too. In the end that family got quite a bit larger. It wasn’t until episode four that one of the shows most important and popular characters even made her first appearance.
That would of course be the love of Corey Matthews’ life and his future wife, Topanaga Lawrence. From the first time you saw her, her first utterances, you could tell she would be the break out character, at least for that first season (although that CAN be disputed). Another well-known young actress appeared in that episode, one Marla Solokoff, but she was just a minor character. Danielle Fischel was meant to be just a random extra character, but they liked her enough to change who she was and make her a regular.
Later minor characters would easily outshine Topanga, from
the first episode of season two even, but as the show continued the focus would
always return to her, Corey and Shawn. The
parents, Mr. Feeny, Eric were always there, but the focal point would always be
the Boy who meets the world, his best friend and the love of his life.
Although the Topanga and Corey relationship would take quite a while to develop or even become a regular plot point it existed from her first appearance, was re-met in the third and next to last episode of Season 1. Hints and references existed all through season two, but they hook up only once in the episode “Pairing Off” which is about the game “7 minutes in Heaven” and poetry clubs being good places to “hook up”.
After that episode, Corey would have a sling of young,
successful child stars as his “love” interest.
Including Danielle Harris (of Halloween fame), Haylie Johnson (of Kid’s
Incorporated and Dr. Quinn and older sister of Growing Pain’s Ashley), Natanya
Ross (of The Secret World of Alex Mack) and Jessica Wesson (of Home Improvement
and later Judging Amy) who plays Wendy, the one girl Corey has a serious
relationship with other than Topanga the whole season.
In one episode he even gets MONO from an unnamed girl.
The show was still definitely finding its “legs” and
becoming what would be seven years/seasons of success.
Those “legs” allowed for some extremely entertaining television and
the stuff that made my young watching so much fun.
It’s this fact that my friend David going out of his way
to purchase season one for me, and I grabbing season two on this fact.
Being able to re-watch this show, or at least these 45 episodes is a
wonderful thing. They’re
chockfull of humor, fun, cool characters, passable continuity and lots of great
personalities and performers that allow for endless enjoyment.
I’ll make an admittance here, for all the love and philosophical cockamamie I praise upon the show, it was really just a simple family sitcom in par with shows such as Growing Pains, Family Ties and Happy Days. It had the twist of perspective and actual focus and importance over the child characters actually being the mains and the parents the secondary, a big switch in terms of actual show PLANNING, but it was just a sitcom with its share of heartbreaking moments that sitcoms can and tend to have.
Being just a sitcom there had to be the share of supporting characters that would end up stealing the spotlight every moment they were on screen.
In season one, it was obviously the irrepressible Stewart/Stuart “Minkus” Minkus (yes, his nickname was Minkus). Played by neebishly, but deceptively charming and handsome young Lee Norris, formerly of Disney’s The Torkelsons, he brought panache and energy to the show that was at most lacking. With Ben and Rider still basically trying to find their personalities and Will Friedle’s character not even close yet to becoming the stand-out he would, a lot laid on little Lee’s shoulders. He could carry all of it too, he was comedy gold; from little quips to complete scenes, including a fabulous end sequence where he discovers the theory of time travel and creates an unending repeating paradox. While that sounds retarded, Lee made it work, by believing it. In the last episode of Season 1, Corey and Shawn think Minkus out of existence. From there, he isn’t seen again until the graduation of High school episode, about 4 years later. Norris has gone on to being a major character in One Tree Hill and next year should get his second big break with David Fincher’s ZODIAC.
Season two would give us a slew of excellent supporting characters. The trio of bullies Harley Kiner, Joey the Rat and Frankie were brilliant additions as the show moved from Junior High School to the “meatier” land of high school. There was also the addition of new rebel teacher Jonathan Turner.
Danny McNulty played Harley Kiner whose only role as an actor was this according to research. Not much else is know about who he was and where he came from. There is a well known Golf personality by the name, but I doubt that is him. Harley was still a fun character who was the leader of the bullies who also had a heart of gold and was really just trying to get out life alive. In more than one episode you’d see the other side of Harley and was always interesting usage and gave the show a connection to the show it always seemed to emulate most in Happy Days.
On the other hand Blake “Soper” Sennett and Ethan Suplee played Joey the Rat and Frankie respectively.
Blake Sennett first appeared on TV in the second season of the Nickelodeon show “Salute Your Shorts” as Robert Pinsky. Blake and future voice actor extraordinaire Danny Cooksey worked amazingly off each other and it would prove to be perfect practice for bouncing off Ethan. Blake is currently in the band Rilo Kiley with former fellow child star Jenny Lewis. As Joey “the Rat” Epstein, Blake was a much different character from Pinsky. Pinsky was a sports loving, girl chasing fun clean-cut kid… Joey was a stooge to first Harley and then in the same season, Ferris Bueller/Parker Lewis meets Zack Morrisesque Griff Hawkins.
Jenny Lewis was in a movie with Ben’s brother Fred Savage called The Wizard.
The Wizard was a film that came out in 1989.
It starred Fred Savage, Luke Edwards, Christian Slater, Beau Bridges and
Jenny Lewis. The biggest draw of the film was that’d it’d show footage
from Double Dragon for the NES and they would debut Super Mario Bros. 3.
This isn’t what made the film excellent though.
It was a well-developed drama where Corey (Fred) “rescues” his
younger brother who is in a state of shock after the death of his sister (but is
classified as autistic) from a special home and tries to travel cross-country
with him to California. Along the
way they meet Haley (Jenny) and the three team up to get to California.
All the while Beau Bridges and Christian Slater as Fred’s dad and older
brother are out looking for them. It
makes a really heart warming tale despite the Nintendo connection.
Danny Cooksey was lead vocals in the group BAD
4 GOOD. He is currently a
cartoon voice actor in a slew of series including Xiaolin Showdown and Dave the
Barbarian. Bad 4 Good for the
record were REALLY good! Hard
rocking, with sweet sounds and amazing licks, Danny was a consummate front man
and lead singer. I’m sure if he
decided to give it a go again with a new band, the nostalgia wave would propel
just a bit… not much, but a bit… the rest would have to be him.
If he did, it’d be awesome if he then went on tour with Rilo Kiley.
Ethan Suplee is of course one of the best character actors
going, with appearances in Mallrats, American History X, Road Trip, Blow, The
Butterfly Effect and now runaway hit My
Name is Earl. Suplee is
immensely funny, immensely huge (this guy used to tip the scale at 300 pounds
and over six feet) and extremely charismatic.
Frankie Stecceno Jr. was the first acting role for Suplee.
From episode one it was quite the role as well.
He was a sympathetic, passionate, poetic thug and enforcer.
Not an easy thing to portray. Frankie
was someone who was willing to be a bad guy and also had a heart of gold, not
easy role to play at all. Ethan did
it superbly and only got better as time went on.
Later on in one episode of season 2 (and then more in the
next season) Leon White, the professional wrestler also known as Big
Van Vader or simply Vader would portray Frankie Steccano Sr. Leon basically portrayed his wrestling character but in a few
episodes showed signs of sensitivity and really enjoying the work.
An interesting side note is that in a much later season
Foley, one of Vader’s biggest feuds of his time in WCW made an appearance
in a quick skit. The only thing
interesting about this mostly is that two wrestlers who once almost killed each
other (In one match in Germany, Foley lost his ear when his head got caught from
something Vader had done) appeared on the same show for kids.
Anthony Tyler Quinn portrayed the very important character
Jonathan Turner. He would start and
run through the season as just another character to make the separation between
JHS and HS and to have it not just be Feeny as the authority figure, but as
things progressed and especially by the end of the season he was as important to
everything as George Feeny was.
Quinn hadn’t made much of impact in the acting industry and hasn’t since other than a few roles here and there, but he played Turner with poise. Jonathan was the well-spoken, intelligent English teacher who’s also a single man, still young and trying to enjoy life as a bachelor. He brought something different to the show that gave it the extra pop it needed and gave that continued pop for three more seasons.
These were all SUPPORTING characters though and the show in the end still was about the Matthews, The Hunters and Feeny.
The main character as mentioned was Corey who was portrayed by Ben Savage, younger brother of Fred Savage. Fred Savage as some of you probably know was the central character of his own half hour sitcom that was actually a dramedy filmed like mini films and has not had anything on the air like it since (not counting Degrassi and other Canadian shows which follow the Degrassi format) as far as I can surmise. Corey was much different than brother Fred though. While Fred had charming boyish looks, dark black hair and that kind of geekish, but care-free cool attitude that is so hard achieve… Corey was just a goofball geek, charming none-the-less, but not cool at all and definitely not a looker, especially with a head that looked like an orange Brillo pad. That didn’t take away from him being a very strong lead though… because he was the quintessential everyman. Not the cool guy, not a total dork, he had friends and he had common sense.
As the years went by, Ben proved to be a really good actor, adding layers and layers to Corey’s personality. Of course these were inventions of the writers and directors, but Savage picked up on them and played with them.
In the later seasons he truly seemed to be coming into his own, someone who could be as fun a comedy leading man as say Matthew Broderick or more recently Jason Biggs. In 2006 he hopefully gets to prove that he has with Car Babes.
William Russ and Betsy Randle portrayed the Matthews
parents… and I hope you can tell who was mom and who was dad.
William Russ at the time was one half of the star power of the show, he
had already been on Wiseguy, Crime Story and co-starred (with David Alan Grier,
Rip Torn and Loretta Switt) in the underrated BEER.
He brought just the right amount of good husband, good father and good
person to the rule. He was an
excellent TV dad, not always perfect, but doing his best and it was always an
enjoyable performance every season on and he and Randle were the anchors of the
show. They were the people who
owned the safe house and as everyone’s parents (including Shawn, Topanga and
later on Rachel and Jack) they were just fantastic.
Betsy Randle had previously played Jill’s best friend Karen on the
first two seasons of Home Improvement. One
of the other major things that Betsy had going for her, that almost most TV moms
have going for them (from Joanna Kern, Meredith Baxter, Phylicia Rashad, etc) was that she could be categorized as a TOTAL MILF.
Seriously, damn woman was (and is) fine.
Sadly the last time Betsy did any work was in 1999 in the film The Beat,
but at least Russ worked regularly including being on DEADWOOD last year and
recently appearing on Boston Legal.
There was of course also the
brother Eric, stand out character for many reasons, most especially in much
later seasons than currently on DVDs. At
first he was just a general older brother character, the one who got the girls,
the bad grades and gave the bad advice and acted like he didn’t have a brother
while in school. Eric Matthews was
played with deft fun and silliness by future Batman and former boyfriend of
Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Will Friedle. He had plenty of his own things going on though from day one.
I mean he was Eric Matthews, lovable, goofy and really, really good
looking. With an awesome voice, amazing charisma, excellent at
physical comedy, Will Friedle stood head and shoulders above everyone the show
at the time. That fact continued
all the way to the last episode, where he perfected his character acting and
excellent humor skills and was surpassed by no one, even showing the skills for
drama. His career has stayed
strong, working on various voice-over projects, mostly notably as the co-star of
KIM POSSIBLE in the role of Ron Stoppable.
The Hunters were mostly represented by Shawn alone, played by extremely funny, cute and for a kid, sexy, Rider Strong. Rider was a poetic kid who seemed to be the most like his character then anyone. Shawn was a Leather coat wearing, down to earth, rebelistic (sic), streak of bad boy, but truly just another sweet, gentle soul. He was everything Cory wasn’t, and yet they were best friends. They had nothing in common, but they liked all the same things. They had this incredible connection, that rare, undeniable, wavelength thing that can happen between two best friends that makes you feel and know it’s going to take a lot of “fucked up shit” on both or either end for that friendship to ever end. When I look at the friendship Cory and Shawn had I instantly recognize it as the friendship I have with my “brother” Nick. That’s essentially how it was… Cory had two brothers, Eric and Shawn. Later on in the series Shawn got his own half-brother who also became a regular cast member, but he never replaced Shawn. This half-brother actually instead became Eric’s other.
A long time ago (a few years), Rider used to run a website with a journal, poetry and such, but he sadly gave that up. The world hasn’t seen the last of him of course (do we ever see the last of a child star who was on a TV show, be it still being famous or doing something newsworthy like robbery, murder or suicide?). In 2006 he might even return to TV as a regular cast member of a show starring Rebecca Romijn that sounds suspiciously like Newsradio meets Suddenly Susan meets Mary Tyler Moore show called Pepper Dennis.
Finally we get to George Feeny, teacher, principal, next door neighbor, mentor, father figure, best friend and in many ways the WORLD. He was the ground on which the show laid… he was the person who spent more time with these kids then their parents… in and out of the bedroom. Portraying the extremely important role, the essence of life, is one of the actors I would list as a favorite of all time, William Daniels (Longtime and astute readers may recall another is/was Jason Robarbs.) Both Daniels and Jason Robarbs have something major in common and no, it’s not they both played the voices of cars (they didn’t). Both men were President of SAG. Williams did play a car though… he was the voice of KITT on Knight Rider. More importantly I feel was that he was the major star of St. Elsewhere, the TV show that controls all others! Daniels still works on occasion… he played a robot on Kim Possible for one and a robot in another cartoon. He’s the intelligent voice of robots… the voice of the greatest car ever and Mr. Feeny. It may sound like a strange legacy, but if I was him… I’d be plenty proud.
William Daniels was the ground force behind a show that meant a lot to a lot of people. Not just Boy Meets World, but Knight Rider and St. Elsewhere.
And on that, Boy Meets World was one of my ground forces as a teen. It was influential, but I loved watching it. It was entertaining, had characters you cared about and was funny.
As I said, in the end it was about friendship, family and student and teacher. At one point everyone was a friend, everyone was family, everyone was a student and everyone a teacher. Such is life… such was Boy Meets World.