Sunday, January 3, 2016

Girl Meets World Reviewed: Girl Meets STEM

I'm going to make a volcano that will turn into a robot and crush all the other volcanos!

Riley, I hate to break it to you, but that thing called science? It's not exactly something that's your forte. It hits hard, Riley, then because you're a girl, you'll inevitably screw it up for everyone around you. Your best friend did it, your own parents most likely did it. Break the cycle, Riley. Rise above. Focus on Lucas.

What is it? You know, Girl Meets World. You should know all this already by now.

Not to intrude on what Mike's been doing or preempt him, but I do want to add some thoughts to STEM before it actually airs, just based on the previews. Basically, it looks like Farkle's going to be the Designated Bad Guy(TM) in this one. I know it can seem like men just want to dominate over women because they think women are inferior, but I'm willing to bet Farkle, well, probably thinks he's just superior to everybody when it comes to science experiments. It's practically the only thing he's confident at (or at least until Donnie Barnes took over). Not that such overconfidence (or badly distributed confidence - trust me feeling better than everyone when it comes to middle school-level science experiments and feeling like you suck at literally everything else isn't great life balance) couldn't stand to be broken either. But, uh, I guess we'll see.

Also, Alvinnn! And the Chipmunks did a better STEM episode. If for nothing else because it brought us that badass quote above (seriously, if you're going to make a volcano like everyone else, you want to at least make sure your volcano can take out all the competition through copious amounts of destructive, futuristic violence). 

It's okay, Unknown. I haven't been working on anything lately but it's been really slow for kids TV. And yes, another Alvinnn! fan in the house! I don't think I've seen that one yet, I have to check it out.

I actually am quite pleased you brought this episode's promos up because it looks like we're all going to hell on Friday. I don't want to be presumptuous, but based solely off of the previews, this is shaping up to be the worst episode of the show since "Gravity." Simply because, and only because, Riley is absolutely intolerable. All Farkle asked her to do was drop the stupid marble into the solution. Maybe he came off as a little arrogant, but we all know that science is Farkle's game. It's where he excels and I know for a fact that Riley is nowhere near his level. If this episode is going to be about Riley simply standing up for herself because she believes she is just as good at science as Farkle, then it will be a good episode. I mean, the boy should realize that some people are going to excel at the same things he does. 

But nope, it......doesn't look like they're going that route. They're making this a male vs. female thing, and I'm kinda tired of seeing that plot on television because almost every show deals with gender relations in the exact same way. Females prove they have what it takes, males give them their props, blah blah blah. I really don't want to sound like I'm trashing this episode before it comes out, but I honestly believe Riley would turn this into a gender thing while having absolutely no clue of what to do with the actual experiment. It's a really in-character action, and the odd thing about it is that at the same time, it didn't feel like Riley in that promo. It felt like Rowan Blanchard playing herself, and I don't want this episode to turn into one big mission statement with a lesson that is bashed into your head several times over. 

Also, that Maya thing, cheesy Yogi.........does anybody want to make heads or tails of that? That's going to be some quality television, let me tell you. I think it would be absolutely hilarious if Maya took in some bad fumes from the chemicals and just acted like how she did in the promo for the whole episode. Maya on a drug-induced trip, I would pay to watch that episode.

Well, we still have more than two days left but in all honesty, I'm not looking forward to this one at all. 

I was a big fan of the 1980s-early 90s series of The Chipmunks (the "original" as far as the Chippettes are concerned, invented specifically for that iteration of the Chipmunks) so of course I needed to check out the revival, especially since it carries that series' theme song almost unaltered (they just shortened it to a few verses). It was one of the first television series I've ever watched, and the first one I distinctly remember really liking. The new one...more or less keeps up the same spirit (much more successfully than Cartoon Network's similar revival of Garfield and Friends in the CGI Garfield cartoon) but like the new Garfield it looses a lot of translation making the jump to CGI (a sad necessity in today's world just for budget reasons if nothing else). Still, there's a deserved reason why it's hanging with Spongebob as one of the highest rated things on the network right now. But I guess that's another time. Also, man I'm old.

In the interest of being really, really lazy I'm just going to copy-paste what I wrote on Christian and Sean's blog (minus where I tease Sean over Sarah Carpenter and comparing it to me and Debby Ryan P.S. I haven't seen the episode yet):

I haven't seen the episode yet so all I know of is what's gone on in this very review. Getting people, especially girls, interested in science is very problematic in education, and it's a double-edged sword in the fact that there's real pressure from higher-up and from parents to get girls especially, but literally everyone, interested in STEM subjects, including and up to just about forcing them (or whatever passes as such, as much as you can). When you get down to it it's just no different than what school has always been, except it got inevitably politicized due to a combination of fears that women are being squeezed out of STEM subjects in school (as I just said, it's always been the attitude of education to get everybody interested in everything, at least to my experience - I don't remember anti-female STEM discrimination at all, both as a student and then as a teacher myself) and the fear that the U.S. keeps taking massive steps backwards in comparison to the rest of the world when it comes to the STEM fields (which are critical for financial infrastructure, communication and - let's face it, defense, which is the real reason why certain politicians with major military-industrial complex ties and keep using China and Japan as platform points keep pushing for STEM competitiveness). The end effect is to exaggerate an existing problem - "education" and "STEM" gaps start being fabricated and administration and politicians miss whether or not the problem might be teaching methods (research and experience shows that the good old fashioned science lab experience and participation is highly effective at raising scientific understanding and interest, but it's also expensive) but instead either blame students, teachers or both, and then attempt awkward solutions towards overcoming that blame.

That, again, just based on your description of the episode, while Mr. (or Mrs.? I really need to actually watch this) Norton's methods might be...odd in real-life context, I guess it does deliver a point. 

These writers really need to be able to deliver points more effectively.

I was able to watch the episode live which was difficult because for some reason, whenever I try watching GMW live, something or somebody has to interrupt me. Virtually every single time I watch a new episode of the show when it first airs, that has to happen. I have no idea why.

It could have been a lot, lot worse. They didn't repeatedly pound the lesson into you, Riley was a lot more tolerable than I thought she would be, and it was interesting having them learn their lesson in a way that doesn't involve history. The only problem is it feels like the plot didn't naturally fit the characters. It's like they had to have all the boys in the class do the science while the girls drop the marble in order to make the point they were going for. Christian & Sean summed it up nicely when they said that the teams for the assignment were not chosen correctly. Farkle would never, ever, make Riley drop the marble simply because she's a girl. Maya barely cared about anything that was happening because of her laziness, and then we had that unfunny non-sequitur crap where the girls were going to sacrifice Yogi and Maya was acting like she had become addicted to smack. The odd part about that is at the same time, it was mixed in with Farkle and Riley's serious confrontation about the experiment. There was no reason to do that and it feels like I lost the point completely.

The writers walked into a brick wall with this one when Farkle realized that he was preventing Riley from realizing her scientific potential,.....during the second act. And no, I don't even care that Riley's interest in science has never been brought up before because they at least took it seriously. Plus, it was implied that because of Farkle, Riley really never felt the need to challenge herself, deciding to wander in the shadow of someone she long believed to be better than her. Once Farkle told her to drop the marble, Riley resigned from that mindset because she felt disrespected and wanted her friend to see that she had an interest in science as well. Just a thought. Anyway, Farkle obviously is not a sexist pig like Riley claims he is, just a perfectionist who wanted to do well on another report. That was an unnecessary, uncharacteristic comment from her but that's as far as they went with trying to push the sexism angle. Between that and the science teacher saying that nobody has ever figured out his assignment in almost 40 felt too easy. This episode almost had no reason to exist. It just emphasized what we already knew about each and every one of these characters. Remembering to never lose focus and strive for more is a very important lesson to take from this episode. If it was said in a more coherent way, it could have been a fantastic episode. Instead, it just ends up being a bit underwhelming. They saved it from pushing the sexism angle, but I feel like this issue is a little too complex for GMW to handle it properly. Then again, I can say that for a lot of episodes like this. 

So, the best thing I can say about this episode is it was not as bad as it could have been? Eh, I guess so. I don't want it to sound like I hate this episode, but it just came off as undercooked to me. Like, they had some great ideas, but it wasn't translated well enough. 

Episode Grade: C+
MVP: Sabrina Carpenter. I just loved how over Maya was with everything in this episode, especially when Lucas was telling her to drop the marble and she couldn't even do that. Seriously, episodes like this make me realize that Maya could shine in a comedic role just as well as a dramatic role. 

-Topanga's attitude towards Auggie being proud of himself over his poor soccer performance was hilarious. Reminded me of old-school competitive Topanga. It's very weird how that subplot literally only lasted that one scene unless I'm missing something. Isn't that strange to you guys?

-They really need to stop bringing in Zay every few episodes. I feel like he could be a great character and provide some nice comedy because I like him whenever he's on screen, but it feels like the writers aren't committed to him right now. Either make him a cast member or get rid of him entirely, he doesn't get that Shawn treatment.

-I could get behind assertive Sarah. She's so cute, you just want to wrap her into a present and take her home. By the way, is it me, or do I just not see the resemblance between her and Sabrina Carpenter? And how weird is that Sabrina is younger than her? What kind of girls do they get for these roles? 

-Cheesy Yogi? Seriously? I'm really pissed that they let that scene go by without rewriting it. Riley and Farkle were having a serious moment that I was into and then they hit us with that left field sacrificing BS.

-This episode almost confirms my belief that Riley and Farkle are going to end the series together. The chemistry that Rowan and Corey have is just phenomenal and they play off of each other so effortlessly. Kinda like how Sabrina and Peyton have great chemistry but they are never allowed to show it in the setting of a relationship for some reason. Shame, shame, shame.

-The next episode looks pretty interesting, but I feel like some other Disney Channel show has done that plot before. I don't know, I think the show had a stupid sea school in it. Also, I hope Mark Cuban's guest appearance isn't as awkward as Perez Hilton's was. 

Here I go again, swooping in several weeks after the fact! (well, one and a half)

I've finally seen the episode. And I think it's...

I'm being completely serious when I say I think it's the best episode the show has had so far. I'm completely serious. If this episode aired back in December I might've named it the best episode of any show on Disney Channel in 2015. 

Of course, I'm a student teacher so I'm a bit biased here. One of the greatest struggles a teacher has is to try to figure out how to get all of his or her students interested in the subject that teacher teaches, because, well, that's what that teacher is quite literally paid to do. Unfortunately it also creates a bit of a mess. One of the things teachers hate admitting is that each of the core subjects end up competing against each other whether intentional or not - and in more ways than one. Teachers compete with each other over students - English teachers compete with Science teachers over homework time and interest. Teachers are also competing with each other when it comes to raw dollars - because of all these news reports about how the U.S. is lagging behind Japan, Korea and China in the STEM fields, and because these same news reports link STEM with manufacturing, and because these same news reports then go on to link manufacturing with raw cold hard economics and GDP (i.e. cash) production, people panic and start complaining to their local politicians about why we're losing our ground on manufacturing, and why our economy sucks, and it's because the way we teach STEM sucks, and that if we fall too far behind the Chinese Commies are going to become our new supreme overlords who will not only dominate the global economy but can also literally nuke any dissent flat with their vastly superior military, also made possible through their STEM superiority.

Of course, the actual educational picture is much more complex than that. But both politicians and the public that votes for them hate complex. They like it when they can boil down everything to some sort of either literal or conceptual boogeyman, and education's failure to properly raise an educated corps well versed in STEM fields gets to be an educational boogeyman for politicians.

The end result is that subjects like arts, physical education and even literature and language arts fields suffer because they only serve to detract from STEM fields, because last time a politician and his or her aids checked, learning about the arts or literature in middle or high school isn't going to let us build better and more powerful nukes than what the ChiComs can build, or smarter and more powerful conventional bombs and missile than what the ChiComs can build, or have our factories spit out whatever it is that raises GDP (cars, refrigerators, computers, oil production equipment, nuke-tipped missiles, what have you) faster than what the ChiComs can. 

Again, it's much more complex than that. But there is a general sentiment in the air that many people, particularly politicians, are looking at the raw on-paper stats and pissing their pants in immediate reaction before they even understand what those raw on-paper stats mean.

Anyway, that's a long-winded way of saying that STEM is important, and having students interested in STEM is important, even if only because it's literally being forced upon you upon threat of losing your job at the expense of other still very important educational subjects, and then only because it boils down to people being afraid of economic domination or outright being literally blown away and killed by the superior military of a foreign threat that chances are doesn't even exist. But enough politicizing, on to the actual episode.

The reason why I liked this episode so much is, quite frankly, I thought Mr. Norton's approach is brilliant. I legitimately think it is important to have young students - especially girls - realize that they can make important contributions to science, and that those contributions extend to even the little lab experiments they do in a classroom environment. And that the classroom is absolutely an appropriate place to conduct social experients. But before we go on, we need to clarify what a social experiment even is.

When I say social experiment, I mean a literal experiment, no different than, say, dropping a "marble" (yeah a clod of dirt is so not a marble) into a beaker of water to see what happens. In other words, a very specific and deliberate set of conditions meant to demonstrate or expose a hypothesis. Also, there's a right way, and a very, very wrong way to conduct a social experiment as a matter of course of friggin' school. You've probably had innumerable social experiments conducted upon yourself through the course of school without even realizing it, and chances are those were conducted the right way. People come away with no hard feelings against each other, or even a newfound respect for another person, and people walk away happier. People walking away happier is the whole point of conducting social experiments in the classroom. It's to have students feel better about themselves and about the people they interact and work with - the same people that in the future will be their co-workers, their spouses and their extended and literal families. 

And then there's just doing it all sorts of wrong. Once upon a time in the 70s there was a social studies teacher who, well, let's say he thought he could be a Feeny or a Cory Matthews before there even was a Feeny or a Cory Matthews. And let's just say he was a lot closer to being Cory Matthews than being a Feeny. Through an arbitrary selection process he divided the students up into two groups, and had them physically separated. Class would go about normally, and for a while nothing happened - it's just that for some bizarre reason now the room was obviously and awkwardly divided. Except through the course of the experiment this teacher started implanting various thought seeds into these students' heads - the other side isn't as good as you guys in homework, the other side is jealous of you because you have better-looking boyfriends or girlfriends, or are better at sports, or you guys just smell better. Stuff like that. If you couldn't already tell where this was going, eventually he basically created two groups of opposing Nazis and the experiment turned into one of the worst clusterfucks in the entire history of American education. It got so bad it was turned into a movie, The Wave which was also turned into a book.

So yeah, while Mr. Norton's experiment was well-intended, dividing the boys and girls to essentially be against each other ended up being a bit too close to The Wave to qualify as a success, even if it wasn't even his intention at all. All he wanted to do was just show that the girls tended to want to just be the marble-dropper. Not rise up to be Chick HItlers. 

Speaking of which, Yogi seemed waaaay too enthusiastic to be sacrificed. That, and the exchange between him and Darby...I'm not convinced they have a healthy relationship. Someone might want to intervene in that.

In conclusion, I think I can see what the writers were going for past what was actually put on the screen. Seeing the trees for the forest, maybe (I'm not going to lie I don't get that saying and I think it's stupid). But that doesn't take away that these writers really need to take a hard look at what they're actually doing and figure out that what automatically translates into their heads isn't what 2 million viewers see (as opposed to a year and a half ago when it used to be over 3 million). 

Episode Grave: I'm torn between giving it anywhere from a B+ up to even an A+, and given all the facts - how much I liked it, but also how much Mr. Norton fundamentally fucked up when dealing with frickin' middle school students and people's reactions - I'm going to do something I swore never to do and just leave it up in the air outside of that vague range. Sorry to do this to you. There are things that make it really, really great, but there are things that make it dangerously questionable. Everybody acted terriffically, especially Rowan, Sabrina and kid-Corey-with-an-e, but it was in the name of a well-intended but muddled message.
Episode MVP: I'm tempted to say Sarah Carpenter because I think I might be catching whatever's got Sean over at Girl Meets World Reviewed. But I'll have to ultimately go with her sister for exactly what Mike said.

Oh, and a few other things I forgot

 - yeah, the subplot. While I also liked it (yay for Ava getting a few good scenes for a change!) it's a bit bizarre that Topanga of all people would be so happy with Auggie basically playing soccer by not playing soccer and getting an award for it. With actual pro athletes and even car commercials poking fun at it, the whole concept of "participation" awards has pretty much gone the way of the dodo. The people who had advocated for them have finally learned that 1.) the recipients of such rewards eventually regard them as meaningless 2.) despite anticipating the exact opposite and being hailed as heroes parents have basically yelled at them for "wussying" their kids and 3.) well, nobody just takes them seriously, which pretty much defeats the point. 

 - again, yay for Ava! (both Morgenstern, and Koker, the actual actress). Both of them have really grown now, especially compared to their usual appearances, and Koker strikes me as maybe being the rare child actress who can go the distance into adulthood, maybe.

 - and yeah, Mike, if the plot seems familiar to you it's because they also did it on an early episode of I Didn't Do It (back when the show was good-ish). 


  1. Glad to see you reviewing.

    I saw the episode. It wasn't a complete trainwreck. But it wasn't great. It needed a couple re-writes. Not nearly as bad as Gravity and it showed Riley's heart was in the right place but her actions weren't. Kinda.

    Link for the curious:

    1. The fan in me wants to watch it now, but the reviewer in me has to wait until it is live.

      Glad to hear the episode was better than "Gravity." Based on what you said, it almost confirms my suspicion that Riley wants to take a stand for something she believes in, but she understands it a lot less than she thinks.

    2. Riley's heart was definitely in the right place and she does address a real issue. I will say the beginning is rough, but the resolution was much more satisfying than usual.

    3. I have to agree with Shipping Wars here. There are certainly rough spots, enough that I don't think it'd suffer if it went through the rewrite process a little more (in fact, come to think of it, I wonder how much of a rewrite process GMW episodes actually go through, or any show on Disney Channel for that matter). That said, given that I actually have a teaching background I guess I'm just a sucker for when GMW covers subjects like this (I did like Meets the New Teacher much more than Christian and Sean).

  2. For more info on The Wave:

    Speaking of social experiments, Jane Elliot's "Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes" experiment is my personal favorite.


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