Friday, June 10, 2016

Girl Meets World Reviewed: Girl Meets High School (Part Two)

It's season three, Mike, it doesn't matter.

You guys said the same thing about the last two seasons. When's it start to matter?


I adapted that exchange from an episode of American Dad, but we might as well apply it to this episode and Girl Meets World as a whole. When I was done with part one, I wanted to see if part two would get the wheels turning a bit more and actually resolve the conflict in an interesting way. Actually have the characters deal with real-world issues that don't just resolve themselves and aspire to face their new problems in their new school head-on. 

Needless to say, I was wrong. Part two was even worse than part one, and while the tone was pretty much the same, this one was vintage Girl Meets World. A lesson they beat you over the head with like a sledgehammer, unrealistic portrayals of human beings, an absence of comedy, and a lack of pacing that prevents the episode from being interesting in any possible way. You know what? How do the season premieres all stack up? Let's see.

Pilot (Best one)
High School: Part One
High School: Part Two

Okay, so that seems fair. I really need to put this in perspective because you guys will never understand how much I hate "Gravity" until I give it a formal review. I hated it from the night it first aired, and have never bothered to watch it since then. It has to be in the bottom three of the series at this point, but that review will come when it comes. Part two reminded me of that episode in some ways, and while it was a little better, that means absolutely nothing to me. Let's dig in.

Also, spoiler alert: Angry Mike is here today, and he didn't have a good time watching this. 

The first act was actually pretty decent and gave me hope that this episode was going to be an improvement. But I had hope, and when it comes to this show, hope is irrational. This is the one thing that never seems to escape me about GMW: It starts off really strong with the opening scene or the first act, then everything just falls apart because the writers just couldn't handle the pressure. That has to be a rule of thumb at this point. So anyway, the episode was cruising through during the first act. The cold open was really entertaining and it was interesting to see the characters deal with their surroundings without Riley and Maya. They have been involved with these kids for so long that the scene at the coffee shop actually intrigued me. Lucas and Farkle knew they wanted to come back to the girls, but felt guilty about leaving in the first place. That's another thing about this scene: Zay and Smackle just thought it would be easy to admit to Riley and Maya that they couldn't handle things but couldn't have anticipated how they would feel about being left behind. I could use more scenes like that. 

So of course, Riley and Maya talk about their situation at the bay window and Cory tells them they have guests. No, don't bring out Angry Mike. Nobody likes Mike when he's angry. Don't unleash the beast with one of the worst scenes in the history of the series. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.....


Well, that was liberating. Sorry, I'm just sick and tired of this show's constant idealism. Anyway, Riley and Maya realize that in order to conquer high school, they have to stick with the rest of the group, and end up telling them so. There's also this scene in Cory's class where they learn about patriotism and whatnot and how they are no longer kings, but patriots. At this point, it ended up becoming a chore to watch this episode because the same point was repeated nine times over. Lucas and Zay realized that there are going to be people bigger and stronger than them, so trying to join a football team full of seniors probably won't work when they're freshmen. Farkle and Smackle realized that there will be people smarter than them because in high school, the expectations are a little higher (no pun intended) and as freshmen, they are expected to face competition. Then the stalker seniors come confront the kids in the hallway, talk about building a legacy, and hopefully, they never appear on this show ever again. Well, Ashley Argota is always welcome in another capacity. And that's our episode.

You know, last year, after watching "Gravity," I thought to myself that this show is in serious trouble and has to get better. I didn't expect the next couple of episodes to have so much likability, so much to chew on and laugh at and appreciate. Suddenly, it felt like Girl Meets World was on the verge of having a great season. Fast forward a year later and that ended up blowing up in all of our faces. It's at this point that I really don't understand why this show refuses to get better, to maintain any kind of consistency, to take full advantage of its potential and become a show genuinely entertaining to watch. The kids are in high school now but as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. As far as I'm concerned, these characters live in a world where they learn this deeply philosophical and groundbreaking stuff but nothing ever happens to them. Everything is wrapped up for them so they never have anything to truly worry about. 

If GMW didn't take itself so seriously or have this overly smug attitude about its quality, I wouldn't have a problem with some of these episodes. But you can tell that these writers genuinely think they are doing God's work. You can tell Michael Jacobs sees the show as truly carrying on the legacy of Boy Meets World and is this super deep, super intelligent, perfect show that captures the truth about life. But it's not and it never has been. These kids aren't dealing with their problems. Everything gets fixed for them no matter what. Maya comes from a broken home, but we only care when it's brought up every other episode. Riley was getting bullied to the point where she lashed out at her best friend and broke down in tears because she felt powerless. We're never going to hear about that again. The seniors at a New York City public high school put kids in a hole because they have this odd obsession with teaching them that they should stick together. Wait, but they were going to stick together until you guys came in, so you basically created the problem yourselves and acted like you had planned it all along. What? No teenagers act like this.

I'm just a reviewer here outside of the target audience. I know everything these writers are trying to pull, but the kids don't. They're going to take this show's lessons and think the world is some magical, fuzzy place where they never have to worry about any major problems and evil does not exist. Who is Michael Jacobs writing for? This isn't a Disney Channel show, this is a freaking PBS Kids show. Which is a shame because Arthur and Martha Speaks could probably handle these kinds of situations with more sophistication. This episode represents GMW's main problem: It refuses to grow, take risks, or try new things. This show will continue to present messages as watered-down as possible, portray everybody as kind people with good intentions, and make everything as dramatic and tedious as possible. How are any of these characters meeting the world when the world is constantly shielded from them? There are a lot more episodes left, but overall, this season premiere just cast a dark shadow that GMW will probably never be able to get rid of.

Episode Grade: C-/D+
Episode MVP: Peyton Meyer and Amir Mitchell-Townes. I think they both deserve this award. I barely even touched it on part one, but Lucas and Zay really have the best chemistry out of anybody in the sextet. They're genuinely funny, they play off of each other well, and they come off as natural best friends who care about each other. If anything, these two might be the reason these group interactions become a highlight. Farkle and Smackle need more screen time and Riley and Maya? Enough of them, I want more Lucas and Zay.

-So on June 24 (my graduation day), the 100th Disney Channel Original Movie airs for the first time. Adventures in Babysitting comes our way as a remake of the original one from 1987, which is an interesting choice for your 100th movie. Sabrina Carpenter is starring alongside Sofia Carson and I'm not exactly sure if I would watch it, much less review it. Either way, Sofia was looking really good in the previews I saw. Disney Channel has some bombshells for actresses, but you already knew that.

-The opening scene was full of so much potential, it's not even funny. Riley and Maya were genuinely fun to watch as they sat in the hole and realized how unsophisticated they are compared to the high school kids. I especially liked Riley's assessment of Zay using comedy to hide his inner turmoil. Lucas and Zay were great of course, but the real stars were the football players. I loved their fake excitement, screaming like animals in the locker room and knocking things down.

-Farkle and Smackle's scene of realizing they're not the smartest kids in school didn't work for me. I mean, I know what they were trying to do and it got a chuckle out of me but it just fell flat. I noticed something in this episode, however. Lucas and Zay just walked into the locker room and demanded to be on the football team, or at least try out. Farkle and Smackle just wanted to be among the school's top scientists because they believed they deserved to be. See, the kids are just demanding things without having to earn them. If this two-part episode started out with the kids more arrogant and sure of themselves, just expecting to take over the school, then it would make sense for the seniors to teach them their lesson. Just a theory.

-I can't believe I'm saying this, and it might just be because of how poorly the main plot was written, but Auggie and Ava actually had the less annoying story. Like, they were actually fun to watch. You contrast that high school hogwash with this and it's like two different shows for two different age groups. Either way, it was good. I like how Ava is starting to lose more of her arrogant, entitled personality in the event of her parents divorcing. I'm curious as to how her and Auggie work together in future episodes.

-Riley and Maya barely have a reaction to the seniors coming into Riley's room. I don't know about anyone else, but this felt legitimately creepy and unrealistic to me. I don't care what they were trying to teach, this is just out of some bizarre parallel universe now. The reaction isn't, "Why do you guys keep following us around like a bunch of child molesters?" The reaction isn't, "How did you even get my address?" The reaction isn't, "Why don't you weirdos leave us alone and start acting like actual teenagers?" It's just a casual "What are you doing here?" Maybe Cory had something to do with this, but it's never brought up or even hinted at so I have no idea why any of this is happening. I would seriously kick these guys out of my room if I was Riley or Maya, or call in Cory and Topanga or some kind of hotline if they tried touching me. Don't act like this didn't occur to you, these seniors came looking for some new freshman meat.

-Marley's back. I don't like Marley. Marley gives me anxiety. The first line out of her mouth is another meta statement, questioning why Cory doesn't just teach the class the basic stuff instead of trying to wrap some odd lesson behind it. I hear some people like this character and I honestly don't know why. She just regurgitates everything that the online crowd has said about GMW since season one, and the show has made fun of these things themselves, so she has no purpose for existing. It's just an excuse for the writers to make more meta jokes about how odd their show is sometimes, but they really have no plans to change anything about it. At least Marley comes around to Cory's teaching methods in the end, so I never have to see her again. Right?

-Mr. Feeny wasn't in this episode or the previous one. Michael Jacobs wanted to have Feeny in every season premiere but at William Daniels' age, I guess having him appear just can't work every single time. There's a really sweet moment where we see that Cory has put up Feeny's "Dream. Try. Do good." quote from the BMW series finale on the wall of the classroom above the board. It's like the one cherry-centered chocolate in a box of nut clusters that this episode was.

-"We were kings, Matthews." WE GET IT, YOU ALREADY POINTED THAT OUT 100 TIMES BY NOW. THE KIDS YOU WRITE THIS SHOW FOR AREN'T THAT STUPID, THEY CAN PICK UP ON SUBTLE MESSAGES TOO. And once again, why is it Maya that gets this kind of line?

-Everybody strap yourselves in, because season three is looking to be one wild ride.

For the record Angry Mike is my favorite kind of Mike. It's why I hired you! Well, not really. Plus, I didn't really "hire" you per se given that I have no money.

Anyway, here we are already at the seven minute mark and unlike Part 1 I have a lot less to say, which I'm sure is a relief both for my typing fingers and the eight of you who are probably sick and tired of my 3,000-word rant-essays. But the opening does illustrate how laughably pointless the hole is if Maya is free to wander about the downstairs at least - but at the same time the episode seems to be backtracking a little bit by pointing out it's not really a hole they're stuck in, just that they aren't allowed upstairs. Maya's sweet, and Riley does her scary anger voice thing at the mention of Lucas, and I kind of wish Rowan did more of that instead of her best Keanu Reeves as a wooden plank impression for Invisible Sister. 

Actually, they spend this whole scene just looking at people walk by and making up stories about them based entirely on their footwear, and it strikes me as a really sorely missed opportunity - it really reminds me of the "people-watching" scene in Girl Meets Money, an episode I really liked and the people-watching scene being one of my favorites from that, in fact. I'd really like for them to make it a semi-regular thing - Riley and Maya can watch people's feet go by from The Hole at the start of episodes and make up stories that would somehow relate to the rest of the episode. Of course, that would be an example of actual scriptwriting talent and as we've seen the scriptwriting for the GMW team is just all over the friggin' place.

As for Lucas and Zay, their part is entirely pre-occupied with wanting to be Bella and the Bulldogs instead. Also, is it just me or did Amir Toombs just grow an extra foot in between episodes, which in the context of this episode would be literally overnight and in the context of the filming schedule should be about a week?

Ah, the credits - again, it just feels more natural than the old "clip 'em all" type of the previous two seasons. It much better fits the tone not only of what the show is aiming for, but the theme song itself. One thing I forgot to mention in Part 1 is how people noted it was an obvious homage to Boy Meets World's later seasons, well before the episode actually aired - and I can see some of the general homage-iness but really they made GMW's intro here it's own thing. They did right by that. It's great. It's definitely in my top five if not top three Disney Channel live-action show intros of all time, with Liv and Maddie's, Best Friends Whenever's, Sonny With a Chance's, Austin & Ally's and even Good Luck Charlie's (the only one of the "clip 'em up" type that really makes it there, thanks to its more or less literal framing device). 

Meanwhile - yeah, here's the thing about The Hole. I get the railings and stuff are supposed to be symbolic of a prison but...I think The Hole could actually be Abigail Adams' The Bay Window. Here me out on it - well, you actually already did a few paragraphs ago. It just seems like a very natural spot to "people-watch." Plus, let's face it, a lot of the stuff that goes on at The Bay Window is about what keeps Riley and Maya anxious all the time, about relationships, school and life - those metaphorical prison bars again. I don't think it's a bad metaphor or symbol (or motif to be technical) to symbolize that anxiety as they do their people-watching and The Bay Window thing. Not only that but from even a composition standpoint the floor and the bars actually help frame Rowan and Sabs very nicely.

Farkle and Smackle don't seem to be doing too bad for themselves despite divorcing themselves of Miley - in fact while they act like a bad impression of marrying science and learning terms with Fresh Prince of Bel Air's glory days, they certainly come off better than the upperclassmen equivalent of themselves, who act like they're in the middle of an audition for the part of Borg drones in a Star Trek episode. I really do mean that, BTW, here, let me type word-for-word their opening dialogue:

Male Borg High School Drone: We are members of the Abigail Adams Society for Intellectual Advancement.

Female Borg High School Drone: How may we be of service?

I'm serious, it sounds like they were told to use a Speak n' Spell for an acting coach.

...aaaand they're taking the whole Borg Drone thing waaaaaay too far when they reveal Male High School Drone quite literally cloned himself. Yeah, let's not go there. Also, their shot composition totally gives it away that they're not using twins, just the one actor very poorly photoshopped. C'mon guys, you gotta step up your game. You know there's another show on this network that does this literally every single episode, right?

And there I go again reminding myself that a far better show exists.

Oh, I just noticed that Hot Ashley/Nikki and Blonde Vaklyrie/Francesca are watching in the background.

...and...and Female High School drone is a friggin' robot? Yeah, uh, Mike Nelson is it? Guy who wrote this episode? Yeah, lay off the Trek for a while.

Oh, hey look, they even continue the B-plot which I guess deserves credit in of itself. As we learned from Danger & Thunder the B-plot of these two parters often end up being just throw-away and in many cases not even contiguous. Anyway Auggie has an imaginary dog, something that absolutely wasn't annoying when they gave Zuri an imaginary mermaid over on Jessie. I'll give credit where credit's due though, Ava really did sell that being pulled by an invisible dog scene.

I thought the whole "Farkle and Smackle taking refuge among 'intellectual inferiors'" thing was thoroughly squashed back in Season 2, if not Season 1. I thought that was the whole point of their character evolution. Oh well, what do I know?! But hey, as dumb as it sounds I like Lucas and Zay's reaction to finding physical inferiors. It just seems...typical high school boy-realistic.

And then Lucas lays down some actual maturity and foresight by admitting that not only did he foresee kids being bigger than him (you know, because he's coming in with the youngest class) and that high school might be challenging (you know, because it's high school) but that the thing he's worried about is the same thing Riley's worried about, their friendships drifting apart. Instead of Riley however, who wants to take over things and use power to prevent that from happening, Lucas is just...resigned. He doesn't know what to do. Again, this is actually pretty damn realistic. Lucas has been maybe the only realistic character in this whole ordeal.

"They were massacred." "Oh, and then they walked upstairs?" Not only is that the most valuable thing to come from the classroom scene but it might just win dialogue exchange of the episode. When Farkle and Smackle gave their duet, it really did sound like two school nerds reciting facts because they're school nerds who like earning As - but again with credit where credit's due, Lucas and Zay's duet really do sound like two guys who want to talk about the Alamo because they're proud to be Texans.

There's also a lot of truth behind what Cory's saying about Kings eventually falling, strongmen eventually running afoul of stronger men, and patriots rising or falling on the strength of their cause. Freshmen become Seniors, Seniors gradate, Seniors become Freshmen again. I wish that was a lesson they better emphasized up to this point.

But that's a teacher's speech, not something actual kids would say to other actual kids. In this completely ridiculous scene where the seniors come friggin' visit Riley and Maya at The Bay Window it feels like Cory stole some of that Borg technology from Male and Female High School Drones and hijacked their minds to speak typical Cory Life Lessons (TM) at Riley and Maya. Again, this feels like what the college students in Meets Tater Tot were trying to do - something the episode wanted us to vilify them over, for some reason? Ok whatever. 

Also, is the show trying to tell us that Big Lucas/Thor is banging Hot Ashley/Nikki and Blonde Valkyrie/Francesca at the same time? I'm pretty damn sure that's what the episode is trying to say. I'm pretty sure that's what Luke Benward's facial expression is trying to say. I'm pretty sure that's what Row's and Sabs' facial expressions are all excited about before she realized what a relationship "triangle" actually entails in the classic soap opera sense. Ewww. Ewww. Ewwww.

Ok, after pulling my mind out of the gutter and not trying to over-read people's facial expressions, it's pretty clear that this is all one big set-up for the Meets Triangle trilogy. Jacobs and crew seem very obsessed with this Triangle - while in the same damn breath categorically denying it. Whatever, man.

Back in Auggie-as-allegory-for-the-A-plot world, I'm actually touched by he and Ava. Yeah I'm a sap like that.

There's only two scenes left worth talking about, which I'll address below with grade assignment.

Episode Grade: C+. I seemed to like it a little more than Christian and Sean over at GMW Reviewed or Mike with the green text above, but that doesn't make this episode any less confusing or moreover just, again, all over the friggin' place. And this is after the benefit of first having seen both these episodes back-to-back (yay combination of procrastination and wanting to be an asshole by denying recorded DVR viewership within the time period Nielsen Corporation cares about!) I don't necessarily agree that this could've been condensed into a single half-hour (though I don't disagree with it either) but I think it was a major mistake splitting them up, even if it was only over the course of three days. They should've just aired this as a single hour-long contiguous special episode (it would've been GMW's first - and the way things are looking I'm wondering if it would ever get an actual hour-long special). 

It also gets a special plus-modifier merit because I was actually touched by Cory's final classroom scene, especially with Maya's mini-speech of wanting to stick with Riley no matter what. It almost loses that plus-modifier with the final bullshit scene with Big Lucas/Thor, Hot Ashley/Nikki and Blonde Valkyrie/Francesca.

Episode MVP: Yup, gonna have to agree with Mike on this one. The sextet may not have been able to own high school just yet, but Peyton and Amir owned Part 2.

Extra Thoughts:

 - I'm also with Spongey on this one: heh, sextet.

 - Oh, that reminds me, if you don't see your comment appearing immediately it means I need to give it approval over e-mail. Because it's over e-mail it's probably going to take a while. Just hang tight with your comments. I'll make a special announcement about this as soon as I catch up with Mike's reviews.

 - It looks like Mike and I are in agreement over the wasted potential of the opening scene.

 - Yeah Mike and I are also in agreement with just how much of a beautiful bombshell Sofia Carson is. In fact if you don't mind the chauvinism I'd have to rate Sofia the prettiest Disney Channel starlet in Disney Channel's entire history. Yeah I may or may not have a huge thing for her. Look for more hapless fawning over Sofia and actual content in our Adventures in Babysitting review!

 - And on that note, congratulations on your graduation, Mike! 

 - Based on this two-parter my initial impression of Season 3 is that it basically just wants to be Meets Bay Window and Meets Triangle. The. Whole. Damn. Season.

It's going to be a long season.

- Oh, I forgot to rank the season premieres so far ala Mike. Rather than rank them in order I'll just go ahead and give them grades:

* Girl Meets World/Pilot: C+. It was far from perfect - in fact, in that regard, it admittedly did its job as a pilot perfectly and certainly set the tone for the rest of the series, though probably this way wasn't intended. Perhaps its biggest offense was in how it didn't just tell, it friggin' telegraphed all the punches it had in store and kept insisting how this is Boy Meets World, but with Cory and Topanga's daughter! in the most straightforward, literally-spoken way possible. That's how you write instruction manuals, not television scripts (even for multi-cam kidcoms). Again, as far as pilot's jobs are concerned, it at least certainly set the tone for the rest of the series to come.

* Girl Meets High School, Parts 1/2: C. I...pretty much just spent all of the above plus another review on top of that explaining that C, so there.

* Girl Meets Gravity: A really, big fat F. There have been other Disney Channel season openers that are worse (or at least equally bad) but Meets Gravity certainly takes the cake of the three GMW premieres so far (and the way things are looking there's a good chance this'll be it). It doesn't necessarily commit any different sins than the other two premieres, but it's certainly got a greater number of them, and while it's at it it's doubling-down big time on those sins. It doesn't even pass muster for something out of a freshman high school creative writing course - this is exactly the kind of script I'd expect if Riley Matthews herself from this very episode itself had wrote it. BTW, in case it's not clear that's the exact opposite of a compliment. 

While I'm at it I'll go ahead and mention that Season 2 had the widest disparity of episode quality so far - it's had the absolute best episodes of the series so far, but it's also had the absolute worst. The best episodes are really, really great television and are more than worth watching - seriously, go watch them - but I still feel that the worst episodes more than balance out the quality of the really good ones just enough so that I still feel like sticking by the D-something grade I gave them in our season wrap-up review. I guess if nothing else it's just my way of trying to signal the GMW knucklehead writers to try harder, even though, yeah, I'm absolutely certain they've never even heard of this blog.

- Final P.S. in case it wasn't clear Blonde Valkyrie/Francesca (I didn't catch the actresses' name since unlike Ben or Ashley I don't instantly recognize her from watching way too many Disney and Nick kiddie shows) is also Insanely Hot(TM). Maybe not quite Hunter King-Insanely Hot(TM) but more than close enough for it to not really matter.

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