There’s something heartwarming about old television series. I think the exact era would depend on the generation, but those “shows we grew up with” just hold a special place in our memories.
I spent about two and a half weeks during the past month rewatching “Boy Meets World.” All seven seasons. In less than three weeks. I should probably be ashamed of that fact, but I’m not.
Three things really stuck out at me following the series finale (although I actually thought of them throughout my watching): 1. Old TV shows cared much more about having some sort of moral lesson than new TV shows, 2. It’s amazing how much the writers abandoned any attempt at continuity throughout the series and 3. Topanga is a really weird name.
I tend to notice any sort of continuity issue in shows, and it’s particularly noticeable now that I’m used to shows like “How I Met Your Mother” that focus on continuity almost more than anything else. And the myriad inconsistencies in BMW lead to great conversation topics among fellow kids of the ‘90s (What happened to Shawn’s sister and random trailer park brother, and what happened to Topanga’s sister? Why did Morgan disappear for the first third of Season 3 and come back from “the longest timeout of her life” as an entirely different person? Why did Topanga have three dads and two moms? Whatever happened to Mr. Turner after that motorcycle accident? Was Mr. Feeny some sort of super-benevolent stalker?)
Beyond all of those questions that demand an answer – and believe me, there are many more – I actually found the series’ absolute disregard for continuity kind of encouraging as I marathoned episode after episode.
There’s a certain discontinuity in life that we cannot avoid. We move around, work different jobs and join different groups of friends. Even without seemingly major life-shattering events, we find that over the course of several years we lose a lot of the things that played a role in earlier times.
Desperately clinging to things in the past becomes a growing burden the longer we live. You can see this in the progression of HIMYM, where stories have to become increasingly intricate to consistently build on the world created by past episodes. Occasionally things slip (like Barney never learning to drive and then spending an episode constantly speeding in an effort to talk his way out of a ticket), but what more can we really expect?
Boy Meets World focused on a few vital relationships and let the rest take care of itself as the writers tried to tell a story. They never let forgotten (or insanely-quickly-growing, in the case of little brother Joshua in the series finale) siblings get in the way of the point of the show.
Even more remarkable, the writers never allowed drastic character shifts to get in the way of growth. Topanga begins as a crazed hippie girl who doesn’t seem to care about grades or traditional academia in the least and transforms into a nerdy overachiever who succeeds at everything and is, at least somewhat, materially focused. Shawn goes from a troublemaking slacker with little going for him into a sensitive poetry-loving writer. Eric goes from a slightly aloof popular guy who is fairly good with women to Plays-With-Squirrels, a hermit who marries a moose and writes his manifesto.
But a few nights ago I was talking with one of my friends about how much we’ve changed since high school and even college. I still find it somewhat remarkable that all my friends down here think I’m super laid back and practically incapable of losing my grip and snapping at someone. I’m sure my mother would very quickly set the record straight on that one.
Through it all, we have those key relationships in our lives that grow as we grow and change as we change. Yet they always remain. And while the scenarios and experiences of the characters on the show may be a little too cliché at times, I honestly believe every situation in our lives has the potential to teach us something.
I’ve always loved the words Eric/Mr. Squirrels writes in his manifesto during the final season. His book consists of thousands of blank pages and one line of wisdom: “Lose one friend, lose all friends, lose yourself.” Ironically, Eric’s best friend from the early seasons, Jason, is one of numerous characters who pulls a disappearing act from the series, never to be mentioned again. Perhaps that’s the point when Eric transforms from a fairly normal teenager into, well, Eric?
Anyway, my life will likely never have the sage leader Mr. Feeny ready to advise me on all matters. And the issues I encounter will rarely be resolved in 30 minutes (or 60 in the rare cases of to-be-continued). But I do have a support system like Corey, helping me as I grow and meet the world or become acquainted with the universe.
The one part that still sticks out as just over-the-top unrealistic? Topanga is a really weird name.