RELEASE NOTES: This DVD release of "Boy Meets World" from Lionsgate as well as seasons two and three are identical to the releases from Disney in the early 2000s. Disney chose to discontinue release of the series, despite having season four ready for release. Lionsgate has acquired the rights to the series and has re-released the long, out-of-print initial three seasons and intends to work on new releases starting in 2011.
I can't say anyone would have envied Ben Savage in the fall of 1993, despite the fact at age 13 he was set to star in brand new show on ABC, entitled "Boy Meets World." Why you ask? Simple, the show revolved around Cory Matthews (Savage) and his friend Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong) as they entered sixth grade; it was also a show arriving months after a show staring Savage's older brother Fred, which began in a very similar fashion. That show, of course, was what I'd easily say is one of the five greatest dramedies to ever grace American television, "The Wonder Years." Unfortunately, for myself, I let the surface appearance of this new show cloud my judgment and ignored it for years, before finally catching it in syndication. I realized I had made a huge mistake before and robbed myself of a fun and very different series.
"Boy Meets World" doesn't try to be "The Wonder Years" at all; in fact, it goes in the complete opposite spectrum and for its first season is a fairly humdrum, comedy with a lot of charm and just a few instances of serious drama, but never anything on the level explored in the other famed series. With the elephant in the room addressed, I will say, "Boy Meets World" doesn't have the greatest freshmen season and is the most radically different of all seven in terms of tone and characterization. As the show progressed over the years, it did evolve and in its final two seasons, focusing on Cory's college experience, I would argue the show changed tone dramatically, but nothing as great as the change between seasons one and two.
The first season, consisting of 22, 23-minute episodes, plays things safely, focusing firstly on Cory and Shawn's adventures and misadventures in middle school under the careful eye of wizened teacher and Cory's next door neighbor, George Feeny, played pitch perfect form minute one by William Daniels, whose presence on the show probably helped it through some of the rougher patches as it found its freshman footing. Mr. Feeny, like many clichéd sitcom teachers is a strict, no-nonsense guy who seemingly serves the one purpose of imparting clichéd facts upon our characters and serving as a foil for hijinks that naturally ensue. Refreshingly though, Cory, who also assumes Feeny serves this purpose, comes to find out Feeny is there to help him, Shawn, and their other classmates, including Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel) and Stewart Minkus (Lee Daniels) lessons in empathy and honesty, skills far more valuable in the long run. As the season progresses and Cory interacts more with Feeny on a neighborly basis, the seeds for a series spanning student/mentor relationship between Cory and Feeny are planted and nurtured.
However, as good as any plot involving Feeny is; especially in the season finale, where Mr. Feeny's health is in jeopardy and Cory begins to think of how much he would miss his sometimes adversary, should he pass away; some other plots bring out the standard sitcom clichés immediately. The episode where Shawn accidentally destroys a mailbox and runs away from home feels worn out from the get go, with the eventual, obvious resolution just over the horizon. Misunderstandings also play a major role in some episodes, ranging from Cory thinking his parents will get a divorce (how many times have we heard that one), to Cory feeling his family is embarrassed of his sub par sports skills. The latter episode would have been alright, if we hadn't seen his family's side of the story prior to the sappy conclusion, complete with "wrap up" music and hugs that would make Danny Tanner proud. Fortunately, the supporting cast is always earnest in their attempts to make the occasionally rusty scripts work and Cory's family feels like a real family.
His parents, Alan (the underrated William Russ) and Amy (Betsy Randle), along with older brother Eric (Will Friedle), who actually was a more believable character in the early seasons before being turned into an idiot savant, and younger sister, Morgan. Russ and Randle in particular have a natural chemistry and come off as two people in love with each other and proud of the family they have created. Two episodes in particular highlight the great father/son relationship between Cory and Alan and provide some of the season's more serious themes including unemployment and the sentimental value of a gift versus its material worth. Naturally, the issues are solved at the end of twenty minutes, but this was a show intended for younger viewers to enjoy as well as adults, so some things can be forgiven.
Last but not least, Cory's friends must be given mention. Initially, only Shawn is really developed as an important friend in Cory's life, with hints of a poor home life and limited income, he is in many ways Cory's opposite. In later seasons, his rebellious nature and broken family become focal points that ends up being overplayed and hurt the series ever so slightly. Topanga Lawrence, however, quickly turns from a joke character to Cory's first love interest; however, she's written as an over-the-top product of hippie parents and her numerous quirks really scream of a character who is nothing more than shallow sitcom façade. The creators did a literal makeover on the character by season two and her quirky past was all but a distant memory as she became an integral part to the series and Cory's life. Unfortunately for Lee Daniels (who most recently popped up as the first victim in David Fincher's "Zodiac"), this was his first and last season on the show (save for a brief cameo, midway through); his sickeningly artificial, cornball nerd portrayal of Stewart Minkus just didn't fit in here and his presence quickly began to derail scene. He is perhaps, the biggest factor from season one, I was glad to see go.
The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer is mediocre at best. Obviously an interlaced transfer, it's on par with a cable broadcast, lacking any real detail in the image and sporting some iffy color levels that feel a tad washed out. It's doesn't detract from the enjoyability of the program, but makes the series feel a bit more dated than it actually is.
The 2.0 English audio track is a serviceable but flat affair, lacking any real life, which I found more than a bit shocking. Fortunately, all dialogue is crisp, clear, and distortion free. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are included.
The extras on this initial season consist of three commentaries with Ben Savage, Rider Strong, Danielle Fishel, Will Friedle, and creator Michael Jacobs. Obviously recorded as adults, they are informative but all too brief listens. Additionally, an episode from season four, "Hair Today, Goon Tomorrow" is included and features a commentary with the same participants.
While far from the best season in "Boy Meets World's" seven year run, it is an essential piece for any fan of the show. What it lacks in polish and a more serious tone, it makes up for in heart and pure fun. Even the most dull episode of this season, still put a smile on my face and elicited at lest a chuckle. While the technical presentation is a bit disappointing and I wish there were more commentaries, I'm glad to see "Boy Meets World" back in-print and value priced. If you already own the previous release, your only reason to upgrade is for a slimmer case. If you were like me and a fan of the show that never bothered to buy due to Disney killing future releases, show Lionsgate you care about the show and pick this first entry up. For everyone else, just know, this isn't "Wonder Years 2.0" and it never tried to be. It's a great little sitcom (I wouldn't call it a dramedy this early on, it's still very light in tone for the most part) and one of those shows they just don't make anymore. Recommended.