Much like the previous season, "Boy Meets World: The Complete Fifth Season" is no place for new viewers to start. It's now a season that has established it's characters and recurring storylines and also firmly planted it's feat on the line between classic sitcom and absurdist farce. It's a significant turning point in the series as it marks the end of Cory (Ben Savage), Topanga (Danielle Fishel), and Shawn's (Rider Strong) journey through high school, culminating in the very strong season finale, aptly titled "Graduation." However, with that graduation, the series would take the risky move of bringing our characters to college and the results in the following two seasons would be mixed. Fortunately, season five gives us one last hurrah with the gang at John Adams High; unfortunately some of those hijinks would turn out to be cringe worthy at best, and of course, there's the issue of Cory's older brother, Eric (Will Friedle), but first the good.
As always, relationships are a big issue in the lives of our heroes and the romance between Cory and Topanga follows some familiar paths, gradually showing signs of mediocrity from a storytelling standpoint. As graduation looms though, the writers were able to introduce some television staples as the threat of our two idealistic graduates being split apart is toyed with. Along the way we get two near breakups, one as Cory gets caught up in the classic "stayed up all night and talked with a member of the opposite sex" plot device, while on a weekend vacation, while Topanga meets the tried and true, "charming intellectual" later in the season, at, you guessed it, a museum. The tension is charmingly handled, even though we know any real change in the course of our heroes' lives is only short lived. The on-screen chemistry between Savage and Fishel is in all honesty solid and the charisma of the entire cast is one of the real reasons "Boy Meets World" probably holds a shinier place in the memories of viewers, because some of the more negative aspects of the show would have been deal breakers with a lesser group.
New to the picture though is a long-term love interest for Shawn, in the form of the confident and motivated, Angela (Trina McGee). To be honest, the series' heavy focus on Shawn does get heavy handed at times and the character often enters an unlikable territory with his actions and tendencies to crap on his friends. Angela however, is a breath of fresh air, and although their relationship treads the same ground that Cory and Topanga's did in seasons past, it does eliminate the regular tease of Shawn making a play for Topanga, a plot threat that was never credible and just plain mean spirited. Shawn's clingy tendencies do remain and his need for a family is just as prevalent as seasons past. While there are a few moments of conflict with Cory that aren't too far removed from Cory's conflicts with Topanga (i.e. college selection), the writers chose to complicate Shawn's life further by bringing in a long lost half-brother, Jack (Matthew Lawrence).
Compared to his chronically annoying brother Joey, Matthew Lawrence isn't a terrible presence on the show, but his character is the epitome of contrived an unnecessary. Fulfilling a two-fold role of providing Shawn a blood relative to connect to and comedic foil for Eric, as the two end up roommates together, there are times when his appearances will be met with genuine interest and other times, complete disdain. The disdain is entirely connected to his unfortunate pairing with the now insufferable Eric. The not so subtle portrayal of Eric as an idiot savant continues and now viewers aren't just subjected to the occasional Eric appearance as he crosses paths with Cory or his parents, but entire episodes are dedicated to his new life away from the house for the first time. More often than not, when Eric isn't doing something incredibly stupid he ends up getting shoehorned in episodes for no good reason. Granted, in seasons six and seven with the addition of a female roommate, Eric and Jack's whole life become a cheap "Three's Company" knock-off, but that doesn't retroactively make his very average to below average storylines any more forgivable.
The buffoonery sadly wasn't contained to Eric, and "Boy Meets World" crosses into pure farce territory several times. The early season episode that was an obvious cross over with "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" is best skipped entirely, bringing time travel/dream sequence journey to WWII into the show, for one of the most embarrassing outings in the entire series run. "And Then There Was Shawn" is often cited as a fan favorite, but the episode's tribute to slasher films, complete with a guest spot by Jennifer Love Hewitt, was great for the time, but terribly dated now. When done right, a one-off fantasy spoof works on a sitcom; "Roseanne's" spoofs of "Gilligan's Island" and a tribute to the nuclear families of the 50s are brilliant pieces of comedy and satire, but the key there was the subjects tackled were 20-40 years old at the time. The slasher movie while timely in '98 has just not had the staying power, 13 years later and inevitably, the episode isn't as "cool" as it was on release.
Compared to the previous season, the eased back focus on Shawn's home life is a definite plus, and the main trio's adventures over the course of the season are generally enjoyable. The show could have easily ended with the graduation, and in hindsight, probably should have; at the very least, Mr. Feeny (who was a consistent highlight in his appearances this season, as always) should have never showed up conveniently as the dean of the college the trio would attend. Season five ends up being the last strong writing of Cory and Topanga, however the introduction of Jack, leading to a heavier focus on Eric brings the overall quality of these 24 episodes down quite a bit, and the heavy push to the background of Eric and Cory's parents also take a bit of wind from the sails. Still this release is a good season, but like the previous, nowhere near the show at its early pinnacle.
The 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer is on par with the last two seasons, featuring an interlaced transfer, on par with a cable broadcast, lacking sharp detail in the image. Color levels are also a little more balanced, but often find themselves on the warm side.
The 2.0 English audio track is a serviceable, front loaded with a little bit of life. Fortunately, all dialogue is crisp, clear, and distortion free. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are included.
Like season four, season five of "Boy Meets World" is for the dedicated fans. It is most definitely the crossroads for the casual and hardcore fan, with the former likely ending their collection here. After one year of middle school and four years of high school, it was obviously time that Cory, Topanga, and Shawn had to move on, the only question was, would viewers get to follow them. Understand that this season may infuriate you at some points, but most of the time you'll get solid, enjoyable comedy generated by a great cast. From a fan's point of view, if you've come this far, you might as well pick this one up. Recommended.