Certain things define a generation and help us relate to our peers. Chances are, you’re my contemporary if you grew up listening to cassette tapes, rented your favorite VHS movies from Blockbuster, or remember trends like Doc Martens and skater clothes all too well.
And one more thing. If you were a 90’s teenager, your algebra class was much less important to you than whether or not Cory and Topanga were officially a couple. Did you just ask ‘Who’s Topanga?’ Ok, stop reading young’en.
Boys Meets World hit the airwaves in 1993 and became an iconic part of millions of adolescents’ lives. This seven-season show has made its mark in pop culture history and its success has spanned generations, as the children of many original fans began following the characters through the recent Disney Channel spinoff Girl Meets World. It’s hard to believe Cory and Topanga are old enough to have a teen of their own, but it’s true. In fact, 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of Boy Meets World‘s premiere. Now doesn’t that knock your slouch socks off!
This year, New York Comic Con hosted an anniversary celebration of Boy Meets World, and opened the doors of the Javits Center not only to superhero aficionados, but to the many fans of this immensely popular TV series. And I was there for all the festivities.
It was my very first ComicCon, so the entire experience was new and fascinating. And while my attire wasn’t nearly as exciting as many of the CosPlay superfans in attendance, I found the Con-crowd to be just as I expected: colorful, quirky, fun, and accepting.
I zoomed past the expo floor and autograph area and saved that for later. My first stop was the one-day-only panel presentation celebrating Boy Meets World’s 25th. There on the main stage were Ben Savage (Cory), Danielle Fishel (Topanga), and Will Friedle (Eric), ready and waiting to talk to a large audience that somehow felt much smaller as we united in our collective inner-teen excitement.
Being in the audience at this panel was like being at your high school reunion… only way more entertaining and without the cliques. The cast reminisced about days on set, shared inside jokes, and connected with the audience in a way that made us feel like we truly did grow up with the Matthews clan.
We laughed at on-set stories, such as Ben’s love for the show’s craft services which matured into his love for Fiber One cereal during Girl Meets World. (Oh how we’ve aged!) And we learned a lot about the history of this iconic series.
One of the most interesting points the cast shared was how much more popular the show has become over the years, hence their inclusion in the pop-culture-royalty of ComicCon.
“When we were on the air we weren’t that popular,” Friedle stated honestly. “Sabrina the Teenage Witch and other shows had all this press…they were the popular shows and we were the show that just kept going. It wasn’t until the second and third round that people started talking about us. We could leave the set during the sixth or seventh season and we wouldn’t be recognized anywhere.”
Today, however, the show’s stars are easily recognized and perhaps more popular than ever. There are trademark Boy Meets World lines and references that are part of pop culture history (like Eric’s “Feeny Call.”) And today the stars enjoy quite a large following on social media, engaging in infamous debates about the show’s details with loyal fans (including yours truly.) Side yard? Backyard? Ok, let’s not start this again.
Audience members raised some very insightful questions for the trio, who were impressed by them to say the least. “Wow these questions are really great,” joked Savage, whose confusion by the complexity of the audience’s inquiries was a running joke of the event. “I thought it was going to be, like, chocolate or vanilla!” (What can we say, Ben? New Yorkers are smart!)
Some questions were funny and made for hilarious responses, like when one audience member pondered the possible Tinder profiles of characters Cory, Topanga, and Eric. “Topanga’s?,” Danielle Fishel asked, puzzled. “Stuck with this guy forever!” as she pointed to “Cory” and the audience erupted in laughter.
Food also seemed to be a common love among the castmates, and if you follow any of them on social media you know the happiness eating brings them, both on-set and off. When one audience member jokingly asked who could eat more tater tots in one sitting, Will Friedle answered unequivocally, “I can eat more of anything than any person.” Now that’s the whole-slice-of-pizza-in-one-mouthful guy we know and love!
The cast also let us in on the authenticity of their emotional last scene with Mr. Feeny. While filming each scene normally required at least four or five takes to get it right, this scene was different, as the director wrapped the scene — and the entire show — after the very first take, surprising the teary actors.
Savage explained, “When Mr. Feeny said, ‘Class dismissed,’ which still gets me, and then we wrapped, this huge wave of emotion went over me. Like, ‘Wait, wait no, one more take!’ I’ll always remember that moment. It was like someone was closing the door on our childhood… but in a good way. It definitely left an impact.”
Savage, Fishel, and Friedle also shared some serious thoughts about life after Boy Meets World, including growing up, the pressure young people face in the world today, and overcoming adversity.
Danielle discussed the relief she felt after closing a rigorous chapter of her youth, and finding her way once attending college and beginning her Masters. (She had plans to become a psychotherapist, which I loved learning.)
But Will’s journey after Boy Meets World wrapped has generated the most attention and respect.
“My career was going in this direction where I thought I was going to be doing on-camera acting my entire life,” Friedle explained. “What brought me to voice-over was anxiety,” he continued. “I was planning to do more on-camera work, but then I got hit with these anxiety attacks… It got to the point where my anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t audition for on-camera stuff anymore. I was so thankful I had voice-over because I could still perform and act,” Friedle shared.
Danielle Fishel added her perspective of this challenging time in Will’s life. “There were years there when we were really worried about Will,” she revealed. “He wasn’t leaving the house.” But Will’s friends have seen his remarkable progress. “We’re really happy you’re back out there,” Fishel said, adding that Will is a great example of how mental health struggles can be overcome.
Interestingly, Friedle’s voice-over career took off through his mental health challenges. But what is perhaps most remarkable has been his openness in sharing his struggles over the years. Friedle’s fans take to Twitter regularly to seek support and guidance about their own depression and anxiety, and Will’s willingness to help is commendable. He takes the time to answer fans indivually, offering words of encouragement and simple tools and tips to use during trying moments. Most of all, he shares his story without shame, in an effort to erase the stigma often associated with mental illness.
Between the moral support, inside jokes, and favorite foods, one thing that was abundantly clear at this anniversary panel was the strength and sincerity of this cast’s long-time friendship. “We’ve known each other 25 years” was said multiple times by all.
The audience certainly felt the love in the room. We were moved by Friedle’s candor, touched by the closeness of the cast, and learned from the wisdom of the show’s memories. And it seemed that the audience members were not the only ones learning from this inspiring afternoon.
Fishel, who teared up when one 16-year-old audience member thanked her for being a positive role model for her, later took to Instagram to share that seeing the impact Boy Meets World has on both old and new fans was like “a form of therapy I didn’t know I needed.”
Meeting the cast later was the icing on the 25th anniversary cake! I mean, Will Friedle and my son took a selfie with my phone and both did the trademark Eric eyebrow. Saving it forever.
So are Will, Danielle, and Ben anything like their characters? I noticed some similarities.
Ben has a gentle, regular-guy awkwardness that reminds you of lovable Cory. Danielle shares some of Topanga’s confidence (and is quite petite!) And Will… he’s whip-smart, so in that respect quite the opposite of Eric. But like Eric, he is as funny as he is on screen, and incredibly warm, kind, and genuine… traits you don’t always expect in someone who has spent most of his life in the entertainment business.
Attending this anniversary celebration was such a treat. And I consider those of us who grew up with Boy Meets World quite lucky. It’s been 25 years of laughter, love, and life lessons. So what’s the most important one?
Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do Good.
Thanks, Mr. Feeny.