'Girl Meets World': extra ham in next-gen sitcom

Ready to feel old? Remember Cory and Topanga, the cute schoolkid characters from the long-running set-in-Philadelphia sitcom Boy Meets World?

Well, they're all grown up (and still played by Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel), with kids of their own. In fact, their adolescent daughter Riley (Rowan Blanchard) has her own sitcom, Girl Meets World, debuting on the Disney Channel on Friday night at 9:45. The show's regularly scheduled time will be Fridays at 8:30 p.m.

It's about the trials and triumphs of the seventh grade. Just goes to prove: the more things change, the more you need a laugh track.

Living in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, Riley is testing her independence for the first time. Luckily, she has a bestie, Maya (Bucks County native Sabrina Carpenter), to show her the ropes - and the subway.

Unfortunately, Riley also has her father for a teacher at John Quincy Adams Middle School. (It's a tip of the hat to the original show's high school, John Adams).

What Cory is teaching remains a mystery. Is it history? Civics? He's a folksy instructor without portfolio, his daily sermon conveniently tailored to whatever tiny personal crisis Riley is going through in that episode.

Girl Meets World is hammier than a Smithfield Foods factory. And Savage is the primary pork purveyor. He seems to think that playing a sitcom dad means talking much louder and slower and putting your face through constant calisthenics. His performance is rather crazily vaudevillian.

The nostalgia angle doesn't hold up real well. Topanga is now a lawyer and the primary caregiver to the couple's painfully precious younger son, Auggie (August Maturo). That effectively means Fishel gets about three lines per show.

Among the young cast, Blanchard has a way with the more emphatic and physical comedy, but seems timorous in the more emotional moments.

Carpenter steals the show, maybe because she has two roles to work with. There's Maya the fearless and fiery rebel. And then there's Maya, the voice of caution and reason. All too often she plays both in the same script, which is confusing. But Carpenter invests each with winning energy.

Lucas (Peyton Mayer), a Texas transplant, is the hunk of the seventh grade. And Farkle Minkus (Corey Fogelmanis) is the class buffoon. (His name even sounds like Urkel.)

Girl Meets World has been dropping sitcom legends - like Jackée and Cloris Leachman - into early episodes as cameos. Presumably all the troupers from Boy Meets World eventually will show up in this spinoff.

In my crystal cathode, I foresee a Thanksgiving episode at the Matthews' apartment featuring Cory's parents (William Russ and Betsy Randle) and his older brother (Will Friedle). But not Topanga's family. That girl had more mothers than a Danielle Steel heroine.

The character I most look foward to seeing revived in a future episode is good old Mr. Feeny (TV Hall of Famer William Daniels), Cory's sagacious teacher and mentor. He had a firm but fair answer for all of life's dilemmas.

Feeny is the reason I always admired Boy Meets World. It was the only TV sitcom in history to treat the teaching profession with respect and honor.

Girl Meets World? Not so much. Seeing Cory clown around in front of a classroom like a Last Comic Standing reject just doesn't inspire the same confidence, for some reason.

If nothing else, this show may establish a new TV genre: Next Gen comedies. Imagine a snooty New York private school attended by the precocious and quirkily neurotic kids of Monica, Chandler, Rachel, Ross, and the rest of the Friends crew. Or the comic adventures of the daughter of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a girl only too happy to embrace her magical heritage - with disastrous results.

Or an orphanage where the children learn over the course of a season that they were all abandoned by Zach, Screech, Kelly, or one of the other Saved by the Bell brats.

These ideas practically write themselves. Which in Los Angeles is good enough to get you a 13-episode commitment.



Girl Meets World

9:45 p.m. Friday on the Disney Channel