Episode 6: “Girl Meets Popular”
As Riley finds popularity with the smart kids in class, she transforms into what she thinks they would want her to be in order to fit in.
Review (with Spoilers)
I have to admit I have mixed feelings about this episode. For while we finally get to see Topanga working as a lawyer, and the episode makes up for lost time, and Cory talks about cultural appropriation, sadly then the Disney element comes in and ruins things. Be it maintaining the idea that all smart kids are nerdy, socially awkward, scared of girls and off putting, or those from Eastern Europe, specifically Ukraine, all speak broken English and refer to their country of origin as “old country.” Those two stereotypes are the unfortunate piece to a rather well done episode. More details can be found below.
Topic 1: It’s Party Time! – Riley & Maya
With Riley’s desire to be popular, and seeing invitations to a party are being given, she is just giddy about the idea of going to a boy-girl party. Though with her thinking of herself as someone not popular, especially in comparison to Maya, there is a moment in which she fears that Maya and her may split as Maya goes off to be popular and she, well she just stays Riley. Though with her getting a party invitation, and not Maya, she completely abandons those feelings and just asks Maya to be happy for her. And since Maya is a slightly better friend than Riley, she just smiles and does as asked.
Topic 2: Who I Am Inside (Part 1) – Riley
Though when they actually get to the party, we learn it is hosted by Farkle who apparently has many friends. One of which is from Einstein Academy who seems to have a crush on him. But of course he pays her no mind for reasons I don’t get since you think he would be eating up such attention. I digress though, for with Riley finding out she is popular amongst the smart kids, unfortunately called nerds or dweebs, she decides to transform herself into their queen by dressing like a Harajuku Barbie. For, in her mind: why struggle to be popular when she can be the smart kids’ empress. A comment, among many made by Riley, which made me roll my eyes.
But you have to understand that as much as Riley has an enviable life compared to Maya, there are still things Maya has that Riley doesn’t. Like, despite it being fairly inconsistent sometimes, Riley can be a bit shy and awkward as opposed to Maya whose persona has a bit of swag, confidence, and its own charm. Also, as we saw in the first episode, Riley is more comfortable becoming someone else, or adapting to her environment, than being herself. So her becoming this wanna-be queen of the smart kids is in character, but thankfully Cory sets her straight in a surprising manner, with help from Maya.
You see, with Riley adapting Harajuku style, without knowing the culture, strangely Cory calls her out on participating in cultural appropriation. Something I surely wasn’t expecting out of kid’s show. But I am so glad for it because when you pair it with Topanga’s storyline of the importance of this Ukranian bakery, it shows the importance of not just snatching a bit of someone’s culture and running away with the frivolous or superficial bits, but getting to know the history behind it as well. Showing Cory doesn’t just have a love for history, but seems to be an advocate for not just knowing American history, but the history of foreign nations as well.
Topic 3: Who I Am Inside (Part 2) – Topanga
After 5 episodes of Topanga solely being depicted as a stay at home mom, we finally get to see her lawyer side. But, the bonus is that we also see original Boy Meets World Topanga too. I mean, the original Topanga who was the school’s odd kid. Which was such a delight to the point it made me cry due to nostalgia. For not only did Danielle Fishel put on clothes reminiscent of when we first saw her in Boy Meets World, as well as did her hair in the old fashion, but also they used clips from the original show to give new viewers insight on how Cory and Topanga bonded back then.
Leading to the topic of the aforementioned Ukraine Bakery, Svorski’s, owned by Ms. Svorski (Cloris Leachman) who unfortunately plays a stereotypical Eastern European, from accent to manner of speaking, but the saving grace when it comes to her persona is that it allows Topanga to evolve more over this episode than she did in the past 5. For with Auggie loving the “muffins” of Ms. Svorski, and Ms. Svorski getting pushed out by a Yogurt company who has hired Topanga’s firm to do their dirty work, we get to really see Topanga in action. She goes against her employer and dares them to get rid of her, she helps Ms. Svorski by offering a partnership, and even helps Riley discover her Harajuku style isn’t her, it is just something which she is using for it feels like what other want, and she needs to be popular.
Making for another good episode for the show, with the only true pitfalls being old Disney stereotypes of smart kids and Eastern European folk. But, as I’ve said many times before, while this show is definitely heads above other Disney programs at the moment, it still nonetheless is a Disney program so you can’t expect outright miracles.
“Being what other people want you to be is just a sword hanging over your head.”
— “Girl Meets Popular.” Girl Meets World