Boy Meets World premiered on September 24, 1993, and to celebrate the TGIF sitcom’s twentieth anniversary, we’re wondering what your favorite episode was. I know from experience that choosing just one from the seven-season run of the Ben Savage show isn’t easy if you don’t take the decision lightly. There were plenty of great episodes: the one with the strike, the one where Cory gets invited to a party but Shawn doesn’t, the one where Topanga gets a haircut, the one where Eric becomes an actor, the one where Eric becomes Plays With Squirrels, the one where Cory just wants to see Topanga’s butt. But in the end, I decided that my absolute favorite has to be season five’s “Heartbreak Cory.”
The episode is an unusual one for the show. It’s ultimately a bottle episode set in the lobby of the ski lodge Cory, Shawn, Topanga, and Angela go to during their senior year. Excluding the opening minutes at the school, the episode features none of the show’s regular sets. Cory’s parents, Eric, and Eric’s college friends are absent — and, beyond that, Shawn and especially Topanga don’t appear much. So this one’s pretty much all Cory. Owing to an ankle injury, he’s stuck in the lodge, where he meets and falls for fetching employee Lauren (a pre–Freaks and Geeks Linda Cardellini!).
The episode’s structural differences undoubtedly helped it stand out, but it’s more than that. “Heartbreak Cory” is the most adult episode the show had produced up until that point, and maybe ever. Cory, after staying up all night talking to Lauren, finds himself developing feelings for her; the episode culminates in them kissing. Thanks to the demographics of its viewership, TGIF shows tended to deal with cheating in a fairly black-and-white matter — but not here. Although I understood that Cory’s actions were wrong, the show didn’t necessarily portray it that way.
Cory is an idealist (thus his constant need to “meet the world”). It’s the part of his character I most identified with as a young TGIF enthusiast. But his idealism creates this episode’s fundamental tension. Cory believes his relationship with Topanga is something greater than standard high school sweethearts; he also believes there is more to the world than he can experience in his suburban Philadelphian life. The conflict in “Heartbreak Cory” comes about because both are true: He simultaneously wants to kiss Lauren and marry Topanga because, in a vacuum, both will make him happy. It’s all very Don Draper. (Cardellini was the other woman on BMW first.) The episode doesn’t focus on something shallow, like Cory needing to do homework or whatever. Instead, it offers up an ambiguous, adult takeaway that, while your ideals are exciting and worth aspiring toward, you can’t have it all in the end, and there are real people who can and likely will be hurt by your choices.
It’s not the show’s most definitive episode, obviously, but I do think “Heartbreak Cory” best typifies a commitment to character over concept, which was unique for the time’s young adult television. Is that why I liked the episode when I was 12? Probably not. But it’s why the episode continues to linger sixteen years after it aired. That, and the fireside dating question scene, which provides one of the show’s funniest moments and displays Cory at his most baby Woody Allen–ish.
Do you agree or disagree? What was your favorite Boy Meets World episode?