Saturday, November 17, 2012

Gobble Gobble 2012: Boy Meets World "Turkey Day"

Cory and Shawn learned about the Hutus and Tutsis conflict in Rwanda on the day before the dawn of Thanksgiving Day, a conflict which Feeny waters down tremendously as if he were being written by men and women employed by Disney (Oh wait, he was being written by those people). The Hutu-Tutsi conflict spurs Cory and Shawn to join their families together on Thanksgiving in the trailer park. Feeny's words about the hardships of class struggle stuck with the consistently portrayed disinterested students, Cory Matthews and Shawn Hunter. "Turkey Day" tells an honest story about rejecting prejudice,  intolerance, and accepting people for who they are and not what they have; but it's mostly horrible because of horrible writing.

The theme of Gobble Gobble 2012, and of Thanksgiving, is characters coming together to break bread and
give thanks. The coming together and giving of thanks is rather difficult. We saw the typical Dawson's Creek nonsense two weeks with Jen and her mother and Dawson being Dawson with everyone, but the four friends sat around a campfire to drink cocoa and be friends for two minutes. Felicity was refreshing in its depiction of holiday drama. I felt so cheerful watching mature college students work out issues in a rational and reasonable way. Abrams' drama never got preachy about giving thanks. On holidays, it's sure nice to think family disputes and deep-seeded issues will fall away as the turkey's served, and everyone remembers what the day is really about. Felicity worked out its conflicts realistically by showing the beginning of improvement, the chance of it; not an eternal magic elixir.

The Hunters and Matthews gather for Thanksgiving dinner in the trailer park, one of the many that doesn't actually exist in the city of Philadelphia. Shawn could've lived in a poor neighborhood without the trailer park element. Philly, unfortunately, has many poor sections. The Matthews, who live in the suburbs, apparently never tried to make friends with the Hunters because they're poor and live in a trailer park. Alan and Amy walk through the trailer park as if they'll catch a disease from the area. They're surrounded by trailers, and grim-faced men who want them out of the trailer park. "No outsiders," is what Unter says, and what the Elder trailer park man reiterates. Why the hell does an Elder of the trailer park exist? What kind of backwards ideas did BMW writers have about Philadelphia? The show should've been set in western Pennsylvania. I digress. Eric, Alan and Amy are loathsome throughout the first two acts of the episode. They're an example for the families at home to watch, and to then instruct impressionable youth on the people they shouldn't be like. Prejudice is bad. Judging a person's value, or worth, or character based on material possessions in bad. Boy Meets World stresses that.

Any Matthews/Hunter scene involves open discussion about what the Matthews possess versus what the Hunters do not. Verna serves cheese on a plate, but she assumes Amy wouldn't, which leads to an accidental admission of Amy selling something Verna gave her because it was cheap and for poor people. Sitcoms used to become preachy once or twice a season in the late 90s. The series changed for one half hour twice a season, whether it was for class tolerance or domestic abuse. Characters aren't characters but mouth pieces for the writers or the network. Alan and Amy were portrayed as normal, nice, and accepting; a typical suburban couple who worked hard and welcomed others, and even took Shawn under his roof when his parents left him. A season six episode contradicts Alan's behavior in "Turkey Day." An angry Cory blames his father for being average. Cory's taken to South Philly to find out what average looked like when Alan was growing up. The Matthews were poor and struggling until Alan changed it with his hard work throughout life, first as a grocer then a small businessman. Alan, if written by good writers, would not have reacted with disgust while walking through the trailer park. He would've related, but BMW wrote themselves into a corner with its previous three seasons. BMW did not depict the diversity of Philadelphia; their Philadelphia was white-washed. BMW had no choice but resort to the trailer park and the poor for an episode that preaches against prejudice and intolerance, which was hypocritical, because BMW didn't give a damn about diversity or depicting a public school without African-Americans, Asians and Mexicans. For Thanksgiving, the show served a half-assed and absolutely disingenuous episode.

The Staccino brothers, sans Big Van Vader, prepare their Thanksgiving dinner in the center of the trailer park, where the Matthews brothers sit and feast in view of the grim-faced trailer park folk who don't like their kind in their dwelling space. Amy makes a faux-pas in the trailer as they fail to eat their food (Chet takes it away too quickly to consume for he fears the wrath of the trailer park ownership committee) by remarking her and Alan struggled when they started. The Hunters haven't just started; they just failed to achieve the life of their dinner mates. Of course, Verna was on the run for awhile, and Chet followed her, so Amy's observation wasn't out of line. Verna and Chet are horrible for each other, and they bring out the worst. Living in trailer park didn't inform their actions. Verna would have run out anyway; unless BMW wouldn't have written a story about a suburban housewife running out on her family. I think the writers were worse than the trailer park ownership group in their view of the haves-and-have-nots. The trailer park gets a damning portrayal. Only two families dine with the Matthews, and the Mattews are heroes for walking into a poor neighborhood and sitting down to break bread. Class, in the end, does not matter for the Mattews; what matters is the words of their son, Cory, who is thankful for parents who raised him to befriend anyone regardless of class (but, really, when the hell did he learn this? His parents were bad examples in the previous two acts). Little Staccino welcomes all to his table, as the Unter and random extra look on, displeased.

The story of "Turkey Day" is forgotten immediately. The next episode of season four is about Shawn dating a girl who bans Cory from his life. The worst part of PSA sitcom episodes is the fact they don't matter. The writers don't really seem to care about the issues, even if the issues are written horribly. They just need to get the episode done so they can return to Cory sneaking Shawn pastries in the school library. Here's an example: the tag of the episode involves Shawn getting his first A+ for his Thanksgiving paper. Shawn's a horrible student within seven episodes again, and his observations of the world disappear like his sister and half-brother Eddie.

If TV writers paid attention to TV With The Foot, the one thing I want them to not forget is the importance of a story mattering past the third act fade-out (or whatever act closes an episode in this day and age). Make a story matter. "Turkey Day" does not matter. TV writers have an incredible opportunity to tell stories for a wide audience. Josh Friedman told a great story about David Simon meeting with The Wire writers prior to the production of season one. Simon told his writers they had 13 hours of front-page space with which to tell a story and do not waste it. Friedman wanted his fellow writers and aspiring writers to remember that. No matter if you have 13 hours or 18 or 22 or 24, just don't write bullshit. Do not waste your 21 or 42 or 60 minutes on bullshit.

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About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.