Even though he was a good kid overall, Cory Matthews was an entitled little shit sometimes. He didn’t really lack for anything during his upbringing, and came from a good family in a good neighborhood, as I’ve noted before, which was crucial to who he was. That entitlement allowed for SO many teachable moments where he was knocked off his pedestal and slapped in the face with reality. Cory wasn’t special, he was just your typical 6th-grader, an average boy who just wants his parents “to make (him) lunch and pick (him) up from camp.” He was so average they have an entire episode devoted to this topic later on in the series (where he’s as exceptional as celery)!
The first time Cory attempts to scheme into what he wants from Mr. Feeny, at the outset of “Killer Bee”, by trying to be the representative in a geography bee, he’s rightly thwarted. He attempts to work his way in over Minkus as the choice, but is unable to sway the teacher (“Minkus, Minkus, Mr. Matthews; it’s Minkus!). Given the geography tournament grand prize of being the batboy in Game 1 of the World Series (which, ok, sure; makes perfect sense?), Cory is determined. Shawn notes that Feeny would never pick him for the tournament, particularly as he “didn’t even know they tore down the Berlitz Wall.” But his friend is undeterred, as before puberty took hold, baseball was Cory’s entire life. So with an unnamed friend (a black friend who shows up in several episodes and is, legit, never named) and Shawn’s help, they kidnap Minkus.
Ok, they don’t specifically kidnap him, but they do bring him unwillingly to Cory’s house to coerce him into quitting his post as geography bee participant (“Call my mother,” Minkus curtly tells Amy as they whisk him upstairs). Knowing Feeny won’t put him into the contest with an available Minkus at his disposal, they stage an intervention of sorts to pull Minkus out of his uncool spiral. With superior intelligence in his arsenal, Minkus is able to exhort a deal where he’ll drop out of the bee and assist Cory, if they don’t throw the ball at his head during dodgeball (“what’s the point of playing if we can’t throw the ball at his head??” the other friend interjects).
Meanwhile, elder brother Eric learns the horrifying news that his parents are going to the same concert as him (and a date, Nikki Cox from Unhappily Ever After). He can’t wrap his head around how they’d both enjoy the same music, before Amy explains they’ve been fans of the group prior to Eric’s birth (“how old are these Aerosmith guys anyway, like, a million?”). It’s a great way of introducing that awkward tension that exists as you grow, when you begin to discover your parents aren’t necessarily just old people who do nothing but raise you; they’re actual human beings with their own interests, thoughts, and desires. It’s a weird reality to be confronted with, and isn’t the easiest thing to deal with initially, during those emotionally charged teen years. It’s also not easy for parents, as Alan explains to his son their awkward position, given they “are your parents, but we’re not dead yet.” The path often leads to a new, different relationship between parents and children, where you can relate to each other as actual people, but it’s a tough road to travel.
After Cory successfully convinces Minkus to drop out of the geography bee, he gets to work on Mr. Feeny, who is unimpressed with his pupil’s sudden interest in educational competitions. Cory insists he can “learn anything” if he’s interested, waving away his prior poor academic performances. He’s finally able to sway his teacher by pointing out he’s “an empty vessel” who is willing to learn from Mr. Feeny, who comments he’s never “heard those words in that order from you.” Later, when Cory has begun “mutating” into a bookworm (complete with exaggerated sniff and use of the word “extraordinary”), he excitedly rattles off facts about the Earl of Sandwich and former Sandwich Islands to his neighbor/teacher. Mr. Feeny is wonderfully subtle in his urging Cory to explain what he’s learned (“Sandwich? You don’t suppose…”), slyly grinning as Cory returns to his studies.
Cory, predictably, bombs at the geography tournament and loses, an inevitability obvious to everyone but himself. He sits on stage afterwards, dejected, reciting the basic facts he had memorized in preparation. When Minkus instantly knows an answer he was clueless about at the tournament, Cory recognizes he selfishly let Mr. Feeny down. So he slinks over, ready to apologize for keeping his teacher from obtaining a 6th straight geography tournament award. But this was George Fucking Feeny we’re talking about, and he cared about one thing: his student’s education. He rhapsodizes over Cory’s geography results for that week (“an A? I got an A?!?”), expressing a belief Cory pushed himself to the limit and should feel no shame for the tournament loss. Mr. Feeny then triumphantly walks to the award display, tacks on Cory’s test where the elusive 6th award would have gone, proclaiming: “We won!”
Everything returns to the status quo by episodes end, as per the norm, with Cory a bit wiser from his experiences. Minkus goes through a whiplash transition from normal nerd, to “MTV House of Style” wannabe who watched Beavis and Butt-head (which again gets a loud cheer upon mention), back to nerd. He notes to Mr. Feeny that he’s “more of a Connie Chung kind of guy” after the switch back, with Feeny finding the lesson that you “can never truly understand a man until you’ve walked a mile in his humongous pants.”
And Alan and Amy once again show they are the greatest parents, not just because of their tie dye outfits from the concert, but in their blunt assessments of what Eric thinks he wants and the reality of his situation. The Matthews’ children were the “cool” kids with the cool parents (“not that cool!” Alan shouts at Eric when he attempts to turn off all the lights with his date). And while they may not have been the most “extraordinary” or special children out in the world, they could always count on things being ok once they returned home.