“Grandma Was a Rolling Stone” – Boy Meets World S1E7

George Feeny was a communist, or, at the very least, he was a socialist sympathizer with the Red cause. This seems clear in hindsight given his worldviews and beliefs, as a sophisticated educator who assuredly had volumes of Marx and Weber lining his bookshelves (plural; Feeny had multiple bookcases in his home). The man waxes poetically throughout the series on the virtues of altruism, values of community, and importance of hard work. His espousing makes it clear which side of the ideological fence he lies, and his many speeches sound very close to the socialist ideas which have been incorporated into the mainstream liberal cause. Frankly, they also sound very familiar to the justifications through the years from our favorite pair of former deep cover Russian spies.

Because after watching “Grandma was a Rolling Stone” for this review, I’m convinced that Boy Meets World and The Americans exist in the same universe. George Feeny has a niece visiting in the episode’s B-plot (we’ll get to the A-plot shortly, which is fine but unremarkable), who turns out to be none other than Keri Russell! She has little to no personality or memorable characteristics here, and is never heard from again or mentioned after the episode. Which means only one thing: THIS is how Elizabeth Jennings was smuggled into the country to carry out her patriotic missions. She does a great job remaining discreet upon arrival, and genuinely does nothing in the episode but swoon over and react to Eric. Obviously, remaining undetected was of utmost importance, so she could switch into the world’s biggest badass at a moment’s notice in the future (or past, I suppose; don’t worry about timeline inconsistencies in this scenario).

Feeny’s niece, who I’m referring to as Elizabeth Jennings, is mostly there to allow Will Friedle to bounce his comedic chops off of. She is completely smitten with both Eric and Morgan (who as Eric’s “trained pet” comes out spitting the “well rehearsed” compliments taught to her). It helps that Eric is just as taken with Elizabeth Jennings as she is with him, and his displays of manliness work to a T. As he resists his family’s insistence that he only thinks about girls, he’s interrupted mid thought when noticing a “girl, girl, right there, right there!” and races to his teacher’s yard. He looks around as conspicuously inconspicuous as humanly possible, before finally ‘realizing’ that Feeny and Elizabeth Jennings are there. He gains one of the biggest laughs thus far in the series after picking up a bag of fertilizer and finally acknowledging the two:

Eric: So, where would you like me to move this enormously heavy bag of fertilizer?

Mr. Feeny: I hadn’t planned on moving it at all.

Eric: Well let me just effortlessly toss it over here then (throws across yard) HOO-DAH!

This episode is a wonderful showcase for Will Friedle, who was consistently up to the task of nailing Eric’s goofy charisma. He was always somewhat of a dimwitted pretty boy, even before his change into the a literal man-child with bizarre delusional tendencies (Runs with Squirrels, anyone?). But he was a regular ladies man in high school (even after, I guess, given his later appearance on Singled Out), and was the object of many young women’s desire. This included Elizabeth Jennings, who is so transfixed with Eric that she forgets her ostensible husband, Philip, instantly.

Elizabeth Jennings was a true believer in the cause though, so despite a wonderful night at the carnival, and a sneaky makeout session, she and Eric never go out again. Clearly she needed to continue the emigration towards Virginia to carry out her mission, and Eric was a 15-year old heartthrob who needed to shift towards his next girl of the week. So Elizabeth Jennings never returned to the Philadelphia suburb where she began her journey as the USSR’s greatest foreign intelligence asset, but her impact was not soon forgotten.

I mentioned the unassuming A-plot before, and if I told you Cory Matthews learned a valuable lesson about life and family during the episode, would you be surprised? No, and that’s not a bad thing, since this was a family sitcom dedicated to entertaining and educating young viewers after all. But his only real function this week IS to learn a lesson, as he takes a backseat to the appearance of his grandma, Ms. Blanche Devereaux herself, Rue McClanahan (it was a great episode for guest stars). She arrives in a big way, ‘La Cucaracha’ announcing her arrival in an unseen Winnebago (Cory hears her horn “all the way down at the park”), sporting a sparkly jacket and ridiculous hat. It’s clear this is not the first time she’s shown up in their lives in a whirlwind, announcing big plans with each of her grandchildren.

Rue McClanahan was the biggest guest star on the show to that point, and set a pretty high standard for any other extended family appearances (too high, apparently, since she nor any other family members outside the nuclear core ever appeared again). Her character dominates much of the episode (aside from the amazing subplot of Eric and Elizabeth Jennings), whether she’s on screen or not, which was perhaps why she never returned. The show wasn’t supposed to be a showcase for famous stars in guest spots, and maybe they couldn’t figure out a way to keep the focus on young Cory.

Regardless, the story about Cory learning that people will let you down in life sometimes, whether they love you or not, is effective. It’s one of those harsh lessons we all have to experience firsthand to truly understand, and it’s driven home to Cory as he bakes batch after batch of muffins with his mother. During his grandmother’s boisterous arrival, she gives him a Cal Ripken Rookie card (teasing her grandson that she obtained it after she “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”) and declares they will go to a game that weekend to get it autographed. Cory is elated, and anxiously awaits the event a few days away, despite his parent’s gentle preparations for him being letdown. Of course, she doesn’t show up, and Cory feels abandoned (by his grandma and father, who is on the hook for a fishing trip with Shawn when Cory forgets to inform his friend of its cancellation).

It all ends up exactly as you’d expect, with no real deviation from the projected storytelling beats. Grandma eventually returns, doesn’t really apologize beyond saying she “really did want to be there,” and Cory forgives her (because he was Cory Matthews and he didn’t hold familial grudges). It was an important lesson for young viewers as much as the protagonist, and was one of those times entertainment took a backseat to education.

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