The Witches of Pennbrook – Boy Meets World S5E5

I hesitate to say this, but there may be nothing better than an Eric Matthews-centric episode of Boy Meets World. I hesitate because, more often than not, an episode throwing Cory’s older brother into the A-story would focus on one of his countless personal failings, or the uneasy relationship he fostered with his father. As I’ve discussed rather extensively (and will continue to do so as I trudge onward in these reviews), Boy Meets World loved to tug intently at the viewer’s heartstrings and focus on BIG life problems. So to have the spotlight shine on Eric’s early collegiate hijinks with his still new roommate, Jack– aka Shawn’s older half brother the series never mentioned or even hinted at existing before the start of season 5– and his conviction that Jack’s new girlfriend is a witch, is a breath of fresh air from the suffocating sadness the show often luxuriated in (and who wants to dwell on the negative in life?).

Guest starring Candice Cameron Bure– in her return to the TGIF world, post Full House— as a witch using Jack for both his name and his apartment’s balcony, the less-heralded season 5 Halloween episode is a fun holiday diversion (and actually takes place around Halloween, unlike the more infamous ‘And Then There Was Shawn’). The show introduces the former DJ Tanner as a woman, Millie, who is drawn to Jack and repelled by Eric’s creepy attempt at “loving her with (his) eyes.” This frustrates the arrogant and competitive Eric to no end, and threatens the evolution of his relationship with Jack beyond cordial roommate status. 

Driving a wedge in the roommates’ still nascent friendship, which only began a month prior at the start of their freshman year at Pennbrook, Millie actively pushes herself between the two men and quickly reveals her nefarious intentions. While chastising Jack for giving his girlfriend a key (and letting her move in) when he doesn’t know her last name, Eric declares he is simply looking out for a “sweet, dumb farm kid who picked up with the first cute girl who flashes him a smile.” After reminding Eric he is from New York City (“that town ain’t so tough!”), Jack and Eric arrive at a standstill, and he storms off for advice from the one man who can fix what’s broken: Mr. Feeny.

The scene between Eric and Feeny is a classic illustration of their mentor/mentee relationship– even if there’s no sign of the beloved Fee-hee-heeny call— with the everwise George Feeny dispensing some of his timeless, indisputable advice. Recognizing that the two roommates are simply having an argument, which he points out doesn’t mean the end of their friendship, Mr. Feeny gingerly implores Eric to work out his problems with Jack. 

After sending Eric on his way (who thanks his teacher with an appropriate “Merry Halloween, Mr. Feeny”), Feeny pivots to the other Matthews boy, as he is immediately put on the spot again when Cory calls him in desperation. Phoning from a small, private airplane somewhere over mid-Pennsylvania– part of an inconsequential B-story about he and Topanga traveling to Pittsburgh and, mid-flight, switching their roles of nervous flyer versus a calm one– Cory pleads for reassurance that his pilot (a former student of Mr. Feeny’s) is intellectually capable of his profession. After his teacher replies with a simple, “uh oh,” when learning who is flying their plane, Cory says his final goodbyes to his teacher before the show pulls a hard left turn into La Bamba territory, and the main character perishes alongside his girlfriend in a fiery, gruesome crash…or not. Cory and Topanga eventually make it to Pittsburgh, presumably, but their story this episode leaves us laughing at a teenager in the midst of a panic attack.

Eventually, Millie is revealed to be an actual witch who, along with her coven, is indeed using Jack as a sacrifice to their lord and master, Satan (or “el diablo,” as Eric quickly states with a terribly inaccurate accent). Attempting to perform their offering– which requires a Hunter man and the vital location of their balcony– while Trick or Treaters are wandering through the building, Eric arrives with a copy of ‘Witchcraft for Dumb-Dumbs,’ and saves the day with his newfound knowledge. He steps in the line of fire when a “sacrificial beam” of light emerges from the aforementioned balcony, and is shot in his sunscreen-protected ass cheek (“plus a little zinc oxide”), taking the theoretical bullet for his friend.

As the coven departs, once their efforts are thwarted, Eric solidifies his bond with Jack by reminding him that, in spite of their fight and any nasty comments made, they are still friends. They head out to find a new Halloween party around campus, as Shawn remarks on the nature of Halloween that “really brings people together,” providing a silly bookend to Eric’s earlier declarations around All Hallows Eve. A budding friendship– one that would be crucial to the back half of Boy Meets World run– blossomed further, solidifying the role of Jack Hunter as an integral part of the ensemble.

This episode had the dual purpose of expanding the character and role of Jack Hunter (providing more justification of his existence beyond ‘Shawn’s long-lost half sibling’), and providing a light, seasonally-appropriate episode for the spookiest holiday on the calendar. In both the former and ladder goals, this episode succeeds in spades, deepening the audience’s understanding and acceptance of Jack Hunter, while amusing and entertaining in a delightfully cheesy manner. The show, like many TGIF sitcoms, would often cross the line into groan-inducing cheese, but it could also nail that balance better than most. The light-hearted nature of the plot helps drastically, and in wholly unshocking fashion, it demonstrates that Boy Meets World was at its best when it left the heavy-handed drama on the cutting room floor.

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