The Wrestling Episode is our cleverly-named feature wherein we watch non-wrestling shows with wrestling episodes and try to figure out what the hell’s going on in them. You’d be surprised how many there are. You can watch the episode on Hulu here. If you have any suggestions on shows that need to be featured in The Wrestling Episode, let us know in our comments section below.
I’ve Never Heard Of Boy Meets World. What Is It?
In the 1980s, Fred Savage starred in the critically and commercially beloved The Wonder Years, a nostalgic but biting look back at the 1960s, and what it was like to grow up average in the most important time for culture and progress in American history. It was sharp, funny, occasionally deeply real, and won a Peabody award in 1989 for “pushing the boundaries of the sitcom format and using new modes of storytelling.”
In the 1990s, executives at ABC were like, “what if we did The Wonder Years but cast Fred Savage’s less talented little brother, set it in the 1990s, and TGIF’d all over it?” The result was Ben Savage’s Boy Meets World, a coming-of-age sitcom that continually evolved, slowly descended into complete madness, and proved that even the ’90s family television version of The Wonder Years is still pretty great.
And There’s A Wrestling Episode?
Four of them. Well, two, technically, but we’re going to cover them all. Up first is season two’s ‘The Thrilla’ in Phila,’ in which we learn Big Van Vader’s real name and watch him almost get into a fight with the talking car from Knight Rider.
Buckle up, folks.
Here’s who you need to know:
- Cory Matthews is a Philadelphia-area high school freshman who means well, but is still Meeting World and turns into either a vaudevillian or an old Jewish lady when he gets upset depending on the season
- Shawn Hunter is Cory’s best friend, a lost Home Improvement kid who handles most of the plots by joining cults, becoming a patsy for the mob, or by being homeless
- Topanga Lawrence is either a weird girl with great hair who has a crush on Cory, or Cory’s destined soulmate from birth, depending on the season. If you weren’t into the Power Rangers and didn’t watch Singled Out, she was probably the reason you went through puberty in the ’90s
- Eric Matthews is Cory’s older brother, who gets brain damage at some point in the show and becomes Daffy Duck as a ’90s teen heartthrob
- Mr. Feeney is everybody’s teacher every year, no matter what school they go to or how little sense it makes. He just follows them around teaching them lessons, like if Bagger Vance had the voice of talking car. Occasionally shows super strength, omnipotence, omnipresence and the ability to haunt Cory from the afterlife in revival series
‘The Thrilla’ in Phila’ begins with Cory loudly complaining about how only jocks with special jackets get the girls, then being put on the wrestling team via secondhand bullying because they need someone for their “108-pound Super Confettiweight Division.” Hey, don’t knock it, that’s how TJP got his WWE job. Cory, who moments ago was Uatu the Watcher for the class-based social tragedies of his high school, immediately lets it go to his head and starts pretending he’s a star wrestler with his own nickname: Cory ‘The Cory’ Matthews. It worked for Brian Kendrick!
He even gets a trophy girlfriend for wearing the jacket, played by Baywatch and more importantly future California Dreams star Kelly Packard. Cory doesn’t fit in with the team because he’s not a jock, about half the size of his “girlfriend,” and turns himself into a John Mulaney character when he fails to crush a can on his forehead. Here’s the good news, though: Cory won’t ever have to actually wrestle on the wrestling team, because there’s nobody in his division. I mean, there might be at other schools or whatever, but we’re working in 22-minute windows here.
That is, of course, until … actually wait, let’s take a step back and talk about Adam Scott’s evil gang.
This Show Had Evil Gangs?
In season two, the show’s antagonist was the smooth-talking bully Griff Hawkins, played by the guy who said “Are we having fun yet??” in those beer commercials. Griff is a Louie Spicolli type who annoys Mr. Feeney by getting massages in class and inherited a set of henchmen from the previous school bully, “Harley.” Those henchpersons are Frankie ‘The Enforcer’ Stecchino, a gentle giant played by Ethan Suplee, the guy who couldn’t see a sailboat in Mallrats; and Joseph ‘Joey the Rat’ Epstein, a squirrely little fucker played by Blake Sennett, who’d eventually team up with Jenny Lewis to write the best song ever made about modern adulthood.
When Mr. Feeney cattily points out that Joey and Frankie wouldn’t have personalities without someone to lead them around and get them into Bulk and Skull-ass high school bully adventures, Joey takes it upon himself to — get this — join the wrestling team.
Joe’s also a 108-pound Super Confettiweight, I guess, so he’s positioned against Cory in a one-on-one battle to see who’ll remain on the team, and who will be taunted and booed until my throat is sore. Cory’s nervous about this, because Cory’s that dude who goes on WebMD and decides his light cough means he’s dying of cancer, and assumes Frankie’s teaching Joey how to be … large and tough, I guess? He watches Joey execute a Too Awesome Dropkick and gets shook.
This culminates in a showdown in the gym, in which Cory The Cory easily wins by way of basic amateur wrestling competence and “moving out of the way of Joey’s one move.”
Study question: Could Cory Matthews defeat Braun Strowman like this?
Anyway, Joey gets upset about the upset and challenges Cory to a rematch. Cory’s rightfully like, “no thanks bro, I already pinned your ass in five seconds,” because he knows there’s no money in it. Joey follows Cory around school, calls him at home, and disguises himself in nearby trashcans to call Cory “yellow” over and over until he agrees to fight him. Pure sports build!
How Does The Rematch Get Booked?
Eventually Cory’s like, “shit man, whatever, Jesus,” and agrees to a fight after school. Griff goes into slimy promoter mode and sets up the fight himself, clearly setting up the mistake he’d make with Ice Town. Cory assumes this is going to be Griff “refereeing” a fight between him and a guy he can clearly whoop, so he brushes it off, mentioning that at least it’s not happening “in front of the entire school.”
The Entire School Is Standing Right Behind Me, Aren’t They
Cory and Shawn head to the gym and find out it’s become a full-blown wrestling event, with bleachers full of fans and a bunch of gym mats with some boxing ropes built around them. Griff has even flown in special celebrity guests like crooner Robert Goulet, who is Ron Burgandy played by Jonathan Frakes, and Baywatch star Yasmine Bleeth pre-drug freakout. This episode is definitely how Kelly Packard networked herself onto Baywatch, right?
Here’s where we also meet Frankie’s dad, who just so happens to be legendary pro wrestling champion Big Van Vader. Not played by Vader, he IS VADER. “VADER TIME” singlet and everything, straight from the White Castle of Fear.
VADER? Does He Pop Cory’s Eyeball Out?
I mean, don’t spoil everything.
But yes, this is Big Van Vader’s first appearance as Frankie’s dad, who becomes a recurring character in season three and four. We’ll get to those, but all you need to know right now is that Vader put on the WCW United States Championship and his ring gear to go to a high school to watch his son’s friend get into a fight.
Cory once again dominates The Rat, putting him down with, and I’m not shitting you, a World’s Strongest Slam and a splash from the second rope. It looks like he’s going to win it all, until Frankie tags in.
Tags In? Is This A Tag Team Match?
It’s a fight between diminutive freshmen in the world’s smallest gym booked by a delinquent, do you think there’s a ref standing around worrying about whether or not Ethan Suplee’s holding the tag rope?
Cory realizes that if Joey can “tag out” to Frankie, he can just tag out to some random person and let them get beaten up by bullies. He tags in Eric, who is older and cooler but also a complete Dean Ambrose type who dodges Frankie’s hoss offense and methodically deconstructs him with eye pokes and headbutts. Seriously, dude was a transition away from hitting a rebound lariat.
Anyway, that’s when GODDAMN VADER TAGS IN.
Yes folks, former Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion Vader is now fist-fighting a teenager over some curtain jerking J.V. high school third-party wrestling beef. Vader of course dominates poor Eric, BECAUSE HE IS VADER. Imagine being in a fight in middle school and being able to “tag out” to Bruiser Brody. Eric gets put up in a gorilla press and Cory tries to save him, with predictable results.
All looks lost until Deus ex Collisionem Autocineti Mr. Feeney shows up, hops the ropes like a cruiserweight, and threatens to reveal Vader’s real name if he doesn’t let the boys go. Feeney and Vader went to school together back in the day, you see, despite the visible and obvious 30 year age gap between them. Vader’s name is “Francis,” by the way, just like his son.
Vader says he’ll play ball for now, but that when he returns, it’ll be him vs. Mr. Feeney in a “Texas death match, loser leaves town.” Feeney rolls his eyes and says this is why he doesn’t go to reunions. While Vader does return to the show, we never see that match, so maybe Vader lost it? And he can only periodically come to visit because he “left town?” If we do another Girl Meets World season can we have Mr. Feeney take that Inoki German suplex?
Is That It?
For now, yeah. Cory decides the wrestling team life isn’t for him and returns his jacket, but doesn’t realize the California Dreams girlfriend goes with it. Like Sunny and the WWF Tag Team Championship. Is there a shirt or something I can wear to get Diana Uribe to date me?
The episode ends with Cory realizing that he’s not The Cory, just Cory, and that he and Topanga should probably get together soon before they get awkward in puberty and hook up in a barn.
So What Have We Learned?
- now that’s what I call Horsin’ Around
- if popular people suddenly start treating you differently with no real explanation, chances are they’re lying to you and it’s going to end badly
- if you get into a fight, learn some basic wrestling holds and you’ll be fine
- if the fight gets out of control, slap a nearby stranger and they’ll be legally obligated to fight on your behalf
- Ben Wyatt had a really difficult childhood