Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Top 10 Episodes of Boy Meets World

One Man's Opinion

Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we were lucky enough to enjoy the greatest era of family television ever.  There were countless memorable sitcoms in those years, but for me, one stands out above the rest: Boy Meets World.  The show’s charm came from its simplicity—no gimmicks, just your basic bildungsroman story with a lovable cast of characters and a lot of laughs along the way.

This blog will feature lots of BMW content as we go, but in this post I’ll take a look at my Top 10 episodes.  I subtitle it “One Man’s Opinion” because our other blogger (debuting soon!) will likely provide his take at some point in the future. 

Disclaimers: First, the post contains spoiler content, so if you haven’t seen every Boy Meets World episode, stop reading now (then RUN, don’t walk, to a store that sells the dvds and immediately buy them all).  Second, cutting this list to 10 is EXTREMELY difficult.  I did a first pass and ended up with close to 30 episodes-worth of “favorites”.  I then considered making this a top 25 list, but didn’t want to water it down.  As a result, some great episodes and true classics are left off—I hate it too, but that’s the price you pay.  Also, all writing is my own but all pictures were found via Google Image, are borrowed and not being used for profit.  Thanks to those who provided them. 

Anyhow, let’s get down to it!

Honorable Mentions

(Limiting myself to 10 because otherwise I could list them all): Boy Meets Girl, Danger Boy, City Slackers, The Grass is Always Greener, Brother Brother, Wheels, A Long Walk to Pittsburgh, Heartbreak Cory, Torn Between 2 Lovers, Brave New World

10. Cory’s Alternative Friends (s1)

What Happens: After overhearing some of the popular girls referring to him as “Brillo Head”, Cory becomes self-conscious about his hair.  When his attempt to uncurl it crashes and burns, he finds sanctuary with some of the other outcast kids in class, including the free-spirited Topanga.  Eventually he comes to understand and respect the kids who are “different” and joins them in a protest.  When they succeed, Cory and Topanga share a first kiss.

Why I love it: This episode marks the debut of Danielle Fishel as Topanga, and she completely steals the show.  According to Michael Jacobs on the Season 1 DVD extras, another girl was originally pegged for the role of Topanga, but when it wasn’t working out, Danielle was given the role at the last minute.  She made the most of it by completely lighting up the screen, and the chemistry between Cory and Topanga is clear from the very beginning.  I suspect that Jacobs and the producers didn’t have firm plans for the Topanga character beyond this episode, but it was so clearly a perfect match that they ran with it later in the season and throughout the rest of the series.  The plot teaches valuable lessons about self-image and about respecting others who march to the beat of a different drum.  It also provides several iconic moments for the series including Topanga’s performance art routine with lipstick, the kiss with Cory’s Don King hair, and my favorite of all—Topanga donning Cory’s beloved Phillies hat at the close of the show as a sign of the enduring connection between the two.  

9. 16 Candles and 400lb Men (s4)

What Happens: Cory and Shawn find themselves in a tough spot: They committed to help their new friend, Frankie “The Enforcer” Stechino by attending his father’s wrestling match and providing insight.  Since Frankie doesn’t know anything about wrestling, yet has realized that talking about it is the only way he can connect with his dad, he’s desperate for Cory’s help.  Unfortunately, Cory and Shawn learn that Topanga’s Sweet 16 is scheduled for the same night and time as the wrestling match and she’ll be crushed if Cory isn’t there.  Shawn hatches a plan to make Cory seem to be in two places at the same time by running back and forth between the two events.  In all the chaos Cory eventually misses a key part of Topanga’s party but is able to make it up to her.

Why I love it: Simple, light-hearted fun.  This episode illustrates the formula that made the show very successful in its early years: Cory and Shawn find themselves in some crazy predicament, hatch an absurd plan that has virtually no chance to succeed and that will have humorous consequences, and end up failing but learning something along the way.  Most of the other episodes on this list are a little more “serious”, but the vast majority of Boy Meets World episodes were light-hearted and fun.  This one is included in the Top 10 not just because it was very entertaining but also as a proxy for all the other not-so-serious and lovable episodes through the years.  Also, Danielle Fishel as Topanga is really at her finest here.  I think if you were an adolescent boy in the ‘90s it was almost impossible not to love her, particularly in Season 4 and this episode.

8. Teacher’s Bet (s1)

What happens: Cory naively assumes that teaching is easy because you have the answers, prompting a bet with Mr. Feeny: Cory will teach one class (History) for a week, and if more students than normal pass the test, Cory gets 1/5 of Feeny’s paycheck.  However, if less students than normal pass, Feeny gets Cory’s new bike.  Cory at first takes his responsibility lightly, inviting the class to call him “Hey Dude” and letting the students do whatever they want.  But when a racial incident affects Eric’s Asian girlfriend, Cory’s eyes are opened to the realities of racism in the world even today, which helps drive home the message of the book the class is reading—The Diary of Anne Frank.  He takes a new, serious approach to his teaching, but comes to realize how difficult it can be to get through to students.  In the end, the number of students that pass is the same as usual and so the bet is a draw, but some students—including Shawn—score much better than usual.  Not only does Cory get a valuable lesson on discrimination, but he also gains a new respect for teachers and all the challenges they face.

Why I love it: In my second post on this blog, “Television in the Golden Age”, I waxed poetic about the ability of ‘80s and ‘90s shows to make you laugh but also teach you an important lesson.  “Teacher’s Bet” is a perfect example of Boy Meets World’s ability to strike that balance.  A viewer can’t help but crack up at the sight of stodgy old Mr. Feeny walking into the classroom dressed like a teenager and saying “Hey Dude, sorry I’m late.  I was chillin’ with my homies.”  But then, just a few moments later, the mood is completely changed when Cory directs an ethnic slur at Shawn to prove a point about racial and ethnic bias.  The absurdity around Cory teaching the class and his classmates’ behavior in a classroom without rules provide a lot of levity to this episode.  But the real beauty of it is watching a young Cory acquiring a life lesson about racial and ethnic bias, both from reading the Diary of Anne Frank and from Eric’s girlfriend’s experience.  The ability to seamlessly blend serious and comedic storylines into a single lovable and memorable episode is a hallmark of Golden Age tv, and Teacher’s Bet is one of Boy Meets Worlds finest contributions.

7. A Kiss is More than a Kiss (s3)

What Happens: After a mutual breakup a few weeks earlier, Cory and Topanga have maintained a close friendship, including planning to appear at a school fashion show together (which they had signed up for while they were still dating).  At Shawn’s behest Cory begins to date other girls, but he is hesitant to make any physical contact because his heart is still with Topanga.  Just when Cory decides to tell Topanga how he really feels, he finds her at Chubbie’s making out with another guy from school and is devastated.  Feeling jealous, alone and frustrated by his inability to do anything about it, Cory then tells Topanga that he doesn’t even care to be friends with her anymore.  But when the time comes for the big fashion show, Cory shows up as promised and he and Topanga agree to stay friends.

Why I love it: There are a number of BMW episodes that do an excellent job of conveying the pain that can come with being young and in love.  I just as easily could have put the break-up episodes in this slot, either season 3’s “The Grass is Always Greener” or Season 5’s “Torn Between Two Lovers”, and both would have been worthy Top 10 picks.  But I’m particularly fond of this one because I think Ben Savage does a great job conveying the pain of seeing someone you love sharing something that feels like it should be “yours” with someone else.  When he asks “Why doesn’t Topanga just rip my heart out and stomp on it?” and when he later makes his “I don’t want this!” speech, I think it shows how painful it can be to have your heart broken while growing up.  Of course, by going to the fashion show with Topanga , Cory shows a lot of maturity.  Like many people with broken hearts, Cory can’t necessarily forget or immediately get over the pain, but he can act like a gentleman and try to go on with his life—a hard, but valuable lesson that many teens learn.

6. Resurrection (s6)

What Happens: The newest member of the Matthews clan, baby Joshua, is fighting for his life.  Born premature, he has a bad respiratory infection that keeps him in an incubator.  While Alan and Amy hope and pray, Cory works to convince himself that everything will be alright.  Topanga grows frustrated with Cory’s unwillingness to acknowledge or prepare for the possibility that Joshua may not make it, leading to a disconnect between the two of them.  Cory wants Topanga to make everything all better, but Topanga thinks it’s unreasonable for Cory to expect her to change the reality of a potentially terrible situation.  Just then, Shawn makes a surprise return, after taking to the road to find himself several weeks earlier after he lost his father.  Shawn does what Topanga won’t and assures Cory that everything will be fine and lightens his mood by talking about how much fun they’ll have with Joshua as he grows.  Soon, Alan refers to Shawn as a part of the Matthews family, and Shawn makes an impassioned speech to Joshua in the incubator, telling him that he needs to stay here with all the people who love him—a lesson that Shawn learned on the road.  Joshua makes a full recovery, and Topanga makes a return to her free-spirited and optimistic roots.

Why I love it: This is one of the best episodes for Shawn in the series.  “We’ll Have a Good Time Then”—the episode where his father Chet passes, which aired one month before “Resurrection”—was such an emotional episode for Shawn and a major tear-jerker for viewers.  When he took to the road to find himself, you didn’t know what might happen to him but you knew he was in a very dark place.  Seeing him come back to the very same hospital, in good spirits, and make a powerful speech to Joshua about living and growing with the Matthews family is a beautiful moment.   It shows that he’s found some closure and that he realizes that even though his biological family is mostly gone, the Matthews are his family too.  In particular, my favorite moment of the episode (and one of the best of the series) is when Topanga angrily tells Cory that “NOBODY can make this better”, and just at that moment the elevator opens and Shawn arrives and does just that.  It’s like Cory is on the brink of a bad place, and as his oldest friend, Shawn knows exactly what to do to rescue him from that place.  At the same time, by welcoming him into their family and supporting him completely through tough times, the Matthews family rescues Shawn from the bad place he had fallen into after Chet’s passing.  The “circle of life” aspect, with Joshua entering the world in the same place where Chet passed on just a few weeks earlier is very cool.  Also, I’m a big fan of “throwbacks” where the writers give a wink and nod to the fans who’ve been around from the beginning, and the homage to “Cory’s Alternative Friends” with Topanga’s lipstick bit and Shawn’s “Use a mirror babe” line were the cherry on top of a great episode.  As Topanga says, “No matter how difficult life gets, the important thing is to live it with hope.”

5. The Eskimo (s5)

What happens: As graduation approaches, Shawn and Cory have caught a classic case of “senioritis”.  Shawn in particular is slacking off on his assignments and has come to believe that it’s impossible for him to go to college, even though Cory filled out his applications for him.  Frustrated by their apathy, Mr. Feeny gives a unique assignment: Shawn must get 2 tickets to the Super Bowl by the end of the week, Topanga must butt out of other people’s lives, and Cory must help them both.  Shawn enters a contest where he has to stand atop a billboard in the freezing cold and outlast 9 other people to win tickets.  He makes it to the last 2, but gives up because the other finalist is an Eskimo who is completely comfortable in the cold.  Eventually Shawn comes to realize that the Eskimo is a metaphor for all the things that stand in the way in his life, like being poor or having a dysfunctional family.   He decides that he is his own worst “Eskimo”, and that people like him don’t go anywhere because they don’t believe in themselves.  He resolves to get into the Super Bowl, despite not having tickets or a way to get there.  Cory reluctantly gets out of Shawn’s way.  In the end, Mr. Feeny gives both Cory and Shawn A’s, because they learn the lesson at hand—that Shawn needs to want things for himself, and that it isn’t enough for Cory to want them for him.  While watching the game, Mr. Feeny spots a boy in the crowd holding a sign that reads “Hey Feeny—Nothing’s Impossible.”

Why I love it: The very last scene, after the final commercial break, is one of the show’s best.  Knowing that despite all the adversity Shawn found a way to get into the game is definitely a warm-fuzzy moment.  This episode is also vintage Mr. Feeny, giving an assignment that makes little sense on the surface but that ultimately illustrates a point that’s bigger than the classroom.  I love the message too—if you believe in yourself, you can do anything you want to.

4. What I Meant to Say (s3)

What happens: Cory gets caught up in the moment and tells Topanga that he loves her, even though they’ve only been formally together for a few weeks.  Topanga is afraid of such feelings considering their young age, and breaks up with Cory as a result.  Meanwhile, Shawn, Eric and the guys at John Adams High are angry with Cory for being so open, as their girlfriends will now expect an “I love you.”  Cory and Shawn try to figure out why Topanga reacted the way she did, but it isn’t until he has a pep talk with the new teacher Mr. Williams that Cory decides to go ask Topanga for the real story.  When he explains to Topanga what he meant when he said he loved her, she realizes she feels the same way.  Cory lets Topanga keep his jean jacket as a sign of their love.

Why I love it: This episode has so many good things going for it and really highlights Boy Meets World’s ability to blend comedy with sentimental moments.  Three funniest scenes (and there are many):

  • Shawn talks about getting hit in the butt by a dart and Cory replies simply, “Lot of sick people out there man…” (Cory had thrown the dart, but wasn’t aware that it hit Shawn)
  • Mr. Williams concludes his introduction speech by saying “There’s a difference between what they say and what is real.”  Mr. Turner asks Shawn what Mr. Williams just said and Shawn guesses “….something about Israel?”
  • Shawn takes a bouquet of flowers from Cory and to get rid of them, hands them to a big jock in a varsity jacket who smiles with appreciation.  Later, when Cory and Shawn are recreating what happened on the night Cory told Topanga he loved her, the jock sees them together and is jealous that Shawn is being so intimate with another man, and throws the bouquet down in disgust.
In addition, this episode introduces one of my favorite secondary characters in the series, Mr. Williams.  Despite having a limited run, he’s probably one of the funniest characters on the show.  Finally, this episode has a really nice storyline for Cory and Topanga, culminating with the jean jacket toss which is one of the iconic moments of the great Cory/Topanga relationship.

3. The Happiest Show on Earth (s3)

What happens: Cory is still in love with Topanga and resigns to win her back.  When Topanga wins an essay contest and gets to go to Disney World, Cory fears that she’ll end up falling for Ronnie “Lips” Waterman, a smooth talker and heartbreaker from class.  Shawn and Cory hatch a plan to get to Disney World while Eric covers up for Cory’s absence.  In Florida, Topanga resents being chased so hard by both Cory and Waterman.  She thinks Cory really came to Disney to be with another girl, Kristin.  When Topanga overhears Cory having a heart-to-heart with a visiting Dana from Step-by-Step and then a dolphin in the aquarium at Epcot, she realizes how he truly feels.  They share a dramatic kiss in front of Epcot’s iconic “Spaceship Earth” and get back together.

Why I love it: Ah, the Disney episode.  All of the great family sitcoms on ABC in the Golden Age had their Disney episode, but Boy Meets World’s was really a classic as it had so many of the elements of a great BMW episode.  You’ve got Shawn and Cory teaming up to go on a wild goose chase through “The Happiest Place on Earth”.  You’ve got big brother Eric supporting and covering for Cory by using a dummy look-a-like which is good for a lot of laughs.  Most of all, you’ve got the moment that we’d been waiting for all season as Cory and Topanga finally get back together.  It’s a great scene and a classic moment in the greatest tv relationship of the era, and serves as the capstone to one of the most memorable episodes of the series.

2. Things Change (s5)

What happens: As senior year draws to a close, Cory’s world teeters on the brink of chaos.  He, Angela and Topanga are all accepted to a local college called Pennbrook, but Shawn gets waitlisted.  Cory tries to convince other kids at school to turn down Pennbrook to increase Shawn’s odds of being admitted, and it works.  But Shawn shocks Cory and everyone by saying that he intends to turn Pennbrook down in order to pursue a job as a photographer’s assistant.  Cory tries to talk Shawn out of it, recruiting Jack and others to help, but to no avail.  While Cory is distracted with Shawn, Topanga wrestles with a decision of her own: she received an acceptance letter from Yale, to which she applied when she and Cory were broken up.  Cory had been so preoccupied with Shawn that he is blindsided when Topanga tells him she is considering going.  For their part, Alan and Amy Matthews have recently announced that they’re having a fourth child, and they’re making plans to redecorate Cory’s room for the new baby.  Feeling that everything around him is falling apart, Cory seeks advice from Mr. Feeny, who then tells Cory that he is retiring to Wyoming at the end of the school year.

Feeling scared and alone, Cory finally finds some solace in the form of his younger sister Morgan, who seems to be the only person in his life not changing.  They head to Chubby’s for a burger, but Cory quickly finds out that his childhood hang out has been sold and is now a pirate-themed family restaurant.  Near the end of his rope, Cory has a talk with Eric and starts to come to grip with his situation.  While he may not agree with everyone’s decisions or like their consequences, he understands that it may be impossible for things to stay the same forever, and he can’t live in fear of change.  The episode ends with Eric going to visit Mr. Feeny, his mentor, to plead with him not to go.

Why I love it: To me, this episode is the show in a nutshell.  Growing up is change.  You’ll make close friends, you’ll fall in love, you’ll have family members and teachers who care for you and give you everything they possibly can.  But eventually there comes a day when—through no fault of your own—fate throws a monkey wrench into everything that was comfortable and everything changes.  Naturally, this can be very scary, but in time we usually come to realize that everything happens for a reason.  Change is inevitable, but if you have family and friends who love you, everything will be alright in the end. To quote Cory himself 2 seasons later, 

“Even though it may seem that the world is going out of its way to teach you these hard lessons, you’re going to realize, it’s the same world that gave you your family and your friends… and you’re going to come to believe that the world is going to protect you too.”  

Boy Meets World at its finest.

1. Starry Night (s5)

What happens: Cory and Topanga have been broken up for several weeks after Cory’s feelings for a girl named Lauren changed Topanga’s view of their relationship.  A new exhibit has brought Vincent Van Gogh's art to Philadelphia, most notably a piece called “Starry Night”.  Topanga was supposed to see the exhibit with Cory, but since they broke up she goes with Angela instead.  While there, the two meet a smooth-talking artist named Ricky Ferris who knew Topanga many years ago and who walks the gallery with Topanga before asking her out.  Intrigued but confused about moving on, Topanga finds Cory and takes him to see Starry Night, needing to know how he feels about it before she can decide on Ricky.  But all that Cory can see in the painting is pain and despair, since that’s all he feels inside.  Topanga clues him in that Starry Night is a masterpiece, but all Cory can think about is their relationship, and so he replies “No, WE’RE a masterpiece!”

Topanga decides to go on the date with Ricky, and when Shawn finds out, he too thinks it’s over for Cory and Topanga.  This makes Cory the last man on earth to still believe it will work out—a position that he embraces, since he is so sure he is correct.  Topanga goes to dinner with Ricky and enjoys it; but when she kisses him at the end of the night, she feels nothing and realizes that Cory Matthews is the man for her.  She and Cory meet under the stars on the playground, where they first met as small children, and profess their undying love for one another once more.  The episode ends with Shawn and Angela, who look at several paintings only to give each other passionate kisses, before coming to Starry Night and stopping to ponder its beauty together.

Why I Love It:  Call me a softy, but I’ve always loved this episode of Boy Meets World as much as any episode of any television show.  After a very compelling breakup storyline over the previous few episodes, we finally see the reunion of Cory and Topanga.  The use of Van Gogh’s Starry Night gives the episode a unique artistic quality that you don’t find in many other Golden Age sitcom episodes.  The "magnum opus" of Vincent Van Gogh, one of the greatest painters in history, the painting provides a magnificent backdrop and a sort of symbolism for the events of the episode.  While no one truly knows what Van Gogh was thinking as he looked out his sanitarium window at the village below and painted Starry Night, I think Topanga’s interpretation that it represents a village where the people live in peace and where they look up at the sky and know God’s love for them is as valid as any.

Ultimately the episode stands as a testament to one of the greatest relationships that a generation ever knew.  Maybe they weren’t quite Romeo and Juliet, but for our generation, Cory and Topanga were the epitome of true love.  Even though he made mistakes, Topanga never gives up on Cory, and for his part, Cory never loses faith in his relationship with Topanga, even when everyone else had given up on them ever getting back together.  The scene on the playground—where it all began for Cory and Topanga—is set under the stars, paralleling the theme of Van Gogh’s painting.  And as Cory and Topanga reunite, they look to the stars above and they know that everything will be alright.

There is only one word that can accurately describe this “magnum opus” of Boy Meets World—masterpiece.

So, there it is--GA4K's Top 10 Boy Meets World episodes.... Well, my opinions at least. Even though it was tough to cut so many episodes, writing this post has reminded me how amazing these 10 episodes were, so no regrets.  That said, we’d love to hear which of these were your favorites or which episodes that were left off should have made it.  Comment here or tweet us @GoldenAge4Kids. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Birthday Parties in the Golden Age

For kids in the Golden Age, few social events were more important than a good birthday party.  You’d walk in proudly, wearing one of your “nice outfits” that your mom picked out for you that day, and carrying a present that she had picked up on her most recent trip to the department store.  Next, you had the chance to run around and play with your friends for a while, expending some energy in the process.  Then, you’d eat some pizza and watch the birthday boy or girl open their gifts.  Finally, you’d have some birthday cake and/or ice cream, grab your goodie bag, and head on your way.

Here are some of our favorite Golden Age birthday party locations and activities:

The Arcade

The arcade was a social hub throughout the 1980s and through most of the '90s as well.  Just about every mall had one, and in those days it was a lucrative enough business that there were many standalone arcades too.  Walking into an arcade could be sensory overload.  Most were dark rooms with the bright neon lighting that was so popular in the Golden Age.  The carpet was patterned with color-splashed designs that were also very popular in those years.  And all around, coin-ops and other arcade games flashed and beeped, each competing for your attention.  This video does a pretty good job of capturing the look and feel of the classic arcade: 

Some arcades were of the “play to collect as many tickets as you can and trade them in for a prize” variety; others just offered coin-ops where you played a game with/against a friend or against the computer, and the only prizes were bragging rights and/or high scores.  If you were at a birthday party, most likely you were given a set amount of tokens to use as you saw fit.  As a younger child I liked to use my tokens for ski ball and hoop shoot, which were cash cows for tickets.  But as I got older and realized that I’d never get enough tickets for the big prizes (like a bike!), I opted instead for whatever was the most popular coin-op at the time.

Today, arcades still exist in some markets, often appealing to niche markets (ie. the Dave & Busters phenomenon, appealing to grown up Golden Agers).  But for the most part, the industry has died out.  The rapid advancement in technology used in home video consoles like Playstation or Xbox meant that kids didn’t need to make a trip to the arcade for a technically-impressive video game experience, and the proliferation of online gaming over the last decade meant that kids didn’t need to leave their house to put a whoopin’ on a stranger.  While the growth of video games into the main stream has been welcome, the loss of the arcade experience is lamentable.  No home video game experience can compare to the excitement of walking into an arcade as a kid in the '80s or '90s.

The Roller Rink

Roller rinks are certainly not something unique to the Golden Age—in fact, their greatest popularity may have been achieved in the decades prior.  The late 1960s and 1970s turned the roller rink into a popular hangout spot for kids and teens, and the disco boom of the mid to late '70s dovetailed nicely with the roller rink experience.

But in the early 90’s the rise in popularity of in-line skates, better known to most as Rollerblades (the name of the most popular in-line skate manufacturer), breathed life back into the roller rink business.  The rink again became a popular hangout spot for teens and in many places, a popular location for kids to have their birthday party.

Unlike the arcade, where just about anyone could fit in and have fun, the roller rink drew clear distinctions between the cool kids who had the coordination to glide around the rink gracefully and the not-so-cool kids who struggled to stay upright.  Personally, I didn’t have my own rollerblades and birthday parties were the only time I went to the rink, so learning to skate was a definite challenge.  I did a lot of grabbing the wall and flopping around on the ground while my friends and classmates got a kick out of my clumsiness.  However, once you got the hang of it, skating was a blast.  And if you got to the point where you could glide around effortlessly, someone might even ask you to hold their hand and be their partner for the all-important “couples skate”.

Laser Tag

In the mid 1990s, a new birthday party craze swept the nation in the form of Laser Tag.  Combining those same 90’s bright neon lights from the arcade with some bass-bumping techno music (think: Mortal Kombat Theme), laser tag had a futuristic, outer-space type of vibe that was the epitome of cool to kids in the '90s.  I think the atmosphere could aptly be described as a cross between Tron and a '90s rave party, with some super-fancy toy guns thrown in for good measure.  It’d be very difficult to come up with a better recipe for awesomeness.

Different venues had different house rules for laser tag and different spins on the game.  I remember that the first time I ever played, at a birthday party around 1994, the game was in essentially a big bouncy castle with curtain-like walls to divide “rooms”.  It was every man for himself, and each player wore a vest that would light up if you were “alive” and that would go out when you were “dead” (you came back to life after a short stint as “dead”).  There was no scoring and no real objective other than just trying to shoot at other kids—though it was still a blast.  As the years went by though, the game got a bit more sophisticated.  Elaborate arenas were built, looking and feeling like something off of the Nickelodeon show GUTS, but with more darkness and mystique (and of course, more techno beats).  Also, a capture-the-flag-like set of rules emerged.  Players were split into 2 teams, and you only aimed for players on the other team.   For each player you shot, you were awarded points.  The real points though came from making it to the enemy’s base and shooting that.  At the end, the score was tallied and a winner determined, plus individual stats were posted.   Some laser tag arenas even added in a storyline to the game, taking the players to a room before the game started and showing a movie or having an employee deliver some message that explained the reason for the game.  Post-apocalyptic storylines were a favorite.

It always felt like the game was over too soon, but it didn’t matter.  10 or 15 minutes of laser tag was still the best 10 or 15 minutes you were going to have in a given week.  Today some laser tag arenas are hanging around, but the game is not as popular as it once was.  Here’s hoping it makes a comeback so that a new generation experiences the thrill of the kill while the bass rattles the neon lights of the arena.

Discovery Zone

Much of our early childhood education is focused not just on reading, writing and arithmetic, but on socializing behavioral norms into kids.  Stay in your seat and sit still.  Raise your hand when you have something to say.  When you play with your friends, maintain your best behavior.  There’s a strong emphasis on structure, order and decorum.  But deep down inside of every kid lies the true, human instinct—to jump around and play wildly and crazily!  And it was this desire to let loose that made Discovery Zone one of the most fun places on earth for kids in the Golden Age.

Ball pits.  Big slides.  Tunnels to crawl through.  Ropes to swing on.  Bouncy rooms and trampolines.  DZ had them all and more.  It was kind of like the biggest and best playground you’d ever experienced, but it was indoors and seemingly everything was cushioned or foam-padded.  The extra padding and bounciness made you feel totally safe at all times, and with that feeling of safety it felt ok to be as wild and crazy as your heart desired.  Want to pretend you’re a pro wrestler coming off the top rope as you jump into the ball pit?   Go ahead!  Want to flop around like a fish out of water in the bouncy room?  Go for it!  Just want to run around, arms flailing, screaming as loud as you can?  You got it!  There were a few rules and regulations around using the equipment at DZ, but for the most part you could, as the commercial promised, “let loose and be on (your) own.”  For kids in the early and mid 90’s, that was a great feeling.

Sadly, Discovery Zone did not survive for even a decade.  After its founding in 1990 and IPO in 1993, the company was acquired by Blockbuster Video in 1994.  By 1996, the company had fallen on hard times and was forced to file for bankruptcy.  By 1999, several hundred former DZ locations had been acquired by and turned into Chuck E. Cheese restaurants while the rest were shut down.  Many of DZ’s ideas were co-opted by McDonalds as they expanded their PlayPlace business.  Though DZ is no longer around, it lives on in the memories of all those who “let loose” there in its heyday.  And if they ever open up something similar for adults, I know many Golden Agers will be first in line to try it out.

What were your favorite birthday party activities and locations in the Golden Age?  If you'd like to reminisce about any of the above or if you have any that we've forgotten, let us know by commenting or tweeting us @GoldenAge4Kids.  We'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Iconic Sports Teams of the Golden Age

The Golden Age of the '80s and '90s were a great time to be a sports fan.  Below, our Top 5 (in no order) most iconic sports teams of the Golden Age:

#1. Tie—Los Angeles Lakers & Boston Celtics

In the 1979 NCAA finals, one of the great individual sports rivalries of all time was born.  On one side, a country boy from Indiana, “The Hick from French Lick” Larry Bird.  On the other side, a city boy from Lansing whose game was so electric to watch that he was called “Magic”.  Ultimately it was Earvin “Magic” Johnson who won the NCAA crown, but the story was just beginning.

In the NBA, both Bird & Magic joined teams that had solid talent bases.  Magic teamed up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and later James Worthy as part of the 80’s “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers.  The team played with a flair for the dramatic and a great deal of style, mirroring the city that they represented in many ways.  Bird, meanwhile, went to Boston to play with the likes of Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish and Dennis Johnson.  They were a tough, gritty team that won with a lot of hustle, and in many ways represented the blue collar, lunch pail attitude of the people of Boston.

The Lakers/Celtics battles throughout the 80’s were epic.  Each side won its share, with Magic’s Lakers winning 5 rings and Bird’s Celtics taking home 3.  The rivalry was intense, physical, and still persists today.  The charisma of Magic and Bird—in different ways—made the Lakers and the Celtics iconic teams in the 80’s.  It even inspired a broadway musical!

#2. The Georgetown Hoyas

In the early 1980’s, a fledgling sports network called ESPN started to gain national attention by broadcasting games from the newly-formed Big East basketball conference.  Though many of the teams were compelling, one stood out from the crowd—The Georgetown Hoyas.

Head Coach John Thompson was a polarizing figure.  An outspoken African-American at a prestigious (and mostly white) university, Thompson rubbed many fans the wrong way by bringing in a roster full of players from the inner-city.  Opposing fans accused Thompson of being a racist or a bigot, and at times hurled racial invectives at him and his players.  On the other hand, the Hoyas were enormously popular across the country with fans who related to their rebellious attitude and take-no-prisoners approach to the game.  Stores across the country couldn’t keep the famous Hoyas Starter jacket in stock.

Thompson and the Hoyas went to three Final 4’s in the 80’s, defeating Hakeem Olaujuwon, Clyde Drexler and “Phi Slamma Jam” for the championship in 1984.  With the success of centers like Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning, Georgetown earned the nickname “Big Man U”.  But it was a diminutive guard who became perhaps the most popular player to ever don the blue and gray—“The Answer” Allen Iverson in the mid-90s.

#3. “The U”—The University of Miami

The 1980s were a time of great change for the city of Miami.  Cocaine trade brought an influx of money into the area, and racial tensions between blacks and whites flared over a number of incidents.  To top it off, a wave of Cuban prisoners landed in Miami in the early 80’s, helping the city earn a reputation as a dangerous and lawless place.  Enter, Hurricanes: 

In a city that in those years only had one professional team—the Dolphins, whose connection with the city had waned—the ‘Canes became the rallying point for local sports fans.  

“The U” (as they came to be known) recruited the Miami-Dade area heavily, and the players who wore the green and orange had a definite edge.  The U became known for over-the-top trash talk and demonstrative touchdown celebrations.  They also earned a reputation for finding trouble off the field including gangs, drugs and violence.  Standing in stark contrast to the “choirboys” at schools like Notre Dame who had dominated college football for so long, The U was either loved or hated by every college football fan—there was no in-between.

The U became a factory for top NFL talent, including Michael Irvin, Vinny Testaverde, Cortez Kennedy, Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis.  They laid claim to 4 National Titles between 1983 and 1991 with a 5th in 2001.  Today “The U” is still synonymous with a brash and edgy approach to the game, even if the on-field results haven’t compared to the Golden Years.

#4. The Chicago Bulls

Dynasty.  There’s no other way to describe the Chicago Bulls in the 1990’s. 
Arguably the greatest player of all time and certainly the most popular, Michael Jordan was as famous as any human being in any walk of life during the 1990’s.  He captivated the imagination of a generation with his ability to seemingly fly through the air.  Yet Jordan wasn’t just an athlete and a dunker, but a great passer, shooter and defender as well.  His competitive drive willed his teams to victory and brought out the best in his teammates.  The Bulls won back-to-back-to-back titles from 1991-’93.

After the murder of his father and for a variety of personal reasons, MJ walked away from the game in 1993.  But by 1995 he was back in action, and by the 1995-96 season he was back to his old form.  With some new players around him, including the very colorful Dennis Rodman, and some familiar old faces like the greatest sidekick in NBA history Scottie Pippen, the Bulls re-found their old ways.  They again won back-to-back-to-back titles from 1996-’98 and set an NBA record for wins with 70 in ’96-’97.

Whether rooting for them or against them, basketball fans in the Golden Age knew they were privileged to watch the greatness of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.  This list isn’t in any order, but if it were, the Bulls would be the clear #1.

#5. The Dallas Cowboys

How ‘bout ‘dem Cowboys??!?

It’s difficult for dynasty’s to emerge in the NFL, where parity is so prevalent.  But in the 1990’s there was one team that clearly stood head-and-shoulders above the rest—the Dallas Cowboys.
Led by Jimmy Johnson (formerly of The U) and the Big 3 of Troy Aikman, Emmit Smith and Michael Irvin, the Cowboys were a force to be reckoned with.  This was no small feat after going 3-13 in 1988 and 1-15 in 1989.  But through smart drafting and patience by owner Jerry Jones and Johnson’s ability to motivate his players, the Cowboys very quickly grew into a team that seemingly had all-pro talent at every position.  In January of 1993, just 3 years after going 1-15, the Cowboys blew out the Buffalo Bills to win Super Bowl 27.  The following year, with the same core team, the Cowboys once again beat the Bills to accomplish the repeat.

Later in 1994, Johnson and Jones had a falling out leading to Jimmy’s resignation and the installation of Barry Switzer as head coach.  The team lost in the conference championship that season, but the following year, buoyed by the addition of the ultra-confident “PrimeTime” Deion Sanders, the Cowboys once again won the Super Bowl, the 5th in franchise history.

With many of the great players of the Golden Age donning the lone-star of “America’s Team”, the Cowboys were certainly one of the most iconic teams of the era.

Thank you to all those websites who have let us use their photos for the purpose of this post.  

Who do you think were the most iconic teams of the Golden Age (80's & 90's)?  We'd love to hear from you in the comments section or on Twitter!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

TV in the Golden Age

Sometimes, I feel bad for kids growing up today.  They have no idea what they're missing.

In a world where most houses have access to hundreds of cable channels and just about everyone has a DVR, our tv watching habits have changed.  Channels have specialized, and no matter what time of the day your favorite program airs, you can watch it at your own convenience.  Most homes have multiple tv sets, not to mention video game systems, computers, ipads/iphones and a number of other entertainment options.  In the modern household you might see, for example, the younger kids watching a DVR'd Disney Channel show in one room while the older/teenage child FaceTimes a friend in her own room and a parent channel surfs in the living room.  As the modern family has changed, so has the tv programming--hardly any shows try to cater to everyone, and each show has a clearly defined "target demographic" as network executives try to maximize their ad revenue.

But it wasn't always this way.  There was a time--not too long ago--when at around 8pm (7 central), after all the homework and dishes were done, that a family would gather around the tv set and enjoy an evening of tv programming together.

And we were treated to some of the greatest shows in the history of television.  Lovable characters that are still talked about today.  Hilarious situations that had us in stitches.  Food fights.  Ridiculous dancing.  Men in drag. You name it, the primetime tv shows of the 80's and 90's had it.

But it wasn't all just fun and games.  Television in the Golden Age always taught us something too.  Take a look at the following clip:

(Embedding for the video has been disabled, but PLEASE check it out at this link:)

Family Matters Scene on Racism

Does anyone think ANY tv show or network would have the guts to take on a scene like that today?

TV in the Golden Age was extremely entertaining, but that wasn't all.  It had substance, and more often than not it taught us something--about growing up, or about the world, or about ourselves.  The shows of our childhood weren't afraid to take on big issues--whether it was Family Matters with racism, Fresh Prince with gun violence, Saved by the Bell with drug use, Boy Meets World with teen drinking, Full House with child abuse, or any of dozens of other powerful storylines taken on by these great shows and others.  Golden Age shows took on relevant issues of their time and gave us some insight on how to deal with them.  No issue was too big.  And it was all done tastefully, so that the entire family could watch and understand without anyone feeling uncomfortable.

And beyond the contemporary issues, Golden Age shows taught us about the real world problems we'd face in every day life--peer pressure, drama with parents or best friends, the delicate emotional balance of young love.  I can't tell you how many times in life I've faced a tough personal issue only to realize that Kevin Arnold or Cory Matthews or some other great Golden Age character had faced a similar issue and ended up ok.

We'll never forget the tv shows of the Golden Age for the memorable characters, countless laughs and warm-fuzzy moments.  But for me, the fact that they were "real" made them so much more relatable and is the reason why they still resonate today.  While today's television programs go for cheap laughs with adult humor--even in the 8/7c timeslot--the programs of the Golden Age made us laugh, and cry, AND taught us something and made us better people.  For that, we'll always love them.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What is "The Golden Age 4 Kids"?

Thanks so much for checking out our blog.  If you've come this far, hopefully you'll stay a while, bookmark us, add us to your feed and/or follow us on Twitter (@GoldenAge4Kids).  We'll do our best to make it worth your while.  You may have some questions on what the blog is all about, so an attempt to answer them here:

What exactly is "The Golden Age 4 Kids"?

Like many of you, the authors of this blog were born in the 1980s and grew up in the '80s & 90's.  We feel that there was a certain magic to those years that made it a very special time to grow up--a "Golden Age" for kids.  In this blog we intend to remember and celebrate the popular and cultural forces that were so integral in shaping our generation.

What's up with the name?

The name is inspired by the opening monologue of the pilot episode of "The Wonder Years".  Daniel Stern, voicing the grown-up Kevin Arnold, recalls:

"There's no pretty way to put this. I grew up in the suburbs.  I guess most people think of the suburbs as a place with all the disadvantages of the city and none of the advantages of the country, and vice-versa.  But in a way, those really were "the wonder years" for us there in the suburbs.  It was kind of a golden age for kids."
Of course, Kevin was talking about the years he grew up in--the 60's and early 70s--and to be sure, this was a great and interesting period to be a kid.  However, we think of the 80's and 90's as a great era to be a kid too, capable of matching up with any other, and worthy of celebration in its own right.

What's the goal of this blog?

We have 3 main goals in mind:

  • To memorialize the popular and cultural forces of the 80's and 90's: We'll hit on some things that you're sure to remember and some others that you probably forgot.  Overall, these are the people, places, shows, movies, artists etc. that we loved growing up, and we don't want them to ever be forgotten.
  • To celebrate all these things: In addition to just keeping memories alive, we want to detail exactly what made these things so great.  Maybe in the process readers will learn about a show or a movie that they never watched but that sounds interesting, and buy a copy on Amazon or eBay.  Maybe they'll learn about a band they weren't familiar with and download a track on itunes.  In recent years a lot of websites have cropped up that talk about 90's life or 80's pop culture, but many of the folks running these sites have a distinctly sarcastic and cynical tone.  You won't find much of that here-- we're interested in looking back on the golden years with a smile, even when it wasn't perfect.
  • To be an advocate for "golden age" culture elsewhere: There are so many great tv shows from the 80's and 90's that aren't available on DVD that it's a tragedy.  I can get 1000 television channels, but a lot of the classic shows of yesteryear are nowhere to be found.  Today, many "golden age" kids are growing into professionals with careers, salaries and money to spend.  We're becoming a powerful consumer group.  Many folks in the media have noticed, and you've started to see a trend toward bringing 80's and 90's content back to the mainstream, such as the "90's are All That" block on Teen Nick, Boy Meets World and Saved by the Bell coming to MTV2, or the glut of blockbuster movies like Transformers or GI Joe based on Golden Age content.  But it isn't enough.  We want more and better content prominently featured.  We want all the great shows of the era on DVD and on-demand, so that younger generations can appreciate them too.  We want reunion shows, bonus features, and more.  Hopefully, this blog will gain enough popularity that we're able to be a strong advocate in making this "wish list" a reality.

Who are we?

Just a couple of now-grown kids from the suburbs--we grew up in houses like a lot of other houses, on a street like a lot of other streets, in a town like a lot of other towns.  We cherish the memories of our childhoods and lament the direction that popular culture has taken over the last decade-plus.  We frequently find ourselves reminiscing about the old days, and have now decided to take our memories to the internet to reminisce with others.  We hope you'll enjoy our take on the Golden Age, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts as well.

With any feedback or ideas, please feel free to contact us at or tweet us @GoldenAge4Kids.

Hope you'll continue to check us out--the best is yet to come!