Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: With Lifetime debuting The Unauthorized Full House Story, we take a look at some favorites from the TGIF era.
Any sitcom can do a Halloween episode. The TGIF lineup would often make a night of it around the holiday, introducing Family Matters to the vampire Count Von Winslow, or hosting a party with Sabrina The Teenage Witch, 10,000 Maniacs, and a river of candy corn. Strangely enough, one of the most memorable “Halloween episodes” of TGIF’s lifetime wasn’t a Halloween episode at all: Boy Meets World’s slasher homage “And Then There Was Shawn” debuted in late February, two weeks after Valentine’s Day and a week after the breakup of Cory (Ben Savage) and Topanga (Danielle Fishel). “And Then There Was Shawn” never once poses as a holiday celebration; it’s straightforward in being a subconscious manifestation of Shawn Hunter’s (Rider Strong) inability to deal with the end of his friend’s relationship.
The timing was perfect for Boy Meets World to do in 1998 (and in 30 minutes) what shows in 2015 are just now trying to do with regards to the slasher genre. The first two Scream films and I Know What You Did Last Summer had made waves with those “hottie-hot-hot”s from Party Of Five in the lead roles, and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer was on the horizon. “And Then There Was Shawn” quoted from those films, sometimes verbatim (“What’s your favorite scary movie?”), as well as taking cues and references from Scooby-Doo, South Park, and (as the episode title suggests) And Then There Were None. It wasn’t just different in terms of references: The episode was even shot out of sequence, like a film, with only a handful of scenes performed for a live studio audience.
With the exception of expendable Kenny (“Me? Why me?” “Well, Kenny, it’s certainly not going to be any of us”), the characters welcome their designated episode roles, with Cory and Topanga as the virgins/final guy and girl, Shawn as the horror buff, and Angela as the resident scream queen. In an oral history of the episode, creator Michael Jacobs explains that this was the key to the audience accepting the new world of the episode: “[Parameters] had to be set so that the audience would feel in a very stable surrounding and that they were in good hands. It helped me in my storytelling and certainly helped in the Scream episode. Rider as Shawn, through the episode, sets down the rules.”
“And Then There Was Shawn” also proved its full commitment to its premise by casting the era’s scream queen, Jennifer Love Hewitt, as transfer student Jennifer Love Fefferman (“Feffie”). Though the episode is clearly a product of its time, it remains memorable because many of the jokes and references originate from pop-culture artifacts outside the show’s intended family audience—especially when it comes to the virginity discussion. Though Jacobs and team maintained some tameness to appease the network, the episode’s transcendence of what it supposedly meant to be a TGIF series is part of what makes “And Then There Was Shawn” more timeless than any other episode from its contemporaries, and throughout the run of the series, these experimental episodes would continue to be the stand-outs of the seven-season series.
Availability: “And Then There Was Shawn” is available on DVD and for digital purchase from Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.