Episode: Cory’s Alternative Friends (1×04)
Director: David Trainer
Teleplay: Patricia Forrester
Main Cast: Ben Savage, William Daniels, William Russ, Betsy Randle, Will Friedle, Lee Norris, Rider Strong, Lily Nicksay
Guest Cast: Danielle Fishel, Marla Sokoloff, Megan Parlen, Katie Jane Johnston, Matthew Bartilson, Marty York, Chris Owen, Sam Horrigan
Original Air Date: October 15, 1993
Marla Sokoloff (her character’s name is “Paige” but that’s in no way as memorable as “Marla Sokoloff”) and… using process of elimination on the guest star list, I think it’s supposed to be “Hillary,” but they never say her name onscreen. So, “Hillary” it is. The girls are concluding a class presentation promoting biodegradable products. Said presentation involves dropping a fish into a beaker containing “lake water” and pulling it out seconds later…with nothing left but bones. Scary! Mr. Feeny compliments the girls’ hard work, and calls up Cory and Shawn to present.
The boys high-five each other as they walk up to the front. Shawn pulls down the classroom’s rollup map, and Cory announces that their topic will be the effects of air pollution on everyday life. Mr. Feeny comments that he likes their topic. The boys unfold pointers, and Shawn uses his to indicate “Denver”… which appears to be located in the Gulf of Mexico. Cory points to “Philadelphia,” which is apparently located in Iowa. The boys rattle off random geography-type facts related to each location, news magazine-style. Then, they turn the discussion towards Mile High Stadium (home of the Colorado Rockies, who had the highest run percentage) and Veteran’s Stadium (home of the Philadelphia Phillies). They conclude their presentation by saying that if Philadelphia would clean up its smog, the Phillies’ run percentage would become as high as the Rockies are able to achieve due to their cleaner air. This seems like a topic the stat geeks should explore. And then write meaningless blog and forum posts about their “findings.” Ahem. (Disclaimer: I don’t really hate stat geeks and think they’re quite useful and their findings are often quite interesting. Seriously.)
Cory asks Mr. Feeny if he enjoyed their presentation. Mr. Feeny didn’t and takes partial blame. He announces that the class would redo the assignment, and he would choose the partners. I don’t understand why Marla and Hillary would have to redo their project, because they did a great job. He pairs Shawn with Minkus. Both of them literally facepalm at this news.
Cory tries to pair himself with “Mr. Sullivan,” but Mr. Feeny says that he’s working with “Ms. Lawrence.” “Topanga?” Cory queries apprehensively. She turns around and commands him to give her his hand. He asks what for, and she states that she wishes to know if their “energies converge.” Ummmmmmm….YES. Cory sticks out his hand, and Topanga does some mystical hand dance. She pronounces him “vibrationally acceptable.” Cory asks for a sidebar with Mr. Feeny, who is unmoved and won’t let him switch partners. He explains that he wants the switch because Topanga is “Like, totally strange.” Mr. Feeny counters that strange is relative, and he’s got a neighbor who sings along with his sister’s Barney CDs. Cory is shocked that Mr. Feeny heard him.
School cafeteria. Marla is asking Hillary why she should invite some unnamed fellow to her party. She calls him a “total Brillo head.” Cory, standing approximately 1 ft. behind them, begins sensitively feeling his head. As he sits down with Shawn, he asks what Shawn thinks of his hair. Shawn says that no guy should ask another guy that question. What a liar you are, Shawn. Also, Shawn’s shirt is covered with a dinosaur pattern. Cory clarifies that he wants to know if he has a Brillo head. Shawn thinks he has more of a Nerf head. Cory’s upset that Shawn never told him this before, but Shawn doesn’t see why it matters. Cory rightly assesses that Shawn doesn’t care because he’s got good hair, while Cory has a Chia pet head.
As Shawn (probably unscriptedly, but you never know) runs his fingers through his hair, the winner (and still reigning champion) of the Best Hair of the 90s award comes over to talk to Cory. Topanga informs him that “Jedidiah” would be driving her to the Matthews’ house that afternoon. Cory wants to know who “Jedidiah” is, and of course Topanga calls her father by his first name. During Season One, anyway. Cory thinks this is abnormal. Topanga asks him what he calls his father. Alan is called “Dad,” of course. Straight-faced, Topanga wonders how Cory would then be able to tell his dad apart from the other dads. Cory asks if they could work on the assignment over the telephone or over telepathy. She replies that because the assignment has to do with the environment, they should give it better attention than that. Cory acquiesces, and agrees to meet her later. As one last thing, Topanga asks the boys to put their names to a petition keeping Mrs. Rosemead from losing her job. Shawn doesn’t know who that is (and neither did I, offhand), so Topanga explains that the librarian is being compelled to retire due to “blatant ageism.” Shawn’s opinion is that she’s “blatantly old.” Cory says that they’re busy at the moment, so Topanga leaves.
Shawn comments that Mr. Feeny must despise Cory, since he paired him with Topanga. Cory’s just glad he didn’t get Minkus. Shawn’s glad to have Minkus, though. Because he doesn’t trust Shawn’s ability to earn a good grade, Minkus is doing all the work himself. Shawn declares that Minkus is a god. Cory asks why he sits at the “Weirdo Table,” then. The “Weirdo Table’s” occupants are a redhaired bowlcut with headphones and keyboard-type instrument, Minkus, a girl in overalls, Topanga, and another redhaired bowcut boy wearing a magician’s cape. Shawn says the Weirdos are like The Addams Family, and that they don’t care about their appearances. Cory doesn’t care, though, and asks what should be done about his own hair. Shawn promises to ask his sister about her hair straightening products. Cory’s surprised that she straightens her hair. Shawn says that if she didn’t, her hair would look as awful as Cory’s.
In the Matthews’ living room, Morgan is asking her mother if she can warm up her cold dolly in the toaster. Amy says doing that would be a mistake. Morgan confesses that she made a mistake.
Seeing Cory and Topanga sitting at the kitchen table, Amy asks why they didn’t do anything about the burning dolly. Cory says he supposed plastic was for dinner. Amy retrieves the dolly, who is now flat as a pancake. Morgan proclaims she loves Debbie in spite of her appearance. Oh, so everyone’s subplot is related to this episode’s theme? Good to know. Amy promises to buy Morgan a new dolly. Morgan’s like, “OK” and throws Debbie onto the kitchen counter and runs off. That little girl’s arm is strong and her aim is true. Amy walks back towards the living room, as Cory says goodbye to “Amy.” She glares at him, so he amends the statement to “Mom.” He tells Topanga that he was right about the parents’ name thing.
Topanga and Cory go over their differing presentation ideas. Cory wants to do something fast-paced–the ozone layer. He would wear a hat. Topanga would rather do something atypical and performance arty.
As she puts a battery-powered stereo onto the kitchen counter, Cory protests that if they do something weird, they’ll get laughed at. Undeterred, she hands him a poem to read aloud:
“Sun/The only/The one
Doughnut in the sky
Space/Big gaping place
Doughnut in the sky
Humpback whale/So pale
Exhaust/Is all lost?
Doughnut in the sky”
As he reads this aloud, new agey music plays from her stereo, and she performs… art? It culminates with her drawing on her own face with lipstick.
Cory says that if they are to do this in front of the class, she must whack his head with a baseball bat first. Topanga asks if he saw meaning in the performance. Cory answers that it only means they’ll be laughed at. She asks why he cares what others think of him, because those that mock are “depleting their own karmic reservoir.” Cory stares at her quizzically and asks if she’ll grow up to be one of those women who doesn’t believe in shaving her legs. Better that he ask that now than later, I say. She says she hasn’t made a decision on that. He asks her if her weirdness is intentional. Topanga declares that she doesn’t see herself as weird, but rather unique. Her parents tell her that when she’s not authentic, the earth cries. Cory asks if they tell her this in their mother tongue–Martian. Topanga exclaims that the earth sobs for Cory. Cory’s decided that he’d rather Earth cry than friends laugh. He states that Topanga is made fun of, but he’d rather be unremarkable. She says that he excels at looking just like every ordinary kid, except for his red Phillies hat. Snatching the hat away from her, he explains that he got it after waiting in line for an hour on something called “Hat Night.” Topanga says that because the hat is significant to Cory, it’s beautiful. The studio audience awwws, and so do I.
Shawn doesn’t bother knocking at the kitchen door. He announces that he’s got “the stuff” in a brown paper bag. He sees Topanga’s lipsticked face and tells her to use a mirror. Topanga asks what’s in the bag. Cory asks her what she thinks about his hair. She says it’s like a lovely “desert tumbleweed.” Having had enough of her for one afternoon, Cory pushes Topanga out the door, promising that they’ll use her project idea, and saying that he and Shawn have another project to work on just then. Topanga’s interested in knowing what it is. Shawn asks if she knows about dolphins being trapped by tuna nets. She excitedly says she does. Shawn says it has nothing to do with those, and shoves her out the door.
Later, up in his bedroom, Cory’s got product in his hair. His scalp is burning, unsurprisingly, and so Shawn calls up his sister Stacey on the giant cordless phone. Stacey asks how long his scalp has been burning, and Cory says it’s been burning for 40-45 minutes. Oh dear. Knowing how this plot plays out, I think Cory gets off awfully lucky, in this situation. Stacey says they should have washed it off right away, and wants to know why they didn’t read the directions. After running back into the bathroom, Cory lets out a scream. The camera shows the scream being heard outside his house…throughout Philadelphia…all over planet Earth…across the Milky Way galaxy. Cory exits his bathroom to reveal that his hair did indeed straighten, but it looks… interesting?
Amy and Eric walk into the bedroom and scream in unison, Macaulay Culkin-style. Shawn disavows all involvement and runs out of the room. Amy wants to know what Cory did to his “beautiful hair.” Cory begs to differ, for it resembled Velcro. Velcro and Brillo… two brand names that have become synonymous with both brand name and generic versions of household items. Now, all we need is for someone to compare Cory’s hair to Jell-o, and we’re all set. Eric points out that nothing could possibly stick to Cory’s hair now. Cory gripes that Eric ended up with great hair. Eric agrees and runs his fingers through his hair. The studio audience shrieks its approval. I laugh. Amy tries to damage control Cory’s hair, but she can’t get a comb through it. Eric comments that her attempts are futile, since Cory’s hair will fall out. A classmate of his tried the same product, and she’s now bald.
Morgan walks into the room, complaining that she dislikes her replacement dolly because her outfit isn’t pretty. Amy explains that she’s in business attire because she has a college degree, a good job, and no need for Ken’s financial support. Cory tries to turn their attention back to his personal crisis, causing Morgan to call him “Punky Brewster.” I guess the Philly daytime TV lineups had reruns on in order for Morgan to have known about that show. Morgan leaves the room as Alan enters. Alan hopes that the new hair is just a hat. Cory explains that he was trying to straighten his hair, and Alan asks if he was trying to do it with shellac. Cory asks if shampooing it might help, but Eric insists that because shampoo must touch his head to be effective, it wouldn’t work due to the “polyurethane force field” around Cory’s head. “Polyurethane” is a pretty big word to be part of Eric’s regular vocabulary. But maybe he sanded floors as a summer gig a couple of years back or something. Who knows? Alan is hopeful that Cory won’t lose his hair, because a coworker tried the same product and that’s what happened. Cory admits that he didn’t know what he was doing when he put on the hair product, but announces that he’s not going to school.
One completely expected cut to Mr. Feeny’s classroom later, Cory’s hunched down at his desk, wearing his red Phillies hat. Mr. Feeny instructs Cory to take off his hat so he and Topanga can present. Cory says that the hat is a visual aid for UV-protection, and begs to keep it on. Mr. Feeny’s not hearing his excuses, so Cory must remove his cap. Cory’s hair looks like Jimmy Neutron’s, which really should be impossible to achieve outside of 3-D animation. The class laughs uproariously. Cory tells Topanga she might as well join in the mocking, but she sincerely asks him why she’d laugh because his hair “looks different.”
At lunch, Shawn calls over “Duck Head” to have a seat next to him. Shawn and a random kid yuk it up. Topanga invites Cory to the “”Weirdo Table.” After a minute’s deliberation, he sits between Topanga and the kid with the cape. Minkus offers him the tofu between his chopsticks.
Overalls Girl returns to the table, upset that she’s not getting many petition signatures. Topanga doesn’t understand why nobody cares about Mrs. Rosemead. Cory says it’s because she’s elderly. Magician Boy (whose name proves to be “Darren,” apparently) reminds them of the elderly’s worth in eastern cultures. Cory asks Darren why he wears the cape, something that he’s been wondering since 4th grade. Darren says, “What cape?” Overalls Girl asks for someone else to take over the petition, as she needs a break from being pelted with lima beans. Minkus volunteers, since he’s used to it. Cory says nobody’s going to sign the petition, because of their weirdness. The Weirdos stare at him, so Cory amends that since he now identifies with them, he says this with respect. He says he knows how to get the other students’ signatures. Overalls Girl demands to know why they should take his advice, since he doesn’t know who Mrs. Rosemead is. Cory says that he just needs to know the ones who need to sign the petition. Topanga says they already know who they are, and points to the table occupied by Shawn and two buddies. Cory says that the Weirdos don’t know enough about the normal kids, such as after-school activities and TV watching habits. The Weirdos toss up “Crossfire” and “MacNeil-Lehrer Report” as possibilities. Minkus says he watches anything starring Angela Lansbury. You even made it all the way through Harlow, Minkus? Cory says that the normal kids prefer Beavis and Butthead. The studio audience cheers at this. I am perplexed. The Weirdos ask, “Whom?” Not “Who.” “Whom.” Cory insists that they need strategy, which means they should use somebody who isn’t… a Weirdo. They ask why he’s choosing to help them. “Because life is strange and now so am I,” Cory answers.
Back in his bedroom, Cory’s got a hot mess of disorganized curlers in his hair. Eric enters the room and just stares. Cory tries to explain that he’s trying to make his hair revert to its natural state. Eric’s still basically mute, so Cory threatens to injure him when he gets big enough. Eric snaps a Polaroid picture anyway. Oh, I thought those cameras were the coolest, when I was a kid!
The Weirdos wait in the school hallway, hurt that Cory has apparently bailed on them. Cory finally appears, and his hair now looks like Beakman’s. The Weirdos laugh at him (including Topanga, I should note), and Cory asks if they’re going to do the petition or not. The Weirdos handcuff themselves across the hallway, and attach the empty handcuffs to the lockers. Cory is handcuffed to Topanga. The Boy Meets World world’s balance is halfway restored. Once Shawn will come to his senses and ditch the random buddies, the world will once again aright. The final school bell of the day rings, and the normal kids can’t get past the wall of Weirdos. Random kid (one who ate lunch with Shawn earlier) calls Cory “Don King.” Cory tells the normal kids that if they’ll sign the petition, the Weirdos will move. A normal kid threatens to kill the Weirdos. Cory tries a different tactic, reminding the normal kids that Mrs. Rosemead is so old that she lets them get away with anything they want. Shawn’s lunch buddy remembers how she’d let him out of study hall because he was allegedly training for the Decathlon, and even purchased a discus for him. Cory continues, saying her replacement would be young and insecure, and would be much stricter. The normal kids see Cory’s point and go to the cafeteria to sign the petition. I just want to know… where are the adults, and why are they letting this happen?!?
As the other Weirdos free themselves and exit, Topanga compliments Cory for the way he handled the situation. Cory beams and says didn’t know he had it inside him to do that. Topanga states that a brave warrior is sometimes a reluctant warrior. Noticing how she’s looking at him, he is worried that she’s going to kiss him. Topanga asks if it would be his first. Cory warns her not to come near him, and starts yanking at his handcuff. She continues that it would be cool if his first kiss happened when he saw himself as looking weird. In a panic, he tries to shoo her away. She says that this way, he’ll know that it’s what’s inside that counts, not how he looks. Cory nervously laughs that one shouldn’t kiss somebody one is not married to. Uh huh. Let’s see how many seasons it takes him to change his mind on that. Topanga thinks for a moment and agrees, because she’d have to know the kissee well, and like him, too. Cory is momentarily relieved by this. Then, Topanga pushes him up against the locker and smooches him. The studio audience shrieks its approval. She informs Cory that it was her first kiss, as well. Cory’s still in a state of shock over this whole turn of events.
At lunch in the cafeteria, Cory tells Marla that “Brillo Head” wouldn’t have wanted to go to her party. She’s confused by his statement. Cory says that a man is not defined by his hair. Hillary says that they weren’t discussing him before. Marla says they were discussing her sister’s friend, Dwayne. Hillary says that Cory’s not somebody on their gossip radar because he’s dull. He walks away with his tray, and Topanga notes that his hair has finally reverted. She asks if he prefers it, and he says that it’s only hair. Minkus invite him to eat at the Weirdo Table, but Cory’s already promised Shawn and the buddies. Topanga says a seat will always be open for him. As Cory sits, Shawn’s invites him to play touch football that afternoon. He agrees. Cory looks back at the other table. Topanga looks back at him, reaches into her bag and pulls out his red Phillies hat. They smile.
After spending the prior three episodes exploring Cory’s world via individual relationships (Eric, Mr. Feeny, Alan), this episode turns to Cory and his classmates. Indeed, although much of the episode takes place at school, Mr. Feeny takes a back seat to the action.
I just had a look at BMW’s production order, and holy cow, is it ever jumbled! After the pilot, 1X05 was 2nd in production order, followed by 1×03 and 1×04. The 5th produced episode will be held off until it’s the 14th aired show! “Cory’s Alternative Friends” was produced 6th and aired 4th. I bring this up now because it partially explains why Topanga’s/Random Black Kid’s/Heather Ralston’s/etc.’s appearances are so seemingly random.
This episode has a clear and universal theme, which Topanga hammers home in the last scene: It’s what inside that matters. Interestingly, the only one to be changed by this epiphany in the episode is Cory. It alters his self-perception, in that he goes from feeling self-conscious about a passing comment regarding what turned out to be someone else’s hair, to being able to say that hair’s just hair. It also changes how he views his peers, with his decision to help the Weirdos with their petition, and with his choice to no longer care about what Marla and Hillary think about his Brillo hair. And of course, most importantly, Cory began the episode saying that Topanga is strange. And she was strange. But by the end of the episode, to him, she was his ball-and-chain. Or handcuffs. Whichever. Meanwhile, pretty much everyone else in the episode kept the same perceptions of each other. Shawn and the normal kids thought the Weirdos were weird. The Weirdos didn’t understand how to relate to the normal kids. And Topanga thought that Cory was a cool guy and a good friend… whether he thought she was weird on that particular day or whether he was trying to help her out.
This episode is significant to the show’s run because it’s the one that finally introduces Topanga, who obviously is the missing part of this show’s trifecta. I was just commenting the other day to Geoffrey that the show just isn’t the same without Topanga being in it. It’s kind of funny how, in at least 2 TGIF shows, one of their most iconic characters wasn’t introduced until several episodes in. (I am thinking of Steve Urkel, obviously, which reminds me that Danielle Fishel and Jaleel White were both in Stephanie-centric episodes of Full House, how ’bout that?) It’s been well documented how much her character changed throughout the years. I… really can’t overstate how weird she is in Season One. She’ll gradually normalize over the following few seasons, then by the series’ end, she’ll be an overachiever, and as the show’s comedy style gets broader, a bit of a nag. I wonder what she’ll be like on Girl Meets World, but I guess we’ll find that out soon enough.
By the way, I totally find it plausible that “Chloe” Lawrence decided that her name was too “ordinary,” and changed her name to “Rhiannon.”
Wait, that was who?!/I know them from ___
I wanted to do this recurring segment in this blog specifically because of all of the 90s child actors who made appearances on this show, and this is the first episode to have an large number of kids with spoken lines. There’s a lot of guest stars to cover, so here we go!
Shockingly, this is Marla Sokoloff’s only BMW appearance, and this was her 1st ever credited role. Of course I was introduced to her via her recurring role as Stephanie’s best friend Gia in the last season of Full House, and she’s also had recurring roles on The Practice and Party of Five. I’ve actually seen her on 7th Heaven (as the big sister of a best friend of middle child Lucy), and Scents & Sensibility (as Marianne Dashwood…I find this adaptation to be most cheesy and fluffy and appropriate for rainy Saturdays), and for some reason I’ve stumbled upon her episode of Friends twice, even though I’ve barely watched that show at all.
Megan Parlen plays Girl in Overalls (“Barbara”). I SO should have recognized her from “Rascals,” a thoroughly-below-par-yet-has-funny-moments Season 6 episode of Star Trek: TNG, where she played 12-year-old Ro Laren. Something about her did seem familiar, though. She starred on the TNBC (oh gosh, I miss spending my Saturdays watching this lineup!) show Hang Time, and now she’s a producer.
Katie Jane Johnston (“Hillary”) was in a total of 3 BMW episodes, each in a separate season, each as a separate character. I’d also know her from low-budget 90s kiddie fare Arthur’s Quest, I suppose, since I’d unfortunately seen that that within the past 3 years. Boring Saturday afternoons are boring.
I saw the name “Matthew Bartilson” (“Darren”) and didn’t even have to look at his red hair to figure out that he was the brother of Lynsey Bartilson (of the Kidsongs TV Show and Grounded for Life). I guess I would “know” Matthew from a couple of Recess episodes and from voicing Two-Bits in Two-Bits and Pepper. Which is to say… not at all?
Marty York (“Larry”) will return for 2 more BMW episodes. He was “Yeah-Yeah” in The Sandlot.
Chris Owen (“Ned,” the other redhead bowlcut) was “Sherman” in the American Pie movies. I remember him from a couple of 7th Heaven guest shots.
Sam Horrigan (“Student #1,” who I think is one of the normal kids in the mob) will return for 1 more BMW episode, alongside Marty York. He’s probably best known for being “Quentin Kelly #2” in Grace Under Fire. I didn’t watch that show, but I would have seen him in small roles in Veronica Mars and Holiday Engagement.
Continuity (or lack thereof)
Topanga is introduced, as a guest star, and she is firmly in her Earth Mother stage. Cory’s ditched most of his previously introduced tertiary friends and classmates for this episode, and just has Shawn, “Mr. Sullivan” (who gets no lines), Marla, Hillary, and couple of other random kids with lines, on the “normal kid” side. Jedidiah Lawrence gets his first mention here, although he does not appear in this episode. “Chloe” Lawrence, Topanga’s mother, gets mentioned here as well, although her character’s name will be changed to Rhiannon later. Shawn mentions his (apparently older) sister Stacey, who will disappear later.
The wisdom (and snark) of Mr. Feeny
“Too many years of sixth graders have bled me of my humanity.”