Boy Meets World: Eric's Slow Descent Into Madness
For any kid in the 90s, Boy Meets World was a fantastic show. It was funny, it was heartwarming, and unlike Friends, it actually included some tokens from time to time.
It was basically The Wonder Years but better. While Fred Savage's show was mostly very serious and dramatic (ugh, don't get me started on the constant narration), his brother's show was light-hearted and kept audiences rolling.
Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) is a boy learning about the world, and he has a pretty wonderful family willing to help him do that. One of his closest family members was his brother, Eric (played by Will Friedle).
Eric Wasn't Always Insane
In fact, he was pretty normal during the earliest seasons of the show.
I always thought he was a breath of fresh air. On most shows, the big brother role is a standard archetype, a bully who continuously makes life miserable for the protagonist.
Eric was actually a great big brother. When Morgan was little, he was always piggybacking her and taking care of her, and he was kind to her. He also looked out for Cory and tried to teach him about life, such as how to get away with doing bad things -- something both of them were really bad at.
Then somewhere along the way, Eric began to change.
And The Snowball Rolls
It's my belief that Eric's insanity began when he graduated high school and then couldn't find a job. He wound up depressed on his parents' couch, watching television in a bathrobe everyday.
His parents tried to support him but didn't quite know what to do with him. Neither did the show's writers, who didn't want Will Friedle off the show, so they made him the insane comic relief.
What happened to Eric is basically the story of every Millienial at the time. You are born into a world with a steady economy. It's a world of full of hope, and everyone is telling you how you'll have everything, you can be anything you want to be. Then when you finally grow up, you discover that the economy is crap, you can't get a job, you can't afford college, and you'll probably wind up in your parents' house the rest of your life.
This is enough to make anyone go insane. Especially in a society where so much emphasis is put on proving your worth through rites of passage, such as a driver's license, a job, an active sex life, and a college degree.
In the first season, Eric didn't get his driver's license and it was a total disaster. He got his father's car towed and couldn't get it back because he was too ashamed to admit his failure.
Instead of talking to Eric about why he was afraid to come forward with the truth (shame, low self-esteem, etc), how to avoid peer pressure and pick better friends (Jason seriously sucked), and how it's okay to mess up (so long as you try, blah, blah, blah), his parents instead pressure him into earning this rite of passage so that they can use him to chaperone Cory and Morgan while they watch television.
Failing to meet societal expectations can take a serious toll on a person. (There's a reason we have so many violent, angry, insecure virgins in our society.)
On top of that, Eric had zero support from his parents.
And let's not forget the numerous times he was humiliated in front of various dates. He was likely cracking while maintaining an outwardly cheerful facade.
Honestly, if it wasn't for Mr. Feeny, Eric would have been one of those kids who shoot up a mall or something.
Mr. Feeny Became A Father Figure
What's interesting about the episode with the towed car is that it was Mr. Feeny -- not Eric's own father -- who came to his rescue.
Mr. Feeny tried to help Eric, even though it inconvenienced him to pack up Cory, Shawn, and Morgan and drive all the way over to get him. Later, when he has Eric at home, he yells him to his room like a father would, and when Eric can't admit he didn't earn his driver's license, Feeny blurts out the truth.
The episode makes it clear that Feeny cares about Eric but is also really annoyed by him. Eric, meanwhile, seems to have gravitated toward Feeny as a father figure as his own parents 1) failed to comfort and encourage him regarding his initial failure at the DMV and 2) started to cast him aside in favor of Cory.
Anytime Eric needed fatherly love and guidance, he would go to Mr. Feeny, not Alan, shouting what became known among fans as "The Feeny Call."
"Raging Cory," an episode in season 5, actually acknowledged Alan Matthews' failure to give his love and attention to both sons equally.
When Alan (as if to make up for neglecting Eric before) only plays basketball with Eric, Cory (like a true spoiled brat) gets upset enough to shove his brother.
The episode is resolved once Alan takes his sons to the museum. There is a statue of a "father monkey" offering one coconut to two sons, but the one coconut isn't enough. The statue's meaning is interpreted by Eric, who Alan never bothered taking to the museum before because he assumed he was too stupid -- the same way he never bothered playing basket ball with Cory because he assumed he was a bad athelete.
In reality, Alan is the one at fault. He assigns hobbies to his kids based on his assessment of their abilities, rather than allowing them to choose. And he only has two sons. What kind of father can't make time for two sons? Please. There are single mothers right now with seven kids working nine to five who always make time for every one of their children.
Yet Alan can't take both his sons to the museum when they ask him? Whatever. And what about Morgan? How many times must we shout it from the mountain tops that girls need their fathers for proper emotional development too?
The episode ends in Alan's favor, painting him in a sympathetic light as a father who just doesn't have the time. He is absolved of all wrongdoing as Cory realizes that his father only has so much "coconut" he can spare.
But clearly, bad parenting is a part of Eric's madness. Eric himself acknowledges that Mr. Feeny was a better father figure than Alan:
"I don't know what's gonna happen to me. But I know I'm gonna be a good person who cares about people, and I blame you for that."
The fact that Mr. Feeny regrets never being close to his father in season one makes this all the more touching.
In the end, Eric's eventual insanity is a combination of a crap-society with a broken economy, bad parenting, and . . . self-indulgent writers.
© 2018 Ash Gray