Back in the mid-90s, Big Van Vader had a recurring guest role on ABC sitcom Boy Meets World, resulting in not one but two wrestling episodes. But by the end of the decade and the show’s run, Vader time was over. Not only was Vader’s TV son gone, but Leon White himself was a WWF cast-off and self-professed “big fat piece of s—“.
So when it came time for a WWF Superstar to make a cameo in the show’s last season, Boy Meets World got the man whom Vader gave amnesia, Cactus Jack, better known as…
Or Mankind, if you’d prefer. The set-up to Mankind’s appearance in the two-part season premiere is complicated. Yet also simple. But definitely dumb.
In part one, Jack and Rachel have broken up, so Rachel takes over their apartment and invites Angela and Topanga to move in. This leaves Jack and his would-be roommate Eric without a place to live.
In part two, “For Love and Apartments”, they end up in Topanga and Angela’s old, tiny, girly dorm room — the one with a Hello Kitty doll and a giant Backstreet Boys poster.
Fed up, Jack and Eric go back to the apartment and try to kick the girls out. Topanga, in no mood, challenges the boys to a steel cage tag team match.
But there is to be no steel cage, or even a wrestling ring. No, this is an apartment wrestling match, sort of like Sports Review Wrestling used to feature.
At first, the boys feign confidence. Jack, played by one of the Lawrence brothers, even flexes his muscles to the delight of the audience. But then they try to back out, citing the lack of a referee.
Just then, Mankind busts down the door. “Where am I?” he asks, still feeling the effects of those chair shots from The Rock.
I kid, but what else but head trauma could explain Mankind, in full gimmick, showing up in a random Philly apartment building? At least it’s a better explanation than what the writers offer, which is nothing. In a way, you’ve got to admire the writers just blatantly not giving a s—.
Foley, who just happens to be wearing his WrestleMania XV referee stripes, lays down the law. He forbids the boys from any action “above the belt” and from touching their opponents’ “girly parts” —
— meaning boobs, of course. There is no such thing as a vagina on TGIF. [Update: Ironically, Maitland Ward (Rachel) does adult films now. None of them are called Boy Meets Ward.]
For no particular reason, Mankind starts beating the shit* out of Eric…
…kneeing him in the gut…
…lifting him by the throat…
…and scoop-slamming him onto the couch.
That leaves pretty boy Jack to duke it out with his ex. Rachel, having no qualms about domestic violence, bashes his face into a plate of food.
Angela tags in and does the same thing…
…then tags out to Topanga. Frequent tags, cutting off their opponent from his partner… Do you think the Midnight Express consulted on this episode?
All five participants then face off…
…at which point Mankind knees Eric again…
…and throws him into the railing, once again sparing Jack. Did Matthew Lawrence have a no-bumps clause in his contract or something? Where’s our Will Friedle shoot interview?
The match devolves into a brawl, which ends when Eric taps to the camel clutch.
Mankind awards the match and the apartment to the girls. Hopefully, you got some laughs out of this B plot, because the A plot eschews comedy altogether.
See, this was the final season of Boy Meets World. By then, the writers had decided that Cory and Topanga’s relationship needed to be the sole focus not only of the plot, but of the universe itself. And you, the viewer, had to care, dammit.
Whereas the show’s previous wrestling episode was 90% hijinks and 10% feelings and learning, this one has the ratio more or less reversed.
Topanga’s parents have filed for divorce, leading her to stop believing in love. She breaks off not only her engagement to Cory, but their whole relationship. So now Cory has to to get her parents back together to prove that love is real. And his best friend Shawn has to tag along so he can convince his own ex to believe in love again, too. See what I mean?
This story arc would be unbearable enough on its own, but Boy Meets World demands that viewers emotionally invest in two characters, Topanga’s parents, who first appeared together two episodes ago.
And to make matters worse, both characters were immediately re-cast.
This is actually the third version of Topanga’s dad, who was first played by a member of The Monkees, then a member of Spinal Tap, and now Milos the tennis pro from Seinfeld.
And it’s up to Cory to reunite him with his estranged wife, Dr. Sitarides from Seinfeld.
Cory insists that Topanga’s parents have simply forgotten they love each other…
…much like they forgot they had an older daughter named Nebula.
After Cory reminisces with each parent about all the good times they’ve had over the years (always off-camera), he tricks them into meeting each other.
After what feels like hours, we find out the dad has been having an affair, which Cory really should have seen coming. Whoops! Perhaps the biggest tragedy is that the writers did not play this reveal for laughs.
The worst part? The plot is still unresolved, meaning there will be even more of this shit*.
It’s now time for some mood whiplash, as we go from self-important melodrama to the random misadventures of a wandering pro wrestler.
The episode wraps up back at the girly dorm that Mankind, having screwed Jack and Eric out of their big apartment, now shares with them. After all this episode’s overwrought drama, it’s good to see Mick Foley again.
Mankind, paranoid about the Backstreet Boys looking at him, flips out and gives Jack the Mandible Claw…
…before launching Eric through the ceiling.
“Good God. Good God.”
“That’s it, he’s dead.”