I know a thing or two about The Baby-Sitters Club. I’d even consider myself somewhat of an expert. I have collected every Baby-Sitters Club book and I’m endeavoring to reread and summarize the entire collection. So, when Netflix announced a new re-envisioning of the series, I was, to say the least, incredibly skeptical.
I’m at that weird age when it seems like nostalgia is the current media offering. Documentaries about toys I grew up with. The comic books of my youth are major motion pictures. Streaming services tout their catalog of shows from my childhood’s Must-See Thursday or T.G.I.F. And those are the ones I enjoy. The documentaries and the cinematic universes and the Boys Meets World rewatches are the perfect escapes right now. Then there’s the other stuff.
There are multitudes of reboots. Some pretty good, but for every Spider-Man: Homecoming there are ten Jurassic Worlds. These movies prey on nostalgia for a recognizable intellectual property. I understand it. Not as much marketing is required. The thing is the thing and we already know about the thing.
While these movies that capitalize on recognition with properties that already have attachment among a certain audience do well, they can suffer from problems that hinder the potential audience satisfaction or audience attachment or even monetary value.
One extreme is a strict adherence to the source material, so much so that an audience says, “What’s the point?” The prime example of this is Gus Van Sant’s Psycho. The shot-for-shot remake added nothing new. Why would you watch this movie when there’s a masterpiece available?
The other extreme is when a reboot changes too much and fails to capture what made the original iconic. While Jurassic World was a box-office success, it’s staying power has proven middling at best. Instead of a commentary about the ethics of science with some awesome practical effects merged with cutting-edge CGI and interesting, well-rounded characters, we got a CGI-bloated action film with one-dimensional characters and the worst Chris. Some times a reboot attempts to answer a question no one asked, like the Tim Burton Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
All that to say that making an adaptation that rides on nostalgia while updating it or adding interesting content is a tricky bridge to cross. Somehow, Rachel Shukert has made a reboot that placates the inner child within me while making the content accessible and relatable to a new, modern audience.
The new reboot does not hold the original text as sacrosanct — the series is willing to make some big changes. The girls have cell phones.
The biggest changes, particularly in terms of diversity, are a welcome and exciting change. Dr. Johansen has a girlfriend. There’s a new baby-sitting charge named Bailey, who is a girl who is transgender. There also seems to be more Black families, besides just the Ramseys. And as far as our favorite babysitters go, Dawn (Xochitl Gomez) no longer has long blond hair, she still has her west coast laid-back attitude, which is the essence of the character. Mary Anne(Malia Baker) may look different from the pale face on the book covers, but she is still the anxious wallflower who is great with kids. These changes reflect the world we live in now, but the show confronts these issues with the same care and spirit that the original book series has. This makes it so there’s something new to be said, making sure this isn’t just a rehash of the books. Despite all the new changes, not everything has changed.
Some things are still the same — they’re still a baby-sitting club. They still meet three days a week. They’re still twelve. Claudia (Momoma Tamada) is still the Japanese-American artist with a genius sister, Stacey (Shay Rudolph) is still boy-crazy, good at math, and diabetic, and Kristy (Sophie Grace) is the boss who is dealing with her mother’s impending nuptials. However, all these characters transcend their three-word stereotypes (“The Shy One,” “The Kooky One”). In one episode, Kristy lashes out about her father’s abandonment, an issue that is not so openly discussed in the book (although, it is a central plot point in the 1995 movie).
The cast is phenomenal with Malia Baker as Mary Anne as a particular standout. Of course, I have a particular affinity for this character as she was my favorite growing up. As far as I was concerned, Mary Anne is one of the harder characters to get correct in my head. She has to walk a delicate rope between too meek and assertive with kids and Ms. Baker does a wonderful job.
The parents are also good, although the show doesn’t hinge on them. There is a particular casting that was a revelation, but I’ll get to that one in the spoilers. Before that, let me say that Alicia Silverstone as Kristy’s mother, Elizabeth Thomas, is a treat for the older fans who grew up with the books.
Speaking of the books, most of the stories are based on the books themselves. I’ll discuss specific things in the spoilers section, but the writers have been able to bring a fresh spin while maintaining the essence of the book. I also appreciate how they’ve been able to navigate the more problematic storylines from the late ’80s series.
I only have one gripe, and it’s not detrimental to my enjoyment of the series. When I saw that clear ’90s phone in the trailer, my face lit up. I had that phone. That was my phone when I was a kid! The prospect of hearing that ring and seeing the phone light up filled me with glee. But the phone rang in the show and I immediately knew that wasn’t the sound that phone made. I knew that phone. I had that phone. I was looking forward to hearing that phone. It’s a minuscule issue and I still enjoyed the show.
Overall, this is a great adaptation for new fans as well as old fans who grew up with the books. The series is on Netflix right now and I would like a second season. I want to see more Mallory and Jessi. Maybe introduce Shannon and Abby. So please watch the show.
Spoiler-Heavy Quick Observations
- I liked Claudia’s shoe response in the first episode.
- If Mary Anne and Kristy live next door, why is Mary Anne’s house so dramatically bigger than Kristy’s house?
- When I saw Marc Evan Jackson as Mary Anne’s father, Richard Spier, I almost screamed because that’s the best casting I’ve ever seen.
- I also think Mr. Spier is more sympathetic in the show than in the books. In the books, I find him ridiculously unreasonable, whereas his portrayal of Mr. Spier in the show is more akin to a well-meaning but sometimes ignorant father. I also think that Jackson plays the character comedically and I looked forward to any scene involving Mr. Spier.
- I also liked Karen (Sophia Reid-Gantzert) in the series more than I do in the books. In the books, I find her annoying. In the series, she’s more precocious than annoying and it’s endearing.
- I prefer Bailey DelVecchio over Jenny Prezzioso. I understand that Jenny’s absence in Mary Anne Saves the Day does not indicate that the Prezziosos do not nor cannot exist in the series universe. However, if we need a princess character to become close to Mary Anne and only Mary Anne, then I’d rather have a girl going through something important and the babysitter who can stand up for her, rather than a girl whose sole personality trait is “fussy” and the babysitter who deals with the girl’s “fussiness.”
- Dawn is probably the most relevant character today, considering the current climate of our country (both temperature-wise and politically).
- When comparing Mr. Barrett in the series to Mr. Barrett in the books (that review is coming soon), series Mr. Barrett is more sympathetic than in the books. In the books, Mr. Barrett just kidnaps his son to teach his ex-wife “a lesson.” If they had kept him problematic, it might not have been the correct tone for the show.
- The treatment for Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls was when I liked the series. That book is terrible for many different reasons I’ve already written about in my review, so I was apprehensive when I saw they kept that book as an episode. The way they fixed it made sense, even if referring to parents’ expectations as the “real phantom phone calls” is a little hamfisted. Frankly, anything is better than the book. Sorry, Ann M. Martin. I love you, but that book is full of missteps.
- I loved the fun Hunger Games reference at Camp Moosehead.
- Speaking of Camp Moosehead, if I were at this camp and some woman told me to stop doing fun art in the woods, I’d tell her I’m calling my parents and she better prepare a refund because I’m paying her and if I want to gather leaves, I’m going to gather leaves.
- Speaking of Camp Moosehead, this place seems terrible. I would have just left and requested a refund for the remaining time.
- Karen’s bindle is adorable.
- Also, since Karen wandered off the camp, her father should have sued. Or at least threaten to sue. This camp is negligent.
- I am very much looking forward to a second season, but even if the show is popular, there’s no way of knowing if Netflix will renew it. They should be more transparent about their renewal process and pay more attention not just to shows that bring in new viewers, but shows that keep their current viewers engaged.