Even as a little girl in the 1980s, I wasn't a big Jem and the Holograms fan. That was my sister's thing. We're very close in age and had declared our own turf as far as toy and cartoon franchises were concerned. Jem and the Holograms was hers.
However, we were living in the same house with a single television set designated for use by the kids. If my sister wanted to watch Jem, that meant I would be watching Jem. It must have made some kind of lasting, subconscious impact because those songs have been infiltrating my mind for decades. Sometimes, when I’m trying to pick out an outfit, I think of “It Depends on the Mood I’m In.” Don’t ever ask me to sing it. Admitting this is a weird enough confession.
Last week, news hit that a Jem and the Holograms live action film is in the works, produced by Hasbro with Jason Blum, Scooter Braun, and Jon M.Chu (who is also set to direct). Of course, the announcement resulted in a severe case of cartoon theme song earworm. It lasted more than 24 hours. The only conceivable cure was rewatching the series from the beginning on Netflix, which I did, going through one episode after the next for days.
Somewhere in the midst of rewatching a show I haven’t seen since the late ’80s, I learned that Jem and the Holograms is really good TV, a feminist show aimed towards little girls.
That promise of “glamour and glitter/fashion and fame” in the opening theme is a red herring. In fact, Jem and the Holograms is a show about girls who like to work with technology, girls who like to play musical instruments, girls who work hard to build businesses and girls who strive to help each other. It just so happens that this is set against a backdrop of exotic locales, award ceremonies and over-the-top ’80s fashion.
Cloaked in pink and filled with soap opera tropes – notably the Jem/Rio/Jerrica love triangle – Jem and the Holograms does a pretty good job at disguising itself as a stereotypical show for girls. It’s not. In fact, it dispels a lot of the notions about female characters as princesses who need to be saved. More often than not, Jerrica Benton/Jem is in a bind, she’ll turn to Synergy, a computer-generated female who allows her to switch personae and create holograms.
There’s always talk about the dearth of well-written female characters in media. Women are relegated to roles that are defined by the male characters surrounding them. Those are characters like mother, sister, girlfriend and wife. With Jem and the Holograms, though, the scenario is different.
The core group of girls who were with the show from the beginning are a well-developed bunch. Jerrica is a smart businessperson who morphs into Jem when she wants to unleash her rock star swagger. Kimber is the younger sister, a musical talent, who often feels overshadowed by her sister. Aja Leith is athletic and can keep the others in shape. She’s also tech-savvy. Shana Elmsforth is a drummer and a budding fashion designer who gains confidence in her work with the help of her bandmates. Since Aja and Shana are foster sisters of Jerrica and Kimber, their history runs deep and their devotion to each other is strong.
Inside the episodes, the primary concerns are how the girls will work together as bandmates or as housemates. We see Jerrica/Jem and the Holograms work together to keep the band going and run their foster home, Starlight House. We see their relationships with the girls who live in the home, as well as how the Starlight girls relate to each other. We even see developments in the relationship between Jem and the Holograms and the Misfits. There are times when the two warring bands do need to put aside the battles and help each other. There are times too when friendships develop, particularly between Hologram Kimber and Misfit Stormer.
Christy Marx, the creator of the show (who, unfortunately, isn’t involved in the film), gave life to the sort of girl-centered universe that’s still a rare find on television. Synergy was developed by Jerrica and Kimber Benton’s father, but he died before the start of the series. The girls in the band are responsible for handling and understanding the technology.
As for the male characters, they’re around, but they don’t dictate the actions of the female characters.
Eric Raymond is the show’s antagonist, but he’s inept in his role. Raymond loses his share of Starlight Music to Jerrica. He’s not great at being a music-mastermind. He doesn’t run the Misfits, so much as try to deal with the band’s demands. Raymond is a villain, but he’s a one-note bad guy, motivated by greed and little else. The Misfits are far more complex. Their actions are heinous, but, throughout the series, we get glimpses into their lives that make them appear a bit more sympathetic.
Then there’s Rio Pacheco. He’s an integral part of the Jem and the Holograms team, basically the person who keeps everything in order when they hit the road and take to the stage. He’s also Jerrica’s boyfriend. Plus, he kind of has a thing for Jem. He’s a good, strong character. He’s also not a savior. The band members know that they can count on Rio’s support as a friend and manager, but he’s not there to solve simply solve their problems. Jem and the Holograms, ultimately, are responsible for themselves.
Images: Sunbow Productions