Baby-Sitters Club is the middle school educational special for the millennial soul. That delightful club of girls just looking to make a business, hang out with their friends, and get through adolescent life is honored with a very decent reboot on Netflix. In the age of redos, remakes, and continuations, this 90s style, but modern retelling, is done with the family friendly vibe it always had, and the deeper moments I remember. It was largely written and directed by Lucia Aniello (Producer/Director Broad City) and is a majority women led program that deserves a good watch in my book. This review will have light spoilers, but nothing to take away from the family fun that was always the Baby-Sitters Club.
I, for one, am a Baby-Sitters Club aficionado. Yup! I had (still have) almost all of the books sitting in my childhood room, I watched the 90s TV show and own the movie on VHS. No forreal I still have it.
I don’t know why I became this Baby-Sitters Club collector, (I of course also had Nancy Drew). Maybe it was because I grew up in a small town in western Mass with majority mixed kids and white kids and few kids of color. It doesn’t mean there were never Black kids. We were there of course. We just all knew each other and most of the time we were the only Black kid in our classrooms. Maybe, it was the business aspect of it. My Virgoness was like look at these girls making a whole business in middle school! I then started my own bookmark and friendship bracelet making business in elementary school. It did alright, selling bookmarks for 10 cents and friendship bracelets for a quarter. I digress, but the club the “BSC” as they call it still holds strong to its original dose of sugary kid antics in real ass situations. Based on the novels by Ann M. Martin, this show gives an updated almost play by play of the books.
Kristy and the Snobs
The show has the ultimate small-town feel, with that old school Nickelodeon score in the background where everything feels like an after-school special. It immediately makes you feel like this is great for kids, but also doesn’t take away from your interest as an adult to stick with it (or maybe that’s just me as the nostalgic watcher). The show holds true to every bit that is Baby-Sitters Club. The gang’s all there, Claudia, Mary Ann, Kristy, Stacy, Dawn, and more. It takes the style of the books very well with each voiceover changing to the perspective of a different character every episode. We start with our president of the club Kristy played by actor Sophie Grace.
In the beginning, it is laid on a bit thick. Right away, we are hearing about Kristy standing up to her history teacher who was teaching about Thomas Jefferson stating “If he was so great why didn’t he write all ‘people’ are created equal.” Your ears perk up because you are like oh, because he owned slaves, and then you realize nope, it’s about women. She then complains about not getting detention but needing to write an essay about decorum because she didn’t raise her hand. She said “if a boy did that he would not be writing an essay.” While I see where you are going with this, you are right the boy wouldn’t need to write an essay… he would’ve just gotten detention. Either way, in that moment you feel – oh, I see what they are going for.
Kristy comes home to her mother and brothers in which the boys are playing video games and the mom comes rushing in with pizza. The mom “Elizabeth Thomas-Brewer” is none other than our friend Cher (Clueless) Alicia Silverstone! She has not changed, well…she looks like a mom, but her facial expressions are just what we remember. Silverstone plays that white single mom thing up! Complete with gossip and deflection. Not quite a Karen, but maybe a Becky…We quickly see the invention of the Baby-Sitters Club as mom Silverstone cannot find a sitter last minute for her young boys. That’s when Kristy has the epiphany to start the club. She is as bossy as ever, taking her inner struggles out on others. Honestly, it’s a great portrayal of middle school emotional awkwardness and white suburban ways of dealing with it.
Further into the show, it still holds that kid friendly vibe but with sprinkles and outbursts of unexpected righteousness and truth.
Mary Ann Saves the Day
The group grows quickly as we were first introduced to Mary Ann, who is the anxious and shy one. She is indeed mixed, it is unclear in the show of what lineage, but I am hoping in the show she is Black. But this was always the Baby-Sitters Club style, being pointed in some areas and racially ambiguous in others. Or writing some characters in a way where their background could be interchangeable. It’s not a bad thing, it’s not great, but in an after-school special it works. The actor who plays Mary Ann (once played by Rachel Leigh Cook in the 90s film) is Malia Baker “African-born & Canadian-raised” as she states in her bio on IMDB.
Mary Ann is one of my favorite characters, (was in the books, show and movie as well.) Musical theater kid with anxiety but big dreams. Through each character the show touches on real life situations. This reboot does a thorough job of updating it for today, while literally keeping the 90s flavor. Seamlessly allowing the old school into the new. At one point the girls are trying to get the word out for the babysitting service, but they are too young by their parents’ rules to have social media. So, they are forced to have paper flyers. In that same fashion, no one is able to use their phones and through Claudia’s cable package they have a landline they never use. They then buy a real retro corded phone for the business, you know the clear one where you can see all the wires inside. I was like… clever girl.
We find out what happens when 5 new friends stop being nice and start getting real. But seriously – real issues were always a part of the Baby-Sitters Club. It was a way to educate youth on what the real world has to offer, how to engage empathy and care, to make smart decisions, and be your own person. In Episode 4, we have Mary Ann’s character dealing with social anxiety, and this is an ongoing challenge she takes on throughout the series. At one point, she is babysitting a young person, whom she realizes is trans and with questions about it, doesn’t dismiss the youngin or make any comments, just helps them pick out a new dress. The parents, though we do not get much time with them, seemingly support their child and embrace them wholeheartedly.
Free spirited Dawn, played by Xochitl Gomez, who’s the character that was always the hippie-ish one, in this iteration is the extremely smart and loyal freedom fighter. They haven’t said straight up she’s Latinx in the show but… she is. Originally, Dawn being a white character and now having this radical new look, – I ship 100%. Dawn gives a great analogy that helps Mary Ann understand completely and feel well equipped to hold down this young girl and their identity.
The show continues to have deep moments like this. Claudia played by Momona Tamada (Young Laura Jean, To All the Boys I Loved Before) with Japanese American background is an artist and speaks so much about her talents and struggles in traditional school subjects. Claudia was always the artist of the group, and they really bring that out strong. She may not be good at algebra, but I think she’s a visual artist prodigy…I always love when shows and books break stereotypes and let characters’ nuance thrive. We also get to see Claudia’s home life in a sincere way as well. Claudia’s grandmother lives in the house with her and it’s a beautiful relationship between grandmother and granddaughter, caring for your elders and the complications with that as well.
Claudia who “used” to be friends with Kristy…that be middle school right? You talked to someone everyday then you get to middle school, and it’s like they don’t know you anymore. (sucks teeth). Well, in this case, Claudia has made a new stylish friend, Stacy played by Shay Rudolph. Stacy is from New York and does all the fancy things you imagine a small kid from Stonybrook would think is glamorous. But Stacy has her own issues too.
The Summer Before
I won’t give much else away but the show follows the books to a T with a sharp eye on current times. The deeper moments do get even deeper as families are blended and backstories unfold. Dawn keeps dropping that knowledge of radical empathy and socio-economic stratification – these are direct quotes people. It even has a queer eye room makeover scene that I lived for.
Later, at summer camp, we get to meet our resident Black girl Jessica “Jessi” Davis Ramsey played by Anais Lee, (Young Natasha, The Sun is Also a Star), who becomes a Junior BSC member. This part was originally played by Zelda Harris (He Got Game) in the 1990 film, and I loved her. Harris portrayed Jessi with the attitude the 90s was always looking for and back then, I was just glad to be represented in the room. This updated series could do better, include darker skinned Black and brown people and hopefully stories that inhabit that true experience.
From dealing with social anxiety to demystifying the stigma around witches and spiritual practitioners, my mouth was agape a few times. It is like the Degrassi for the modern times without the melodrama. You know what – scratch that, it is the Baby-Sitters Club of the modern time. It is a teaching tool for youth that helps the whole family engage in critical conversations. I truly hope they find ways to talk about race and systemic racism, because that’s what we really need starting at a very young age.
Needless to say with this show on deck, I would be honored to share my love for the Baby-Sitters Club with my kids one day. All 10 episodes are available now on Netflix.