WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Based on the popular book series by Ann M. Martin, five preteens start their own babysitting business in the small town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Somewhere in a long-discarded notebook, my cousin and I have a detailed plan of how we (at 13) were going to run our own Baby-Sitter's Club. Right now, that seems crazy. We didn't live in a small American town, we wouldn't have been able to walk to a client's house and honestly who would trust a 13-year-old stranger with their child?
But there is something about the world that Ann M. Martin built up in The Baby-Sitters Club series that makes all these things sound completely normal. So much so that it made two teenagers halfway across the world dream of building a similar enterprise to the heroes of their favourite book series.
And that's the role these five girls (and the future supporting characters) played in many young people's lives during the '80s and '90s. We learnt through their eyes as they faced family dynamics, body image issues, friendship drama and becoming a teenager – issues that are universal.
In the new Netflix series, The Baby-Sitters Club is introduced to a new generation and retains the fact that the story is for everyone.
Like the books, it centres around five preteens – Kristy Thomas (Sophie Grace), Mary Anne Spier (Malia Baker), Claudia Kishi (Momona Tamada), Stacey McGill (Shay Rudolph) and Dawn Schafer (Xochitl Gomez). Kristy has the bright idea to start a babysitting club after seeing her mother, Elizabeth (Alicia Silverstone) struggle to find a babysitter for her little brother. She then approaches her best friend, the quiet Mary Anne, the super cool artist Claudia, and Claudia's friend, the glamorous Stacey. Carefree Dawn joins later in the season. It's the ultimate story about the clash of personalities coming together to create something unique and beautiful.
Unlike former iterations such as the 1990 TV series and the 1995 movie, the actors actually look like they are aged 12 and 13. The young actors are also really, really good at playing their parts, they work well as a unit, but they are also strong individually.
In the book series, each book is told from a different character's point of view. The writers of The Baby-Sitters Club make use of a similar mechanism by basing each of the episodes of season one on a different book, and the episode is told from that character's point of view.
This is a great device because it doesn't allow any of the characters to be neglected in the attempt to move the storyline along. Every member of the group is important; whether their problem is major, like having diabetes, or minor, like getting a bad grade on a test, it is treated with nuance and respect. When you are 13, every issue seems big, and the show understands this about their characters and gives them space to deal with it.
The problem that often befalls modern reboots or adaptations of classic stories is that they either change too much in order to "fit in" with the times, or they don't change enough, and it feels clunky and outdated. The Baby-Sitters Club manages to perfect this balance; it feels timeless, classic and wholesome while still being realistic for 2020.
Fans of the books will remember that one of the signature symbols of the club was the landline phone. They held meetings in Claudia's room because she was the only one with her own direct line. Now, having a landline is practically outdated with most young people having their own phones, and the girls do. They text each other, they call each other directly, but the landline still has an important role to play. Now, Claudia is the only one with a landline (a bonus with their internet service) and charged with a super cool phone that she bought on Etsy, clients can phone one direct line (three times a week) and get access to a group of babysitters, which kind of makes sense.
An especially powerful episode is episode 4, titled Mary Anne Saves the Day. In the book, Mary Anne is struggling with being confident enough to stand up for herself and she resolves this at the end by plucking up the courage to phone for help when the child she is babysitting gets ill. In the show, however, a similar situation takes place, but Mary Anne stands up to the hospital staff for misgendering the child. It doesn't seem preachy; it is treated with the utmost gentleness and compassion and makes for a stunning episode.
There were many times while watching the series that I was moved to tears. It is stunning, and one can clearly see the showrunner Rachel Shukert (GLOW) and executive producer Lucia Aniello (Broad City) were fans of the book series and truly understand the themes which made the books so popular.
It feels almost wrong to single out any of the actors because they were all perfect in their roles: there is Sophie Grace as the bossy Krissy, who is struggling to deal with her mom getting remarried and her feelings about her father having abandoned the family. There is Malia Baker as Mary Anne, whose father is overprotective because of her mother's untimely death. There is Shay Rudolph as Stacey who feels shame about diabetes and having been cyberbullied at her previous school, and there is Xochitl Gomez as Dawn, who often feels as if she has to parent her mother. But if I had to choose the MVP, it would be Momona Tamada as Claudia.
In the first episode, Kristy describes Claudia as the coolest girl they know, and you believe it in the way Momona Tamada portrays the character. She is effortlessly confident, comfortable in whatever she wears, but you easily see how much she struggles with being an artistic person in a scientific family. The emotional impact of this is poignant when her grandmother (the only person in her family who understands her) falls ill, and you see how this affects Claudia.
Tamada puts her entire heart into this performance, and it is painful and beautiful to watch. The series doesn't shy away from the fact that Claudia's family is Japanese-American and touches on the fact that her grandmother was in an internment camp during World War II and how much the trauma still affects her.
This show is a must-watch for kids and adults alike. It's entertaining, enjoyable but also challenges you enough to make it truly beneficial. A worthy adaptation of a beloved book series, and even for those who have never read the books, it is exactly the type of sweet but socially conscious content that we should be consuming during this time.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: