Sunday, October 25, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: How Jem Was Truly Outrageous

There's a Jem and the Holograms feature film (helmed by G.I. Joe: Retaliation's Jon M. Chu) flopping hard in theaters right now, and while I'm sure much Internet ink will be spent examining why the flick, based on a popular toyline and animated series from the '80s, died on the vine, that's not what this is about. I haven't seen the movie, so I can't comment on that. And while hardly an expert on the TV show, I've received enough requests to look at it that I figured this was the moment to unleash my inner Jem Girl.

The Jem media franchise was launched in 1985 by toymaker Hasbro, no doubt wanting to capitalize on the ubiquity of MTV during that era by providing young girls with a whole array of rocking role models with all the fashion arrays and accessories necessary to give Mattel's Barbie a run for her money. Given Hasbro's success with G.I. Joe and Transformers earlier in the decade, they no doubt hoped some of that same cross-promotional mojo would rub off.

To develop the dolls into an actual concept, Hasbro turned to their animation partners Marvel/Sunbow Productions, who in turn brought in veteran writer Christy Marx. Marx, who had previously written for G.I. Joe (and would go on to work on the animated Conan the Adventurer among many others), came up with the key tentpoles of the franchise, creating everything that made Jem memorable: Global superstar Jem is actually the alter ego of regular girl Jerrica Benton, who assumes her superstar guise through a holographic projection from supercomputer Synergy. Premiering in October of '85, here's the show's original intro:

I may or may not have that song on shuffle in my iTunes library.

Anyway, each episode centered on Jem's globetrotting exploits alongside her bandmates, the Holograms, all the while outwitting rival baddie bands the Misfits and the Stingers. There was fashion, adventure, and plenty of music, at the center of it all was a relatable lead character in Jerrica, just as concerned with preserving her dual identity It's easy to see why Jem was such a favorite for young girls of the era, and why it managed to last so long. Here's the intro for the second and third seasons:

I also may or may not also have that song on shuffle in my iTunes library.

Regardless, by the time Jem had ended its run in Spring of '88, it accumulated an impressive 65 episodes. And while the toyline faded right around that same time, the property nonetheless retained a place of prominence in the mindspace of the kiddies who grew up with it. It's for this reason that I found the feature film's low-tech approach, which pointedly eschews so much of the key iconography in favor of a mundane "girl finds fame, doesn't like fame" approach such a headscratcher. When it comes to Jem, either you're truly outrageous, or you go home.

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