The night Netflix released Rachel Shukert’s TV adaptation of The Baby-Sitters Club (BSC), I finished all ten episodes in one sitting. Waves of nostalgia hit me all at once from all directions in the best way possible. Starring newcomers such as Sophie Grace, Momona Tamada, Malia Grace, Shay Rudolph, and Xotchil Gomez, I was excited to start watching and came with high expectations. Now, I can assure you that the show doesn’t disappoint, even if you’re watching at the ripe old age of twenty.
I grew up reading the BSC graphic novels: to this day, I still have the books. Even though I grew up as part of the racial majority, and I wasn’t underrepresented in real life, I couldn’t really find myself in the English language literature I read and the education I received. I wasn’t allowed to go out and solve mysteries like Nancy Drew and when I tried to climb into my wardrobe like the children in Narnia, I got an allergic reaction to dust mites.
I could, however, relate to Claudia as she dealt with her parents’ high expectations and feeling constantly compared to a smarter sibling, struggling with maths but thriving when she creates art. I could relate to Mary Anne’s desire to grow up, with her disagreements with an overprotective parent and reluctance to be treated like a baby: up until the age of 18, I had to ask a week in advance to have sleepovers with friends. I could relate to Kristy’s angst about her changing relationships to her mother and brothers. And when I started at a new secondary school, I could relate to both Stacey and Dawn as they struggled to fit into Stoneybrook Middle School.
The new series authentically encapsulates all the events of the books and aptly transposes them to the 21st century. The casting of Alicia Silverstone – arguably the face of the 90’s teen movie – as Kristy’s mother is the perfect point of transition between the original setting of the books and the present setting of the show. In this new adaptation, Kristy dresses like a VSCO girl, Stacey has an uncanny grasp of social media marketing, and the girls don’t have a landline: they instead opt to order a colourful vintage phone from Etsy. Yet so much of the essence of the books remains unchanged, and that is for the best. As in the books, Claudia’s room is an exciting haven and go-to meeting spot: there is strategically hidden candy in the furniture and artwork displayed all over the walls.
What I admired about the books and the adaptation was the nuanced treatment of more serious themes, despite the lighthearted premise. Stacey is able to responsibly manage her symptoms of Type I diabetes and successfully explain them to a group of adults. In the adaptation, Claudia’s Japanese grandmother, Mimi, experiences aphasia in hospital, and Claudia’s older sister explains Mimi’s past trauma from staying in an internment camp – a detail which I don’t recall from the graphic novels. Claudia, who uses art as a medium of self-expression, goes a step further and uses her new knowledge to create art inspired by Mimi’s experiences.
In the Netflix adaptation, the comedy and humanity of the books seamlessly translate onto the screen. This is primarily done through the focus on Kristy’s perspective, especially the delightfully unreliable narration. As much as she makes mistakes and acts rashly towards her family and friends, the show and the books balance her weaknesses with her strengths, making her a lovable protagonist. From seeing her choke on pizza (I have certainly been there) and angrily confronting her new stepdad Watson at dinner, to looking after her step-siblings, Kristy’s character development is simultaneously comforting and refreshing. It’s comforting for readers who know how the events will play out, but also refreshing because it gives her character more complexity.
For many readers around the world, the BSC series gave a space for representation. In this respect, the new adaptation and the original books are equally successful. Themes that seem to be commonplace and ordinary, such as family tensions, friendship drama, and coming of age are brought to life by characters that are far more than cookie-cutter types, but distinctly unique individuals. In a time of severe uncertainty, revisiting the BSC series serves as a source of comfort and a reminder that change can be an opportunity for growth.
Image: Jamie’s Rabbits via Flickr