The Baby-Sitters Club review: Netflix adaptation perfectly blends feel-good nostalgia with prevalent social issues
The Baby-Sitters Club holds its own and grants each character the necessary space to grow, while simultaneously tugging at moments of pure joy
Netflix’s new slate of originals have had an ambiguous run — while some have produced effective results, others have missed the mark by a mile. The streaming giant’s latest offering, a remarkable update on Ann M Martin’s widely popular tween series The Baby-Sitters Club (BSC), is a treat to watch.
Wonderfully buoyant and relevant to present times, the show’s creator Rachel Shukert (GLOW) and executive producer Lucia Aniello (Broad City) prove their mettle as “veterans of feminist comedies on friendship.”BSC is a perfect blend of Martin’s feel-good innocence strewn over yesteryear-charms placed alongside concepts like cyber-bullying, and female health awareness which are deeply rooted in 2020.
Most of the storyline remains loyal to Martin’s girl-positive voice with five friends running a side business of baby-sitting while trying to navigate through the “curse of adolescence” coupled with bad grades, school dances, groundings, overprotective parents, abandoned children, variable degrees of interest in boys, clashing loyalties among friends and tough responsibilities in the wider world.
The show purposely bypasses the need to conform to any childish sheen and becomes something equally enjoyable for a generation that voraciously consumed Martin’s written words under the blankets with torchlights as well as the youngsters who live most of their 21st-century lives online.
The 10-episode run is fun, effervescent, aware and optimistic. Shukert’s masterstrokes lie artfully embedded in many episodes where she comes up with a brilliant sub-plot that shows her deft hand at storytelling — especially praiseworthy are an episode where Claudia (Momona Tamada) reconnects with her grandmother to know about her days at a Japanese-American internment camp, which in turn, sparks off a fire within the child to reach for her goals in the fine arts, and the other is an episode where Mary-Anne (Malia Baker) (an underconfident tween growing under the watchful eyes of her overprotective single father) finds her inner strength after she speaks up for a trans child when he is misgendered at a hospital.
BSC gives its viewers a throwback to days of mindless crushes that sent butterflies running down the stomach with as much as a brush of hands or few stolen glances; of days when your school friends stood by you like pillars through your first post-menstrual mood swing or even days when you bared all your deepest insecurities to only be welcomed with warm group bearhugs.
The adventures of the over-zealous Kristy Thomas (Sophie Grace), who proudly steamrolls her presidentship over most, hardly evokes a negative strain in audiences. Much like Martin’s tomboy protagonist, the new Kristy is a force of nature to behold. Shukert introduces delightful moments of humour through Grace’s character, like the time she vehemently objects to her mother Elizabeth (Alicia Silverstone) getting married to her long-time boyfriend Watson and wearing a ring, like “you’re his property.” To counter that, mum comes up with a wonderful The Handmaid's Tale jab, “I’m thinking of changing my name to ‘OfWatson’.”
Pop culture references galore, BSC’s voice is unadulterated and wide-reaching — the script includes references to social contract, class divide, Sun Tzu's The Art of War, and even a terrific snippet of a monologue on Sondheim.
Apart from the effective pathos of the show, BSC scores high on its aesthetics, with its art direction, costume design and music departments shining through in each episode. Production designer Tink and art director Alyssa King create a world with bright, pastel shades that at once remind you of Enid Blyton novellas coloured in soothing crayon tones.
The team carefully crafts the BSC space to emanate the positive reinforcement the show aims to instil. Whether it be the sidewalks, front yards, school corridors, camp interiors or Claudia’s bedroom (the headquarters for the girls to meet thrice a week) — the mood board screams of happy memories and a plateful of jelly beans or M&Ms. But it is never too much, every element is balanced with a muted background to hold the frame and focus on the characters’ activities. Each prop looks stylish but very comfortably used — the crimson armchair, fuzzy mustard pillow, the art-studio corner with splashes of paint or even the patchwork bedcover.
The girls each don strikingly different clothes, a reflection of their personality. Designer Cynthia Ann Summers deftly clothes Claudia in multi-coloured, baggy, asymmetrical tops with white eye-liner and bright pink earrings to bring about her sweet-but-sassy edge. Kristy, on the other hand, gets monotones of turtlenecks and loose pants.
The soundscape of BSC sits comfortably in the electric pop genre with exceptional tracks by Wildcat! Wildcat! and pop-punk band Potty Mouth.
BSC’s universe is filled with nostalgia of made-up code languages, rampant torch flashings in the dead of the night to say “I’m sorry”, carefully planning the week ahead just to get that one night-out with buddies and lots of supportive hand-holding to boost your morale.
The crux of The Baby-Sitters Club lies in one of its character’s confessions “I’m a witch”, essentially because the term, she says, is used to describe “people, primarily women, who refuse to conform to society’s expectations of who they should be.” The Netflix show holds its own and grants each character the necessary space to grow, while simultaneously tugging at moments of pure joy of returning to seventh-grade shenanigans, when friends meant the world.
The Baby-Sitters Club streams on Netflix.
(All images from Twitter)
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