A modern TV update, but so much is still the same
Finding Baby Sitters Club superfans is the best way to make friends I’ve ever come across. There’s a shorthand that helps us all immediately understand each other. Maybe it’s because, like the BSC, we’re all earnest dorks who love having fun. The new Netflix series based on the books is just another opportunity to discover some new best friends. Say hello to them.
I’ve been waiting for over a year for this series from Rachel Shukert, and it did not disappoint. She perfectly updated the series for 2020 while still retaining the original magic that made me love it in the first place. And I do mean love, as in intensely.
As an elementary schooler, getting the latest Baby Sitters Club book was a highlight of my life. My sister, cousins, and I would walk down to our local library to see what was in. On one visit, the librarian said we shouldn’t always read Baby-Sitters Club books, because it was like “eating cake for every meal.”
“How very Claudia’s mom of her,” I thought at the time. Claudia Kishi, a Japanese-American fashionista and vice-president of the BSC, had a librarian mom who thought reading Nancy Drew wasn’t good enough. The BSC members were dealing with the same issues I was–adults who didn’t understand that they should pick their battles and not pick on a nine-year-old who is voluntarily at the library in the summer.
The BSC were easy to relate to, especially since there were anywhere between four and eight of them in the club at any given time. You could always find someone to emulate.
Unlike other popular YA series like Sweet Valley High, the BSC didn’t have ridiculous plotlines centered on being pretty and popular, or fighting off an evil woman who wanted to steal your mom’s face (a real plot in SVH).
Nor were the books set in a glamorous and wealthy or unattainable magical world. I loved that the books were realistic and that the issues the girls faced were not standard fare like mean girls and cute boys or becoming a witch like a lot of YA at the time. The Baby Sitters had real, serious fights amongst themselves that made their friendships stronger. People’s families broke apart. Becoming your best friend’s stepsister was actually not the dream come true you thought it would be.
Being a hardcore BSC fan was a part of my identity then, and still is. I can recall various outfits from the series better than I can remember college courses (Mary Anne’s cities skirt, for example!)
I’ve continued to explore my love of the BSC with podcasts and blogs. My favorite is “The Babysitters Club Club” a podcast featuring Tanner Greenring and Jack Shepherd dissecting each novel as though they’re writing an academic thesis. It’s hilarious and wonderful.
Wonderfully the same
I worried whether the series would be true to the books? Clearly, it needed some updates, as today’s kids are dealing with different issues and technologies than the BSC were in the late 80s and early 90s. But so much is wonderfully the same.
Mary Anne’s dad (expertly played by Marc Evan Jackson) is still strict and floundering as a single parent. Mary Anne being biracial doesn’t change that one bit, but it does add a great deal to the character. Carefree Dawn in the series is Latinx and doesn’t have the long blond hair described in the books, but she’s a perfect California girl regardless. The addition of finding out that Dawn’s Aunt Esme (aka Morbidda Destiny) is a spiritual healer was a treat. Not only was Karen Brewer right and Morbidda Destiny is a witch, so is Dawn!
Meetings are still three times a week, and even though the girls all have cell phones, they’re using a landline in Claudia’s room for the club number (as Claudia says, the Kishis got a free landline because Janine needed the fastest Internet and that package included a landline). They have a record book, but it’s now a Google doc. Stacey is still great at math, but also marketing. Kristy is as bossy as she canonically ever was. She even has the visor!
The series follows the first several books relatively faithfully, even keeping the same titles and order for them. I especially appreciated the use of the handwriting in the title sequence. In each BSC book, the sitters’ handwriting appears via entries in their record book. This made them feel like real friends to me, and seeing a little glimpse of it in the show was nice.
I also loved that the sitters pursue social justice issues. I think that’s an exact fit for this group of young women, who were always passionate about what they loved and managed to organize a day camp, a parade, plays, Olympics, and more with the neighborhood kids. Of course they’d extend these community organizing skills to fighting class warfare battles.
Whoever cast this show deserves all the casting awards there are. Claudia is absolutely adorable. She’s the character I was most worried they wouldn’t get right, but she is absolutely perfect. She’s a stylish and artistic queen who loves her grandma, fights with her sister, and supports her best friends. Every girl looks her age, and perfectly embodies her character. It meant so much to me to see the series I loved being treated with so much respect.
The series is family-friendly and marketed as a kids show, but like many sitcoms, parents can also enjoy it. I’d compare it to other series like Single Parents (RIP) or classics like the old TGIF lineup, with spots of humor for the parents and kids alike.
When I finished watching the series, which I consumed in a single sitting, I immediately wanted more. I guess an immediate re-watch is kind of like eating cake for every meal, which–I’m fine with. Suck it, librarian.