“You’re kind of alternative… in a 90s way”, observes Kristy, the president and founder of her seventh-grade babysitting club – a fact she is never tired of reminding us. She might be talking about newcomer Dawn’s LA hippie style, but the nod to some of the audience’s childhood years (and the book series that originated the show) is obvious. Netflix’s The Babysitter’s Club knows exactly what it is: a sweet half-hour show about nice tween girls for tween girls, but one that still offers plenty of material for older fans of the novels to find comfort in.
Developed by Rachel Shukert, who wrote for both Glow and Supergirl, and produced and part-time directed by Lucia Aniello, a writer for Broad City, the quirky humour and great development of female characters these two are known for is very present in this ten-episode series, not least helped by the fact that both are fans of Ann M. Martin’s novels. While The Babysitter’s Club knows how to talk about serious issues in front of younger viewers, it’s also extremely funny. From Clueless references (a perfect decision seeing as Cher herself, Alicia Silverstone, plays one of the parents) to one character who made me cry laughing when she defined herself as “more of a horse girl but there’s a lot of overlap”, the show isn’t short on the jokes.
While is not the first adaptation of this story about young entrepreneurs who each have a very specific defining characteristic – Claudia is the artsy one, Kristy is the bossy one, Stacey is the elegant one, Mary Anne is the shy one and Dawn is the LA(?) one – it’s certainly the most progressive depiction of these stories. This is not just in terms of modern TV storytelling, but in how the show tackles social issues that pop culture is starting to focus on. There are LGBT+ characters (including a trans child that is treated with nothing but respect and understanding from the show), issues of identity and culture, and even a socialist protest and walkout in a summer camp, complete with barricade and all.
In one episode that tackles Claudia’s family life, the series didn’t shy away from talking about the internment camps the US government used to imprison Japanese Americans in the 1940s. Claudia’s grandmother was in one of these camps, and her painful memories still haunt her. It is therefore up to Claudia’s sister Janine (who may be played as an autistic character, though this is not confirmed) to explain to her and to us what their grandmother went through. This particular historic moment has rarely been depicted or discussed on television, let alone treated with so much empathy – especially in a series aimed at young teenagers.
Watching this series evoked memories and feelings of old comfort shows that warmed my heart and brought me joy and a sense of calm. But The Babysitter’s Club is a better version of those shows: more diverse, more politically conscious, and more aware of itself.
Words by Gio Chiconelli