The Baby-Sitters Club Is Beautiful Teen Escapism

Illustration for article titled iThe Baby-Sitters Club /iIs Beautiful Teen Escapism
Screenshot: Netflix

Growing up in the ’90s, my reading diet in grade school included a hearty portion of Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club series. Before Sex and the City offered Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda as archetypes upon which groups of women could project themselves, Kristy, Dawn, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey came first. Nostalgia is a heavy drug, though, and revisiting any treasured text from childhood that’s been updated for modern times is often a recipe for disappointment. In the case of The Baby-sitters Club, a new Netflix reboot of the beloved classics, it’s okay to feel disappointed with the results, because part of growing up means recognizing when something is simply no longer for you.

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The new iteration of The Baby-Sitters Club is updated for modern times, but the bones of what made the series so beloved remain intact. The origin story is as follows: Kristy Thomas (Sophie Grace), an intrepid and entrepreneurial 11-year-old, recognizes that there is a childcare issue in the idyllic town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut. Seeing her mother Liz (Alicia Silverstone) struggle to find a sitter lights a spark within, and so the idea for the Baby-Sitters Club is born. The remaining cast of characters is as you might remember them. Mary Anne Spiers (Malia Baker) is still shy, bookish, and babied by her strict father. Claudia Kishi (Momona Tamada) is an artist who still hides candy in various corners of her room. Stacey McGill (Shay Rudolph) the glamorous, New York City newcomer, still has diabetes and is good at math. Dawn Schaefer(Xochitl Gomez), is still Californian, not blonde, but retains the same space cadet charm without being a ditz. Kristy is much more abrasive in the show’s first episodes than I remembered her from the books, but otherwise, the characters’ spirits remain unchanged.

Spoilers ahead.

The reboot stays true to the source material but makes crucial updates for modern times in a way that feels organic and not forced. At the heart of the Baby-Sitters Club’s business is a landline, which has been written into the script as a vintage find on Etsy and a necessity thanks to Mary Anne’s father’s strict rules about strangers calling her on her cell phone. Other attempts at updating the material could feel a little bit like an adult wandering into a group of teens and trying to make conversation, but the way that the show’s creators have integrated the vagaries of modern life into the source material feels right.

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To that end, the show is unabashedly feminist in a way that the books were not. In the first episode, “Kristy’s Great Idea,” Kristy finds herself up against her teacher, Mr. Redmont, whose idea of punishing her for speaking out of turn in class is to assign her an essay on “decorum.” Railing against this injustice is just one of the many ways the show tries to gently teach its viewers lessons about feminism and fighting oppression. In response to Kristy’s outburst about her mother marrying Watson and therefore becoming his “property,” her mother Liz, retorts that once she is married to him, her name will be “Ofwatson”—a winky reference to The Handmaids Tale that in other shows would feel hokey, but in this context, goes down easy, as do the various lessons that each episode presents.

Comparing The Baby-Sitters Club to a show like Sex and the City feels reductive and a bit crass, but the cadence and the rhythm of each episode feel very similar. Sex and the City operated loosely as a show not only about the glittering lives of female archetypes but also as a collection of life lessons, bookended by a question posed at the beginning of the episode and a tidy little answer at the end. In The Baby-Sitters Club, the handwritten diary entries that opened each episode are replaced by a voice-over narration that sets up the lesson to be learned while also centering the club member in question. The similarities between the two end there. But teaching lessons about how to navigate interpersonal conflicts without surrendering their values is what Sex and the City and other shows of its kind do without pandering or patronizing. In The Baby-Sitters Club, friendships are solid but not without nuance. Conflict is resolved neatly, creating a useful blueprint of emotional confidence and stability for viewers who are of the age where figuring out how to be assertive without being terrible is a difficult ask.

Stoneybrook and its surrounding environs are as idyllic as they were in the books, bathing the show in a pleasant, warm light that managed to erase any lingering cynicism. Occasionally, I was moved to tears, stirred by both the power and value of strong friendships and also in part because of lines like this, delivered in earnest voiceover by a very good child actor. In an episode where Stacey realizes that throwing away friendship for a boy is not the move, she launches into a grand proclamation: “The thing about love is... well, I don’t actually know very much about love yet. But the people who deserve your love are the people who have always loved you.” It’s a valuable lesson at any age that hits where it counts. The foundation for a successful reimagining of a beloved classic is firmly in place and the results are pleasing enough—a nice viewing experience for a lazy summer afternoon for those looking for valuable life lessons wrapped in the cozy blanket of nostalgia.


The Baby-Sitters Club is currently streaming on Netflix.

Managing Editor, Jezebel

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meritxell
meritxell: an erotic life

You forgot Mark Evan Jackson as Mary Anne’s dad (which is perfect casting!)