Back in 2009, I read my last “The Baby-Sitters Club (BSC)” book. While beloved by me and my youngest sister, I never thought that 11 years after I closed my last BSC book and stored it in my childhood box of memories, I would spend a whole weekend binging and crying over new BSC content.
“The Baby-Sitters Club” series dropped on Netflix last Jul. 3 but I didn’t watch it the moment it premiered. In my heart of hearts, I was scared that the TV show would fail to adapt the story into a show worthy of my all-time favorite book series.
The trailer already showed that the adaptation had major changes that differentiated it from the story told in the ‘80s, in which the events are set. Aside from my fears of a clumsily executed time jump, I was scared that the stories or the characterizations of the girls I have come to think of as my childhood friends would be changed to attract viewers that are expecting something dark or dramatic.
Will they make nonsensical musical episodes like “Riverdale?” Will it be canceled prematurely like “Anne With An E?” Will the story suffer because of the haphazard blending of modern language in a period piece like “Dickinson?”
But change isn’t always bad. With the BSC TV series, change is a good thing that can connect long-time fans of the book series and new fans discovering the story on TV. Netflix’s adaptation of “The Baby-Sitters Club” is refreshing and innovative precisely because of the changes it made in adapting the source material—it expounded on the already extensive story that spanned 213 books, all while keeping the heart and core of the lives of the titular babysitters.
Freshness comes from young faces
One of the best things that the series nails is its casting. The adventures and friendship of Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, Dawn and Stacey feel real and genuine because the actors look the part and are closer to the characters age-wise. The actors also have a chemistry that allows them to portray all the complex facets of young friendships. Momona Tamada who plays club vice president Claudia and Shay Rudolph who plays club treasurer Stacey McGill are acting standouts.
Rudolph shines as Stacey who works so hard to be recognized not by her medical condition but by her great styling, math and babysitting skills.Tamada excels at portraying the artistic and fashionable Claudia—from rocking really high heels to sharing puppy love glances with her art class crush and unearthing all those snacks cleverly hidden in her room. But she really shines when the story touches on the hard aspects of Claudia’s life like her struggles with school and her rocky relationship with her mean older sister Janine.
I especially relate to Claudia owning up to her failing grades because hey, who wouldn’t quiver in fear when you had to admit to your parents that you actually got a 74 out of a hundred in a very important quiz?
Childhood is not portrayed as an uncomfortable phase
Adults who miss their childhoods and constantly listen to “Ribs” by Lorde (wait, is this just me?) will love this show because it shows childhood in its most entertaining form—full of endless possibilities and adventures.
Some shows aimed at children often portray childhood as an uncomfortable phase that every kid can’t wait to grow out of. Media like this can sometimes put unnecessary pressure on young kids to grow up too fast. There are too many shows that portray young kids overthrowing fascist governments or finding the love of their lives or fulfilling their life’s purpose that can influence kids into thinking that they’re not living their best life until they’re experiencing mature things—even before they’re ready to.
One of BSC’s triumphs is the way it portrayed kids living as kids, cherishing their childhood and not wishing to grow up into an idealized adult self. Watching what plays out on TV feels like real life—that’s exactly how young girls are today. The show validates the problems that 13-year-olds encounter, like cyberbullying, friend breakups, managing mood swings while on your period, negotiating curfew times with your parents and even choosing cabinmates during a summer camp, and says that they’re just as valid and exciting and real as any adult adventure.
Modernization advanced the story
I’m not always a fan of adapting an obvious period piece to fit the modern-day because it’s something that can easily make a series go from innovative to just plain illogical. But the decision to take Ann M. Martin’s Stoneybrook into 2020 is one that definitely benefited the “Baby-Sitters Club.”
A great example of a modern update that really worked with the show is a promotional video from the BSC’s rival business, The Baby-Sitters Agency. The promotional video of the agency upped the ante for the girls, showing them that they’re up against real competition from older people who know more and can obviously do more in terms of pulling clients.
Modernizing the show also helped flesh out the characters of the girls. The decision to leak a video of Stacey’s diabetic seizure provided a more robust explanation as to why Stacey had to move away from fabulous New York into Stoneybrook. Dawn, known in the books as a socially conscious hippie, organizes a camp coup “Hunger Games” style in a bid to make more summer camp activities available to those who can’t afford it. Kristy who has always been outspoken about how girls can do anything in the books is now a budding feminist who rocks the normcore look and recognizes gender inequality in school punishments and household chores.
For all its modernization, I’m glad they kept the landline phone because where would the fun be in watching clients book the BSC through a Google Form, right? Claudia Kishi says it best: “It’s iconic.”
The books were already a minefield of good representation back when it was published years ago, but the TV series improved on that. The seamlessness of representation did not diminish the seriousness of the problems encountered by the represented minorities.
Mary Anne encounters a babysitting disaster when Bailey, the trans kid she’s babysitting falls sick and she is forced to conquer her shyness to call an ambulance and handle Bailey’s emergency hospitalization. When the doctors misgender Bailey, that’s when Mary Anne saves the day by talking to the doctors who assumed Bailey’s gender and explaining how they can best help a sick child who’s visibly uncomfortable in an unfamiliar situation.
Claudia’s Japanese-American heritage is also more emphasized in the show. Their house has a “no shoes inside” rule—something that really screams Asian. But it’s not just Claudia’s heritage, it’s her grandmother Mimi’s too. In an episode that made me, my mother and my sisters cry buckets, Mimi suffers a stroke and can only communicate in Japanese and a few random English words. It’s Janine who explains to Claudia that Mimi’s stroke is forcing her to relive her worst memories of being in the World War II Manzanar Japanese internment camp where she had to sleep in a horse stall and eat rotten peaches. This leads to the two, often portrayed in a vicious sibling rivalry, questioning America’s racist tendencies that one would think has been left in the past but still continues to this day.
A children’s show with activism, transgender toddlers, witches, new age spiritualism and feminism isn’t exactly run-of-the-mill common. In fact, it’s rare to find any show that tackles these topics in such a knowledgeable, simple and straightforward manner. BSC managed to pack all of that representation and more into just ten episodes, without making it look forced or milking all the publicity out of it.
In a book called “Adaptations, From Short Story to Big Screen,” writer Stephanie Harrison says, “The art of storytelling has never been as static as we like to think. Stories that resonate tend to find new forms.”
“The Baby-Sitters Club” does just that—adapts a new form and gives the story of five young girls who start a babysitting business new life, all while staying true to the core of the source material: female friendships should and will always be a source of empowerment, inspiration and most importantly, fun.