Back in the mid-1980s, Jem and The Holograms was daily viewing, alongside the much more action-oriented Transformers, G.I. Joe and He-Man. I suspect I wasn’t the only boy enthralled by the soap opera take on the classic super hero story. We just never talked about it for fear of being labeled a sissy pants.
Surprisingly, Jem holds up very well, in large part due to the fact that it’s more adult in tone than a lot of other pandering cartoons I see today. Sure, the nostalgia kicks in, particularly with the 80s glam feel, but the first season of Jem and The Holograms holds a lot of depth for what I grew up as being little more than a Barbie knockoff that came with cassettes.
Jerrica Benton is a victim of a fairy tale tragedy. When her father passes away, she inherits Starlight Music. It’s a big job for such a young girl to handle. A power struggle ensues with the nefarious Eric Raymond, who manages the equally nasty band called The Misfits. Jerrica soon discovers a pair of magic earrings that reveal a computerized fairy godmother in the form of Synergy who turns Jerrica and her friends into Jem and The Holograms, an instant sensation in the glam world of 80s music.
Jem carefully balances elements of Cinderella and Superman to create a distinct time capsule with lasting themes. Jerrica’s timeless battles for control and love are dealt with delicately. They’re simple enough for kids to grasp, yet there’s a lot more going on that sent the Spider Senses of the father in me tingling. Do I really want my daughter to hear the lyrics, “making love” even if the context isn’t necessarily the “making love” that I definitely don’t want her to hear? But Jerrica and her superstar alter ego is one tough princess, fighting to save orphans and the corporate head office all in the same day. She’s also got the whole Clark Kent thing going on, trying to hide her identity and appear at just the right time.
Themes aside, when you’re talking Jem, you can’t ignore the fashions. Looking back, they capture the era well. The big hair and the colors can only come from one time. This is where nostalgia comes into play. A lot’s happened in my life in the nearly 25 years its been since I saw an episode of the show. While the theme song has been in regular rotation on my subconscious radio station since the elder George Bush was still getting comfortable living at the White House, it’s a show I hadn’t given a lot of thought to. But the comfort the nostalgia brought got me ready to see it in a different light. A more adult light. And while a lot of time is spent on Jem saving orphans as though they were kittens in a tree and the plots are predictable, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface that gives the show way more depth than I remember or even expected.
Despite its retro look and feel, Jem and The Holograms is a lot more timeless than I would’ve originally given it credit for. It holds up well, both in the passage of time and in the transition from kid to adult.
Jem: Season One DVD Review
Shout Factory’s reissue of Jem and The Holograms: Season One comes as a four-disc set. All 26 episodes are shown complete with bumpers. Presented in their original full-screen format, the picture quality isn’t horrendous, but it’s not great either. It shows its age, having not appeared to have undergone a major cleanup. The only bonus feature is a Video Jukebox that takes the viewer to specific songs.