There’s no better time than a lockdown to rediscover your love for an old cartoon you watched as a child. My husband was checking out a free streaming service called Tubi one day and informed me that “Jem and the Holograms” was on there. I jumped right on it, of course, a flood of old memories about my Jem obsession driving me to see how I felt about it now. “I remember it being weird, but I loved it,” I said. “I had a poster up in my room.” (The poster looked just like the photo above.)
I also had a few of the dolls and the amazing Star Stage that a friend of mine reminded me actually turned into a keytar. (You couldn’t really play the keytar, but the illusion was fueled by the fact that you could play the Jem cassette tapes IN THE STAGE, so it was LIKE you were part of the Holograms. It satisfied me as a child.)
I feel like “Jem and the Holograms” was in my Saturday morning cartoon lineup at some point and I know I definitely annoyed my family by playing my cassettes and singing the songs from the show over and over again. When I got my Synergy doll, I marveled over her purple skin and the awesome tinsel streaks in her curly purple hair. I’m almost 37 years old so I was watching reruns since the show ended after three seasons in 1988. I was part of the 1989-1992 Jem fandom, when the show was re-airing on the USA network. My memory isn’t clear on exactly when I watched, I just know I did and was obsessed.
I’m not going to go into too much detail over the episodes, but I will offer a very brief synopsis. (If you are interested in it, definitely watch the show or read about it. It’s a sensation!) I just finished Season 1 and I had so many feelings upon revisiting the series that I knew a series of blogs would have to come of it. So, here goes:
The series opens with the death of Jerrica Benton’s father, Emmett, owner of Starlight House, a foster home for girls, and Starlight Music, a record company. Jerrica has three sisters, Kimber, Aja and Shanna, two of whom are foster sisters who were raised by Mr. Benton. His businesses are left to his daughters and his business partner Eric Raymond, who is basically the epitome of every scumbag record producer you read horror stories about. He wants complete control over the music business and really hopes Jerrica and her sisters will just focus on the foster home, which is falling apart. He’s more interested in making money rather than supporting girls in need and signs a band named The Misfits to the label. (More on them later.)
Jerrica discovers that her father has also left her a holographic computer known as Synergy. She decides to create a hologram to place over herself to avoid conflict of interest so she and her sisters can enter a battle of the bands competition so she can gain complete control over Starlight Records. They become “Jem and the Holograms”, win the contest, and become an overnight music sensation.
I know what drew me to Jem in the first place was the music. I was a very musical child. I love singing and thought it would be amazing to be in a band someday. I was pretty shy though. I could sing in front of people but I would always get nervous. To this day I shake uncontrollably while singing in front of crowds but somehow I manage to have a steady voice. The show is everything I wasn’t. “Glamour. Glitter. Fashion. Fame.” I definitely am not and was not interested in any of those things. The flashy colors drew me in though. I’m one who can admire extroverted eccentrics and a show about glam rockers even if I prefer just to blend into the background in real life. It was almost like, “Wow, I wish I could be brave enough to color my hair like that and exude confidence.” But I never did and probably still never will, and I’m more than ok with that. I had my hippie phase and my emo/punk rock phase where my fashion choices got a little wilder than my norm, and I still enjoy wearing brighter colors, but I definitely don’t stand out and would never be described as a “glamour” or “glitter girl”. I’ve dabbled in the sparkly stuff, sure, but mostly, I wouldn’t be noticed or remembered by my wardrobe choices.
I appreciate the diversity of the show a lot as well. I’m indigenous so it’s very nice to see a variety of races and all different types of people in the show, especially in a cartoon back then. I knew the world was full of different people, I grew up in Detroit. So the show reflected the varieties of people I saw in my everyday life, which is not something that is easily come by even today. (Although, it is getting better!) Representation does matter when it comes to identity especially for young people, so kudos to the creators for that aspect.
The Misfits are comprised of Pizzazz, Roxy, and Stormer. They’re bad girls. Girls I found so humorous as a youngster, but now as an adult I’m appalled. Honestly, every single episode they do everything they can to sabotage Jem and her band and businesses. They try to corrupt Starlight orphans, trash all Holograms related events, and they resort to all kinds of violence that nearly gets people killed. They’re terrorists. It’s the truth. And the whole rewatch I’m thinking, “Why are they not arrested?! This is insane!” Also, they rip off so much of the Holograms music.
Jem and the Holograms sing about love, beauty, acceptance of others, etc. whereas The Misfits’ lyrics are full of self-centeredness and selfishness. It’s the old battle between good and evil. Every good cartoon needs good villains and this show definitely does not disappoint in that department. I did feel a lot for Stormer, however. She’s very sensitive and is often questioning and perhaps even feeling guilty over how she and her friends treat Jem, and well, everyone. Eric, of course, supports all that The Misfits do. He’s miffed about losing control over the company and wants Jem and her friends destroyed.
Amazingly, everyone suspects that “something is going on” with Jem and possibly Jerrica as well, but no one figures out that they are the same person. Jerrica’s sisters are the only ones who know. Which brings me to my next point…
The Faux Love Triangle
Because the soap opera aspect of things is something I’m particularly drawn to, this element of the show was seen in a different light by me as an adult.
Jerrica has a boyfriend named Rio and for whatever reason she doesn’t tell him about her Jem persona. Upon meeting Jem, Rio starts to catch feelings for her. He becomes the road manager and technical engineer for Jem and the Holograms so he’s a huge part of the series. As a child, it made sense. She’s really Jerrica, so naturally he’s drawn to her. I’ll admit back then I couldn’t care less about boys and although I thought love and romance was just fine especially in books and TV, I wasn’t really too interested in the Jerrica/Jem/Rio drama. Now, I’m seeing things differently.
First of all, let me get this out of the way. Rio is NOT a good guy. He’s a total jerk really. Number one, he doesn’t tell Jerrica or Jem about how he feels about the other, and for someone who made a big deal about “not liking liars or deceit!” he sure is pretty deceitful. Now this is also totally ridiculous because JEM AND JERRICA ARE THE SAME PERSON. Also, HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW IT’S YOUR GIRLFRIEND?! He kisses both of them. Wouldn’t you just know? Rio’s got a violent and jealous side too which is totally uncool. How are you gonna get mad about some dude flirting with Jem when you’re dating Jerrica anyway???
I do not understand why Jerrica doesn’t tell him. Does she not trust him? Does she really think he’ll blab to Eric and everybody? Why would he? And then while you’re Jem and he’s totally crushing on you and you’re flirting with him and seeing him on the sly, do you not think for one second, “Wow, Rio’s pretty much cheating on me with me right now”? The whole thing is, well, “truly outrageous”.
Does Jerrica have low self esteem? Does she think, “Oh, maybe he likes Jem better than me so what if he no longer accepts me as myself”? And if he doesn’t accept you as yourself, you should have dropped him a long time ago. Jerrica starts to become jealous…of herself…in the show too. “I don’t want to hear anymore about Jem!” she says once. I’m rolling my eyes, thinking, “I dunno, maybe you two just deserve each other and will continue this weirdness for forever because hey, it’s entertaining!”
You might be thinking (because I did) “Why doesn’t anyone notice that Jem and Jerrica aren’t ever together?” Well, in an episode Synergy puts a Jem hologram in place when Jerrica gets into a situation where both she and Jem are needed in the same scene. It’s hilarious how it plays out. Rio’s face when he realized “both of his girls” are in the same room with him was priceless. Also, did I mention that Jerrica is Jem’s assistant? Yes, it gets complicated, and I imagine Jerrica is under a lot of stress throughout the show which becomes apparent. She even snaps at my favorite Starlight Girl, Ba Nee, which I scowled about for days.
The last part of Season 1 that I’ll elaborate on is the character of Ba Nee. My heart can’t even think about her without wanting to tear up. Ba Nee is a Vietnamese foster girl who lives at Starlight House. She’s a minor character, but her storyline touches me deeply. She’s a sweet girl who loves books and drawing so I definitely found her relatable. Ba Nee is discovered to have a degenerative eye condition which is going to lead to blindness. Another part of her story is that she starts to believe that her father is one of the musicians at the “Jem Jam” because of his hair color. I won’t spoil anything, but here’s THE ULTIMATE JEM SONG THAT WILL MAKE ME CRY IF YOU PLAY IT:
Ba Nee is the best and no one can tell me differently. She’s my favorite character of the show and I don’t see that changing. I won’t get into personal details, but I will say that she is the most like the child version of me.
I’m so glad that I’m rewatching this again, but I’m sure my husband is appreciating the break I’ve taken from it over the past few days. He gets the theme song in his head more often than I do. 😀 As an adult, I’m appreciating the amount of empathy most of the characters have as well as the overall empathic tone of the show. There’s an overwhelming sense of “accepting differences” and “unity” throughout it. I wanted to write this before I started Season 2, and I honestly do not remember how this show ended so I’m excited to find out again. I know there will be a new band member in the Holograms because I had her doll. And I remember another rival band called “The Stingers”.
This is already proving to be a fun nostalgic adventure so I can’t wait to find out what happens next!
Check out Jem and the Holograms on Tubi.