The All-New Babysitters Club Netflix Series Hit and Missed Me

27 Sep

Greetings, Gen Next here!

As most of my readers know, I’m a huge fan of the Baby-sitters Club books. I grew up with the books in the 1990s, and became a huge fan around 2002.

Though the books were first published in 1986, it continued to be relevant and modern to me. They never once felt timed-out.

The books always focused on friendship, family, romantic relationships, and, most of all, the young lead characters owning and running their own baby-sitting business.

What was so empowering and mesmerizing about the books for me was their organization and drive to start a business at such young ages. I was fascinated with Kristy’s “big ideas” (see that pun there?). From organizing how they would be contacted, to creating meeting times, to adding Kid Kits so kids could have toys to play with, the business was booming in a fictional sense.

Was I the only one who tried to organize my own club just like it? I’m sure all of us fans have tried it, only to fail. If any of you readers have been successful, please share your story in the comments ‘ section below!

With the release of American Girl’s Courtney Moore, a gamer from the 1980’s, Stranger Things, and now the Netflix version of Baby-sitters Club, it appears everyone is attached to the 1980s at the present.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t expect much from the new Netflix series. I didn’t watch the trailer, but I heard that there were attempts to diverse the case. I didn’t know if I was ready for that. I am an African American femme, but that doesn’t mean I expect every character to be changed into a different race just to appeal to me. For me, changes have to be made within reason, and they have to make sense.

Often times, I really find myself wishing a production would actually adapt books, shows, dolls, or any other form of media or entertainment accurately. It doesn’t happen too often. I enjoy watching books come to life on screen, but there’s no point if they change so much to the point it doesn’t feel like the books anymore. I have little interest in token black and Latinx characters. I care more that their personalities relate to me on a personal level, that the “diverse” characters are nuanced and detailed, and that they are well-integrated into the story.

Mary-Anne and Dawn were “diversified”, and I was afraid that Mary-Anne and Dawn would be those “token” characters that they force into the series for the sake of diversity, forgoing all of their original personalities and interests just to tell us they thought about “diversity”.

I am pleased to say that’s not the case with the Baby-sitters Club series. While, yes, Mary-Anne is no longer Kristy Thomas’s twin (as was often pointed out in the books), it’s actually a good change, for casting purposes. I never understood why two characters had to look the same anyway. It was the same issue I ran into with Dawn and Stacy. Why do we need both blonde Stacy and Dawn? Back in the day, the introduction of Dawn seemed like a way to bring in another blonde in the event they needed to replace Stacy’s character (who had many unlikeable traits).

Having two blondes always made Dawn’s physical appearance less interesting to me. I know appearances aren’t everything, but the appearances of the characters helped to distinguish the characters as I was trying to find my favorite books by cover, without having to read the titles.

However, the change for Mary-Anne and Dawn turned out to be pleasantly refreshing, and allowed them to distinguish themselves from their “twins” Kristy and Stacy.

Despite this, there was some significance to the Baby-sitters Club members’ appearances, which became lost as a result of the change. This is often the problem I find with “color-blind” casting. For starters, Mary-Anne’s new biracial (Black and White) presence drowns out Jessi’s purpose and significance in the story, and the show distances itself from the reason why Mary-Anne was interpreted to look so identical to Kristy in the first place. By placing characters of color in “White” roles, it gives the impression that you can “Black-face” a white character without considering any cultural or racial nuances. To me, that requires discussion. Mary-Anne can’t suddenly become “Black” because her clear written experiences were truly “White”. Wouldn’t it have been better to add a new member that was Black, with a nuanced and clearly defined Black experience written for her?

Then, with the new casting, a light-skinned girl got cast for the role of Jessi, which was the same problem in the 1990 TV series. The 1995 movie made sure they cast Jessi correctly. The new character doesn’t appear any different from Mary-Anne, which to me is a colorism issue.

That aside, there were other significant changes as well. A transgirl named Bailey Delvecchio was introduced. In this Netflix series, she makes an appearance in “Mary-Anne Saves The Day”, a re-telling of the book Mary-Anne Saves The Day. Though she replaces the original little girl in the story, Jenny, Bailey’s inclusion, especially the development of her trans backstory, makes her an even more important character than she was in the books, as well as makes Mary-Anne’s courageous moment in the story even more distinct and relevant to today.

However, again, I think that the scene also takes away the context of the original story and what it was meant to teach girls left in charge of small children. That lesson was “What to do during an emergency?” I still think that also should have been highlighted in the episode. In fact, they probably should have referenced the “Dear Reader” section of the books within all of the episodes…

Overall, the changes left me with mixed feelings.

There were a few other changes to the story-telling as well, which would normally make my peevish self squirm. I’m still a little put-off by Dawn’s father “coming out” as gay and that causing her mother to have to go to “therapy”. That didn’t quite put LGBTQ+ relationships in a positive light (since so many of us are seen as home-wreckers). And where was her younger brother Jeff in all of this?

I also didn’t like that they had to over-explain how “witches” were greatly “misunderstood” through now Dawn’s aunt Esme (originally “Morbidda Destiny” or Tabitha Porter in the original novels). What’s the fun in that? I felt the original story better highlighted Dawn’s “spooky” side. This new Dawn just took the fun out of it for me.

Yet, despite all of these changes, I could still watch it and enjoy it as a modern take on my favorite series.

The producers stated they wanted to make the new series more relevant to today. From what I watched, they did a perfect job of modernizing the story without taking away what makes the series so iconic.

The characters still sit around a landline phone, despite finding the phone to be “vintage”. The first few episodes are more true to the first few books than the 1995 movie or even the 1990’s HBO series have been. The characters actually look their age, too (which is between 12 and 13 years old). I found myself recalling the events as the episodes continued, with very slight and meaningful changes. I have to say that I look forward to more; yet I’m also apprehensive about getting any further into this, fearing a complete change heading my way. I hope they don’t change things too much.

The one thing I hope this show actually produces is the 8th member, Abby Stevenson. I know a lot of fans don’t remember or know her, and possibly disliked her presence in the original series. But I loved her. She was dorky, an identical twin, like myself, and Jewish. Very seldom do books tackle alternative religions, so it would be nice to have a character provide that perspective.

I also hope the stories continue to flesh out Jessi’s and Mallory’s characters. In the original series, Jessi was known as the “token Black” girl, but she was important when it came to talking about racism. Her experiences with being told to “go back to Africa” wouldn’t be as relevant with Mary-Anne being a biracial girl, so I wonder how they will tackle Jessi’s experiences in the modern world. It’s a curiosity of mine, and it makes me excited (and a bit nervous) for the future of the series.

Mallory was always the one being baby-sat, and struggled to be taken seriously as a member. I would like to see an episode focusing on Mallory’s struggles with not only being a younger member, but the struggle to move from charge to sitter.

If I can name one other con of this series, it would be Logan Bruno’s appearance and accent. Logan was known for having a very “attractive” Southern accent and blonde hair. Now, he’s just a boring brunette and blends in with all the other love interests (who are all ironically bland brunette characters).

Overall, though, and this is shocking, I don’t have too many negative things to say. I recommend all fans of the original series give this a chance. Just don’t expect what you got from the 1980s.

Leave me a comment and let me know if you’ve watched the series! Did you enjoy it as much as I did, or did it disappoint you? Let’s get a discussion going! Ciao and Peace!


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