The Baby-Sitter’s Club was one of my biggest obsessions when I was younger. Not only did I hoard all the books and re-read them constantly, but I also bought a lot of their merchandise that came through the Scholastic catalogs. Every time we went to the video store, I’d rent the same few Baby-Sitters Club videos from the the 1990 TV series (which, by the way, I’d love to re-watch if anyone knows how to find it!). The 1995 movie version was also one of my favourite movies at the time. I always identified quite strongly with both Mary Anne, who was shy like me, and Mallory, because of her passion for reading and writing. Needless to say, I was very excited to see that a new version of the show was coming to Netflix this year!
Please note that the Plot section does contain some episode details, so if you do not want any spoilers at all, you may want to skip ahead.
Plot & Plot Changes
The first season of the Netflix series consists of 10 episodes that cover the first 8 books of the series, as well as one of the Super Special books. I’m sure many of us who are watching this series are long-time fans of the BSC, but for anyone who is not familiar with the series, it is about a group of 13-year-old girls who decide to form a babysitting business. After watching her mother struggle with phone call after phone call to find an available sitter for her younger brother, Kristy comes up with the idea to have a group of sitters available at one phone number, which families can call to book someone. Each of the books in the series follows one of the babysitters through a specific event or issue, with chapters interspersed from many of the others detailing their babysitting jobs.
In the Netflix series, the episodes loosely follow the original storylines, which touch on a variety of topics, including struggles in school, family issues, friendship, and Stacey’s diabetes. While I knew that the show was going to be modernized a bit for the new audience, I was surprised to see how much had changed! I think the most jarring change for me was in Claudia and the Phantom Caller. I was especially looking forward to that episode because the book had always freaked me out a bit as a kid, but I was a bit underwhelmed. In the book, both Claudia and Kristy receive mysterious silent phone calls while babysitting, which they assume is the burglar known as the “Phantom Caller.” In the series, only Kristy gets phone calls and the ultimate explanation was completely different from what it had been in the series.
On the other hand, some of the plot changes were handled very well. I think Mary Anne Saves the Day is the best example of this. In the original book, Mary Anne is babysitting for a young girl who gets sick with a bad fever, but has to step up and take charge herself after a huge fight with her friends leaves her with no one to turn to for help. The show mostly stuck to that premise, however the child that she was babysitting was a new character named Bailey, who is transgender. I absolutely loved the way that the show handled this character in such a sensitive way and without making Bailey’s gender such a huge deal. It leads to a very impactful scene where Mary Anne, who is normally afraid to speak up at all, has to speak up for Bailey. Claudia and Mean Janine is another example where I think there had been some plot changes, which, to be fair, I mostly remember because I’d recently read the graphic novel version. In the book, Claudia’s grandmother Mimi has a stroke and Claudia takes it upon herself to step up and help take care of her, ultimately leading to an argument with her sister, Janine, whom Claudia perceives as not caring enough to help. That element of Claudia trying to do it all by herself was not really present in the show.
I was also very interested to see how the show would manage Stacey’s diabetes, because I was always a bit confused about why they were made into such a huge deal in the books. It never really made sense to me that Stacey would be so secretive about her diabetes. I really liked that the show managed to fix this storyline a bit, by adding a social media element. A rival babysitting club decides to spread an online video of Stacey having a seizure when she lived in New York to their clients, raising justifiable concerns from the parents about whether she was safe to watch their children alone. I thought this was a smart way to handle the topic and actually inject a real reason why she might have wanted to keep it a secret.
One of the things that I did notice throughout the series, which felt a little strange, is that I felt like the babysitting jobs mostly took a backseat to the characters’ own lives. In Boy-Crazy Stacey and Kristy’s Big Day, for example, a huge babysitting job was a central part of both stories. In both episodes, the babysitting subplots were downplayed and even non-existent. Kristy’s Big Day, understandably, focused more on Kristy’s relationship with her mother and her feelings about the wedding. While this change made sense and it was still a great episode, I couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see the club trying to manage all of the children of the wedding guests, which had been a huge part of the book. In Boy-Crazy Stacey, on of the central conflicts of the book was Stacey sticking Mary Anne with all the work on their week-long babysitting gig helping the Pikes on vacation while she was busy flirting with a lifeguard. While that was present in the episode, I also felt like it was glossed over a bit. ‘
The Camp Moosehead episode is the only one that I had really no familiarity with. I’m sure I read many of the Super Specials, but I didn’t read them nearly as many times as the main series. In this 2-part episode, the girls go to a sleepover camp for the summer, where they are surprised to find that they have been separated into different cabins. Mary Anne takes the lead in putting on a play with Laine, a new girl she meets in her cabin, and casts Stacey as her star without realizing that she and Laine have a difficult history. Dawn and Claudia get upset that the kids are expected to pay extra for art activities, and decide to organize a protest to show that it is unfair. Meanwhile, Kristy repeatedly tries to overstep and take charge of the younger kids and is having trouble being able to relax and enjoy being a camper herself. The episode was fun to watch, but I couldn’t help feeling that some elements ruined my immersion a bit. I kept noticing that there didn’t seem to be any staff around the campers, nor any organized activities aside from art. While that played into Kristy’s fixation on stepping in to help the camp director, it didn’t exactly feel realistic to me.
Characters & Casting
This was the first iteration of the BSC that I’d ever seen where the actors they chose actually looked like they were the right age for the characters. The babysitters are all supposed to be 13, and in previous versions of the show and the movie, they’d always looked much older. To be fair, I never really questioned it at the time. When I first read the series, the babysitters all seemed so mature that I never really questioned that the actresses playing them looked like older teenagers (at least). When I first saw the cast photos for this one, it was a bit of a shock to see just how young the girls really were, but I was also glad to see age-appropriate actresses in the role! I always tend to picture characters the first way that I saw them, so for me, the go-to image I tend to have is the cast of the original TV series.
On a similar note, some of the casting choices threw me off initially because they did not look the way I expected, to the point where I didn’t immediately recognize the character on screen. I think the main examples of that were Dawn and Mallory. Xochitl Gomez, playing Dawn, did a fantastic job with the character, but when I first saw her in the promo photo, I had no idea who she was. I assumed that they had introduced a new character! I always tend to picture characters as the first version of them that I see, so for me, Dawn was a combination of the cover artwork of the books, and Melissa Chasse, who played her in the original TV series. In the books, Dawn had always been described as tall, with long, white-blonde hair, and having grown up reading the books, that was the image I had ingrained in mind. It may have thrown me a bit to not immediately recognize her on-screen, but Xochitl Gomez captured Dawn’s personality so well! It was the same, to a lesser extent, for Vivian Watson, who played Mallory Pike. I did not recognize the character at all when she first showed up on screen because she didn’t have the bright-red, big curly hair and glasses that I was used to. Mallory was one of my favourite characters in the series, and I’m hoping to see more of her if we get another season. Monona Tamada as Claudia was another one who was a bit of a shock to me because I’m not used to Claudia looking so young!
On the other hand, Sophie Grace as Kristy immediately struck me as a perfect casting choice. She did such a great job of capturing Kristy’s bossiness as well as her softer side, and I really loved what she did with the character. Every version of The Baby-sitters Club tends to focus quite a bit on Kristy, which I’ve always found a little strange since I thought all the girls were meant to be the main characters. In this case, I think the focus on Kristy really worked. Similarly, Shay Rudolph was a perfect choice for Stacey. In most versions of the series, Stacey ends up looking much older than her age, so it was great to see a Stacey who actually looked 13 for once. Finally, Malia Baker as Mary Anne Spier did a great job at capturing the awkward shyness of the character. I especially loved how they managed Mary Anne’s relationship with her overprotective father.
I also have to mention some of the side characters as well, especially the brilliant choice of Aya Furukawa to play Claudia’s older sister Janine. She was exactly how I had always pictured the character, and it’s too bad that Janine does not have a bigger role in the stories so we could see more of her. I also can’t avoid giving a special mention to Sophia Reid-Gantzert, who did a brilliant job playing Karen Brewer, Kristy’s younger stepsister. This actress literally stole the show every time she was on-screen! In terms of the adults, I think my favourite casting choice must be Marc Evan Jackson, as Mary Anne’s father Richard. He managed to really humanize the character, who is quite strict and controlling, and I especially loved his interactions with Jessica Elaina Eason, as Dawn’s mother Sharon, who was also Richard’s high school sweetheart. To be honest, I didn’t even recognize Alicia Silverstone at first, who was cast as Kristy’s mother, but I thought the brief reference to Clueless was a fun easter egg.
As usual, I don’t remember the music that well, except for the end credits of each episode, which each had their own song. Visually, I really liked how the show managed to both modernize the series, while still having enough throwbacks to the original. The iconic phone, for example, was the perfect way to acknowledge the series’ history while still fitting into the updated setting. I actually didn’t know going into it that the show was going to be set in present day. For some reason, I had assumed it was going to continue the tradition of being a straightforward retelling of the books, so it was a lot of fun to see all the ways they had updated it. Something as simple as giving the girls cellphones, for example, or having Dawn speak to her father in California via Skype were great ways to show the contemporary setting.
This is one of those shows that is both very familiar but also feels new and fresh at the same time. For a long-time fan of the series like me, some of the changes do feel a bit jarring. If you’re going into the series expecting a version that is completely true to the books, then you will likely be disappointed. However, the strength of the show is the way that it managed to capture the overall spirit of the series while still keeping it up-to-date. It is very nice to see that this is a series that can easily be adapted to keep it relevant, and introduce the characters to a new generation. I really hope this show gets another season, because I’d love to see more of Jessi and Mallory and some of the other books in the series adapted to the screen. Overall, it was a fun way to bring back this series and definitely a great show to watch for anyone who was a fan of the books.
Plot – 8/10
Characters – 8/10
Visuals/Music – 8/10
Overall – 8/10
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