The iconic young adult book series comes to vivid, relatable, family-friendly life.
As we’ve discussed before, creating media for and about the junior high set can be a tricky needle to thread. Tweens don’t want to feel condescended to or patronized by dialogue or subjects that are too “babyish,” but they may not be ready for the more adult themes of stories geared towards older teens. Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club, which follows the adventures of a group of seventh-grade girls as they start their own business in a fictional suburb called Stoneybrook, had its work cut out for it based on the target demographic alone.
But The Baby-Sitters Club is not just for tweens, of course. After all, the show is based on an incredibly popular series of books that sold 176 million copies between the years 1986 and 2000 alone. Besides the 131 canonical Baby-Sitter’s books, the series inspired three spin-off novel series, countless “specials” and mystery editions, a 1990 television series, a 1995 film, and a series of graphic novels. Many of the people most excited for the Netflix version grew up with the Babysitters.
As one of those people, I’m delighted to report that this new Baby-Sitters Club delivers on absolutely every level. Even viewers unfamiliar with the novels will find plenty to enjoy about this funny, family-friendly show.
Fans of the series will be glad to hear that the cast of newcomers are perfectly suited to their respective roles. The club members have distinct, fully realized personalities and wonderful chemistry with each other. The performances are much more down to earth and less frenetic than one might find on, for example, a Disney Channel show geared towards a similar demographic. Everyone is excellent, but special attention should be paid to Sophia Grace’s turn as wry, bossy BSC president Kristy Thomas and Xochitl Gomez as wise-beyond-her-years Dawn Schaefer.
Besides the club, whose members also include Stacey McGill (Shay Rudolph), Claudia Kishi (Momana Tamada), and Mary-Anne Spier (Malia Baker), the show is populated by a variety of eccentric parents and problem children. Alicia Silverstone is wonderfully funny and warm as Kristy’s mother, Elizabeth—despite an unnecessary Clueless reference that sticks out in the first episode. When a potential babysitter gives her a pricey hourly rate for watching her six-year-old, Silverstone deadpans, “What are you going to do, breastfeed him?” Marc Evan Jackson also shines, at moments both funny and touching, playing Mary-Anne’s uptight widower father.
Episode structure, at least for the three episodes Netflix allowed critics to screen for this review, hews to the books pretty closely. Each episode centers around a different Babysitter and her personal struggles with friends, family, and school. Mimicking the first-person narrative style of the novels, the Baby-Sitters each narrate their own story.
Even viewers unfamiliar with the novels will find plenty to enjoy about this funny, family-friendly show.
The show is credited as being co-written by original author Ann M. Martin in collaboration with Rachel Shukert (GLOW, Supergirl), as well as Lisha Brook and Dan Robert. It really shows that these episodes were (primarily) penned by women. The girls’ fears and dreams are handled with obvious respect and care. They’re neither inappropriately sexualized, nor made to act like precocious tots. There’s even a great joke about menstruation in the very first episode. Topics covered include parental estrangement, academic struggles, sexist teachers, and blended families, but the show never dips into After-School Special schmaltz in the slightest.
Kristy’s lack of a relationship with her biological father and her resentment towards her mother’s boyfriend (Mark Feuerstein) come together to serve as a thoughtful through-line for the series, whose plots are otherwise somewhat episodic. At times the narration feels a little overdone and overpowering, but it does a fine job invoking the tone of Martin’s novels.
Director Lucia Aniello more than holds up her end of the bargain in all this, drawing viewers into a Stoneybrook that feels warm and inviting but never sterile or slick. The art direction provides additional interest. Claudia’s bedroom, which doubles as the BSC’s de facto clubhouse, is a junior high paradise, replete with quirky animal-shaped furniture and secret candy stashes hidden in books.
The team behind this version of The Baby-Sitters Club even came up with clever in-story reasons for the girls to eschew smartphones and social media and direct their business through a vintage landline phone twelve-year-old Claudia declares to be “iconic.” I suspect young viewers will soon declare Claudia’s costumes (which include a baggy yellow jumpsuit paired with gold combat boots, cherry-shaped sunglasses, and a Tippi Hedren in The Birds Halloween look) similarly snatchable.
Adults who are unfamiliar with the BSC but looking for a charming, light-hearted watch could do a lot worse than this show, and adults who are familiar with the books should mark this down as can’t-miss-television. Martin, Shukert, and Aniello, along with the rest of the Baby-Sitters team, have created something that feels truly timeless, and welcomes everyone into the club.
The Baby-Sitters Club arrives on Netflix July 3rd.