If it's crap ... We'll tell you
First off, let me say that while I have incredible, almost inhuman tolerance levels for 'entertainment' not generally designed for anything vaguely approaching my demographic, there was no way anyone was going to talk me into watching what appeared to be "Dazzler: The Series: Chapter Two: The Lamening". But luckily, I didn't have to, because our own Cat apparently has a nostalgia thing going for it. (*whew*)
I'll just hand this over to her and say no more...
Disclaimer: This will be in no way an objective review of "Jem and the Holograms". From the time the show premiered in the fall of 1985 until sometime around 1990, I watched every time it aired. First, at 9:00 on Saturday mornings, then at 3:30 every weekday afternoon. The songs were the soundtrack to my life from the time I was nine until I turned thirteen. Given the emotional connection I have to this material, there’s no possible way I can give it a purely objective review. I will, however, attempt not to gush about how it’s the best cartoon ever made, blah, blah, blah...
The recent revival of "Jem and the Holograms" in syndication on The Hub network has led to its re-release on DVD. Shout! Factory has put out the entire series (three seasons) in one DVD set, as well as the first and second seasons individually.
This review focuses on the Season Two DVD set, which begins with the two-part episode, “The Talent Search.” Jem was created by Hasbro as a vehicle for toy sales, and the introduction of two new characters was basically a way for them to sell more product. Christie Marx, the creator of Jem, wanted to expand on the already diverse cast, but The Powers That Be at Hasbro decreed that she could make the new Hologram (the “good” character) any ethnicity she chose, but the new Misfit (the “bad” character) could only be British or Australian. As a result, our new Hologram, Raya, is a big-hearted but shy Latina, and Jetta, our new Misfit, is a rough-and-tumble working-class Brit. Despite their origins as vehicles for selling more toys, Raya and Jetta help to fill out a cast of already well-rounded characters.
Allow me a moment to dispel some common misconceptions about "Jem and the Holograms". First and foremost, Jem is not a superhero. She has a secret identity, but she does not fight crime. The Jem/Jerrica duality was created so that Jerrica could perform in the battle of the bands which allowed her to maintain control of Starlight Music without being recognized, and the identity was concealed thereafter so that she could both protect her privacy and because revealing her identity would risk revealing the existence of Synergy, the super-high-tech computer (built by her late father) which projects the holograms that allow Jerrica to turn into Jem.
Second, "Jem and the Holograms" has more depth, with respect to its characters and storytelling, than those who are unfamiliar with it would expect. On the surface, it’s the story of two rival rock bands (or cliques), one made up of the “nice girls,” and one of the “mean girls.” But what’s unexpected is that we’re actually given some explanation as to why the individual characters are the way they are. The relationships of the characters to their fathers is a recurring theme in "Jem", and illustrates some reasons that Jem and her friends are kind and caring, while Pizzazz and the Misfits are selfish and cruel.
One of the most significant (and rather powerful) episodes in Season Two is “Father’s Day,” in which we are shown some of these relationships directly. Jem and the Holograms agree to help their friend Video make a video “card” for her father, which dredges up Kimber’s latent grief over the death of her and Jerrica’s father. Meanwhile, Clash (Video’s cousin and a Misfit wannabe) brings the Misfits back to Mulberry, her small hometown, for Father’s Day weekend, in an attempt to outdo Video. We see that Video’s father always supported her interest in filmmaking, and Clash’s father indulged (and continues to indulge) his daughter’s bratty behavior. The only way that Jem and the Holograms can make it to Mulberry in time for Video’s celebration is via private jet - a jet owned by Pizzazz’s father, Harvey Gabor. Harvey’s relationship with Pizzazz consists of throwing money at her to keep her music career going and to shut her up. He tells Kimber that ever since Pizzazz’s mother walked out on them, he’s been unable to relate to his daughter. When the Holograms arrive in Mulberry on the jet with Harvey, Pizzazz throws the predictable fit. Kimber begins to realize that Pizzazz’s personality is, in part, a result of her lack of a relationship with her parents.
Not every episode in Season Two stands out like “Father’s Day.” In fact, Season Two includes some of the weakest in the entire series (most notably “The Presidential Dilemma” and “Journey to Shangri-La.”). But it also includes “Music is Magic,” the only episode written by Paul Dini (three guesses as to what that one is about), and “Out of the Past,” in which we learn about how the Bentons took in Aja and Shana as foster daughters, how Starlight Music and the Starlight Foundation were created, and about the plane crash which killed Jerrica and Kimber’s mother. The season also includes “Roxy Rumbles,” where we discover that the Misfit Roxy is illiterate. Another Misfit-centric episode that should have been included is “Britrock,” where we learn more about Jetta, but it is not included in this collection, nor in the previous releases, for reasons I’ve been unable to determine.
The quality of the animation, while better in Season Two than in Season One, is still variable. Many of the wide shots are a poorer quality, but the closeups and medium-length shots are about as good as 1980s TV animation gets. The original opening sequence (which is rotoscoped), used for the first few episodes of Season Two (before changing to the “Jem Girls” theme), is probably the best animation I’ve seen on an animated TV show prior to "Batman: The Animated Series."
The only special feature on this release of "Jem and the Holograms: Season Two" is the “Video Jukebox,”which allows the viewer to watch just the videos which appear in the shows on each disk. The packaging isn’t “deluxe,” but it’s nice, and the disks themselves are cute, designed to look like miniature pink records.
Overall, this collection is one that I’m certainly happy to have (it includes seven episodes which were not previously released). I’m not sure I could recommend it to an adult who isn’t already a fan, but I would definitely recommend it as a gift to that special Jem fan in your life, or to a young girl who suffers from exposure to too much Princess paraphernalia. Jem is equally “girly,” but with the message that you can be whatever you want, from an executive to a rock star. There’s no reason we can’t have our pretty clothes and our independence, too!
CLICK HERE TO BUY Jem And The Holograms: Season Two