It’s rare to see a TV show devoting so much to the young girls’ inner lives, and it’s even rarer to see it performed as well as the new Netflix adaptation of Baby Sitters Club, who uses his premise to launch a charming collection of characters, who seem to gather for business purposes, but reminds us that friendship can create entirely new families.
For the record, I review this show as someone who was a fan of the original Ann M. Martin series: Ten years before I discovered memorizing the names of TV episodes could eventually become a job skill, I memorized the titles of Baby Sitters Club books. I probably owned dozens upon a point, read and read in between Sweet Valley High and Beverly Cleary novels; growing up with Baby Sitters Club Books meant growing up with wrong but wonderful big sisters, and to this day I find it a little difficult to understand the idea that Kristy, Mary-Anne, Stacey, Dawn and Claudia are, on these well-tumbled pages, only 1
But it was surprisingly easy to remove from my preteen memories of the books and embrace how the creator Rachel Shukert, whose previous points include Glow and Super girl, has updated the concept of a modern audience, without losing its original charm. (She even found a way to justify why a 13-year-old girl in 2020 would have a solid line, which is truly impressive.) So the premise is: Kristy (Sophie Grace) is a middle school with business sense, so when she sees her mother Elizabeth (Alicia Silverstone) rushing after a babysitter one night for her younger brother, Kristy realizes that the adults in her small Connecticut town could use a service where, with just one call, they could reach several reliable babysitters.
Thus, Kristy brings her friends to the title club, including shy but sweet Mary-Anne (Malia Baker), artistic Claudia (Momona Tamada), sophisticated Stacey (Shay Rudolph) and California Transplant Dawn (Xochitl Gomez). Together, they weather the problems that come with trying to make a business of offending other people’s children, while also dealing with their own issues: abusive or absent parents, medical problems and popularity (or lack thereof).
It’s a great framework for telling stories about girls at a very specific and important moment in their lives, and the show does so while putting in serious elbow grease to make sure these characters are richly developed. A popular idea linked to many TV shows about female friendship is the idea of identification: Are you a Carrie or a Samantha? A buffet or an arrow? But with Baby Sitters Club, especially in the hands of Shukert and her writers, it’s almost impossible to play the Kristy-or-Mary-Anne game, because all five core characters are such unique individuals, given the strengths and weaknesses that make it impossible to boil them down to archetypes. Kristy is a boy, but that doesn’t mean she can’t like dresses. Claudia struggles academically but is a wonderful artist. Mary-Anne may be shy, but she is convinced of her talents. And everyone comes to life with sparkling wit and serious charm.
In Martin’s books, Claudia was the only character whose ethnicity was specified as Japanese – which had such a huge impact on a whole generation of Asian-Americans that Netflix will release a documentary about her. But the show has made its cast even more inclusive in terms of ethnicity and casting directors Danielle Aufiero and Amber Horn should take a very big bow to gather an incredible role of young people, who bring a naturalism to the screen that sometimes professional child players can not escape. Tamada like Claudia and Grace like Kristy in particular stand out for how they feel incredibly engaged in their roles without ever feeling like artists.
As for the adult actors, Mark Feuerstein continues to deliver great “hey, he seems like a nice guy” energy and Silverstone offers a very poignant reminder of how charming she can be (though it’s always a little disturbing to see one of your teen idols play the teenage kid’s mom something I know that Molly Ringwald fans have been struggling with the last decade or so). Another important role for the adult is the wonderful Takayo Fischer as Claudia’s grandmother Mimi, while Marc Evan Jackson finds a new jittery dimension to his trademark deadpan, and Tami Sagher comes in to steal several scenes of the season’s final two parties.
Appreciate what Shukert has done to adapt Baby Sitters Club as a TV show goes beyond just “oh, if you grew up with the books, you will like the show.” It goes beyond “safe to charm girls of that age.” Yes, it does sometimes tip the hat to its specific target audience, but these ten sections present a richly detailed, nuanced portrait of what it’s like to be a young woman, and it deserves to be written off as “girl TV.” The endless number of movies and TV shows made about boys under 15 have never been treated in the same way, regardless of their quality, and it does a service for this very good series, full of life, humor and heart. Baby Sitters Club can be a nostalgic game in some ways, but as an entertainment journalist who has had to spend the last five years paying close attention to Stranger Things, I would be pretty happy if this show even got an 18th for the same consideration.
Baby Sitters Club don’t scream about gender equality, but it’s okay because I’m here to do it. It’s honestly rare to watch a show and not only feel completely confident about recommending it to anyone, regardless of gender or age, but saying that shall see by everyone. Young women deserve to be taken seriously. And this also shows.
The Baby-Sitters Club Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.