Even though 2020 (and Twitter) keeps showing us that there are infinite ways to be an asshole online, a very grown woman saying, “I’m nervous about the upcoming Netflix series The Baby-Sitters Club” was absolutely going to be a contender for the prize.
So I didn’t. I waited anxiously, and annoyed the hell out of a nine-year-old acquaintance (and BSC fan) by telling her about the updates – the casting looked promising, the trailer was good – but I knew, too, that there had been a lot of skeptical writers who were approached about adapting and updating the property who didn’t feel that excited about the prospect, and that it would be all too easy to miss what made it special.
I am, to put it mildly, overjoyed about the way this series has turned out.
The updated casting is diverse. The touchstones of babysitting are there, including the names of all the kids we knew and loved – but this series also feels incredibly, almost preternaturally modern. The show was always fundamentally about watching 12 year old girls coming online, and valuing their differences (in personality, communication style, family composition) instead of ascribing to some held-up ideal.
It comes through so well that I’m a bit shocked. If I had a quibble, it’s that Alicia Silverstone, age 43, still doesn’t compute in my mind as someone old enough to have a 17-year-old son (Kristy’s oldest brother Charlie, for the die-hards) but I can get over it because there’s so much in the show that’s really, really great.
Everyone sees that club president Kristy is bombastic and over-the-top, but nobody’s trying to train it out of her. Relationships – between the girls and their parents, or the girls and their peers – aren’t perfect, and more importantly, they’re given time to breathe. The show uses the storylines of various books fairly faithfully, but continues the storylines and dynamics into subsequent episodes. Everyone feels like a person.
But the episode that put me over the top, realizing The Baby-Sitters Club was ably, seemingly effortlessly, both faithful and skillfully updated, is in the fourth episode, ‘Mary Anne Saves the Day’ where (mild spoilers after this point, particularly for the die-hards) 12-year-old Mary Anne babysits for Bailey Delvecchio, a four year old girl who’s trans. It’s revealed, and later becomes a plot point, with the lightest possible touch, without ever being preachy or (arguably worse) treacly, and it illustrates something I’ve always believed, but that is hard to communicate in a landscape full of overly-opinionated adults …
Kids accept things as they are. They learn early and often that people have myriad differences, and that you accept people as a whole, both the parts you understand and identify with, and the parts you don’t. I watched the above episode with my kid, who processed it in the way the show clearly intended – an interesting(ish) fact about Bailey, but not nearly as interesting as the fact that (for reasons totally unrelated to her gender identity) Bailey got to ride in an ambulance.
There are other deeply encouraging elements (arguably, not all of them are intentional – a teenage-appearing lifeguard looks deeply uncomfortable when he has to call a 13-year old ‘cutie’) that both mollify the massive adult nostalgia that’s made the show so popular on Netflix and show that it’s a timeless story. I hope fervently that there are actual young people finding this show, but as an adult who loved the books unabashedly back in the day, having an unexpectedly well-updated fandom is a pretty nice surprise, too.
Also, Claudia’s outfits!! The trickiest thing to accomplish, given how internet-fetishized they’ve been over the years, and so far, they have yet to disappoint. Get into it!