Because I spend an inordinate amount of time online ‘researching’, I’m pretty good at sleuthing stuff that might have been a fever dream – it’s become a party trick for our friends on our group chat, and I’m not gonna lie, it’s a skill I enjoy – but perhaps nothing makes me as proud as having found these:
These are the Punky Brewster high-tops I had when I was about five or six, at the height of Punky Brewster mania. I distinctly remember the salesman telling me how lucky I was because my mother gave into my pleading. In any event, these were the first things to flash into my mind when I read that Soleil Moon Frye would be releasing KID90, a documentary based on videos she took as a kid and teen star.
I’ll wait while you sort that out in your head, because my first thought – I assume yours too – was ‘wait, no, wasn’t that Blossom? Or Mayim Bialik, or… wait.’ Because Blossom was basically about a funky, offbeat teenager who was the spiritual successor/older sister to Punky Brewster – and it’s hard to believe, in retrospect, that both series were on prime time television, that in a time when there were only three or four channels, the growing pains of young girls had that kind of prominence.
I bring that up because it’s hard to remember just how famous Soleil Moon Frye had when she was taking a CamCorder everywhere she went. Let’s say she was approximately as famous as, oh… Millie Bobbie Brown, except more, because lots of parents and grandparents also watched and thought she was adorable. She went on to do a metric tonne of movies, TV and otherwise, in the intervening years… when she wasn’t hanging out with young Hollywood. The doc, which will air on Hulu, also “features new interviews with lifelong friends David Arquette, Balt Getty, Brian Austin Green, Stephen Dorff and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and others. Also featured: Never-before-seen footage of Harold Hunter, Justin Pierce, Danny Boy O’Connor, Jenny Lewis, Jonathan Brandis, and many others. Another longtime friend, Linda Perry, is on board to craft an original score.”
Now that is a time capsule. That is a TV-star yearbook of the clean-ish teens who kept Tiger Beat in business (btw, ‘Balt’ Getty? Is that what we’re doing now?) I’m interested in what they’re going to say – especially since this sounds an awful lot like Don’s Plum, a movie Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire made with their friends in the 90s, that they’ve since tried to ban from ever being screened in North America. Coincidentally (…?) Frye’s film has producers from Appian Way, DiCaprio’s production company – so there are clearly a lot of former 90s teens deeply invested in how interesting former 90s teen life must have been.
Part of me is very interested in this nostalgia machine, especially since the black and white ‘interview your friends’ documentary trope was HUGE in the late 80s and early 90s. Reality Bites put the cap on it, and beautifully, but if a teenager was seen on your screen back then, chances are they were, at least once, seen in black and white with a red dot and ‘REC’ flashing in the top left corner of the screen. And because the Punky Brewster reboot, which was apparently ordered to series while we were all still in the throes of trying to understand what COVID was all about, looks like it might be better if we all mercifully pretended we didn’t know it existed.
But the other part of me is wondering who the hell is this for? (See also above re: the Punky Brewster reboot) We were all there in the 90s. We’ve seen every first-person doc in existence – half of us probably even asked for CamCorders for our birthdays – and we already know that in the 80s/90s, a bunch of wealthy white kids were living large. Is this going to be revelatory? Is it anything more than an archive?
Because you know where this is going. We already know who’s not in that doc – the same people who were never in those Tiger Beat pages, even if they were starring on shows at the time. Anyone who wasn’t a white kid with “All-American good looks”, as my favourite book of the era called them, just… weren’t part of that scene. Or the Brat Pack, or the TGIF promo posters (at least, pre-Urkel.)
The problem with wrapping ourselves up in safe 80s/90s memories, and giving them airtime in 2020, isn’t just that it’s irrelevant – or that our tastes in entertainment, or who we anoint as celebrity then versus now, have changed; it’s the confluence of those two things.
Mixing the warm fuzzies of remembering being young, combined with a total erasure of people of colour, of the LGBTQ+ community, and of anyone who was ‘othered’ back then because of body size, ability, or, you know, GLASSES – that makes people feel like there’s justification for not wanting to change anything, that their worldview doesn’t need to change or expand.
Of course, that’s assuming there’s a big audience. I could be way overthinking the viewership and impact for what is very likely a niche production, right? Except if the number of people in their 30s and 40s who are vocally, rabidly consuming Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club is any indication, the Xennials are delighted to be marketed to, and whomever else wants to get on the ride is welcome.
Which is fine! And what do I know – maybe Soleil Moon and I are on the same page (six-year-old me was pretty sure that was true) and talking about the myopia of entertainment in the 80s/90s is part of the plan for all those ‘new interviews’. But… I just look at the glut of bold-face names they’re promoting this project with, and the degree to which they’re the same old, and wonder what we don’t get to see – what doesn’t get Hulu’s money and signal boost and acclaim – just because we’re taking a trip down Memory Lane instead.