I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey. Let’s go back in time to the 1980s. It was a time of neon and pop music, of big hair and big egos, of memorable if lamentable fashion choices, when MTV still actually had something to do with music, and kids came home from school to watch cartoons all afternoon. I’ve already commented upon many such shows, and now here’s another. In the harmful tradition of gendered marketing, this is about a show to sell dolls that was aimed squarely at little girls who worshiped Madonna (the singer) and dressed like Cyndi Lauper – Jem.
I watched this show because it was on between two shows I actually wanted to see, and what was I going to do for half an hour, go outside and play? Right… Anyway, the show is about a glam-pop girl band and their crazy misadventures. At least for a show aimed at girls, the show-runner was actually a woman, and there was an overall positive theme of “girl power” since the protagonists and antagonists alike were mostly women. That said, any similarities between this and “Nevermore and the Ravens” is purely superficial. Jem is everything about the ’80s in a concentrated, animated form and that one-sentence plot summary does not do justice to the sheer ’80s-ness.
Jerrica Benton’s father recently died and left her with ownership of half a music company and complete ownership of halfway house for orphan girls. Unfortunately, the other co-owner is Scumbag McScummy (okay, his name is Eric, but really, my name fits better) who’s trying to get full ownership any way he can and is somehow keeping money from Jerrica which she needs for the halfway house. At a loss of what to do, it turns out her father left her something else – a “holographic” artificial intelligence named Synergy, housed at an old drive through. Synergy can project holograms using a pair of earrings (because computers are magic, especially in the ’80s). Also left were instruments, costumes, and a car, so what can Jerrica possibly do but start a girl glam-pop band (called “the Holograms” of course) with her sister Kimber and buddies Aja and Shawna (and later Raya)? However, for reasons that I don’t recall are ever explained, Jerrica disguises herself as Jem to be the lead singer while as Jerrica she manages the band. This odd decision also causes great distress to Jerrica’s boyfriend and Holograms’ road manager Rio, who is trying to stay loyal to Jerrica while Jem keeps flirting with him. Jerrica seems torn between telling him who she really is and just continuing to jerk him needlessly between her and Jem.
I can tell you feel this is only hardly outrageous, especially for the ’80s. You are right, and that’s because there’s more ridiculousness to come. Scumbag signs a girl punk-pop girl band called the Misfits (Pizazz, Roxie, and Stormer) to be the Next Big Thing. Jerrica is introduced to them when they ride into Scumbag’s office in full make-up and on guitar-shaped motorcycles. Yes, seriously, riding guitar-shaped motorcycles. This upsets Jerrica and she declares they are too trashy to be represented by her music company. This ticks off the Misfits and Scumbag comes up with a great idea to settle all the disagreements – a battle of the bands between the Misfits and the Holograms. The manager of the winning band gets full ownership of the company.
“Piffle,” I hear you say. “This is the ’80s. How could there not be a battle of the bands with such a silly set-up?” I grant you that. But a random movie producer who overhears this conversation offers the winning band a movie deal, because that’s a thing that totally happens, and as a bonus also offers them their own mansion. I wasn’t aware movie producers doubled as real estate agents, but then again, I’m not in show business. So now the stage, such as it is, is set for this rivalry, which spans three seasons. Every single episode ended on a dramatic cliffhanger and every single episode had at least one mini-music video from the Holograms or the Misfits (many times both). And damn was the intro catchy; this show knew how to make a first impression. There was no ambiguity in the theme. Jem was her name, and she was truly, truly outrageous.
Not For Me:
My issue with the show was not the ’80s-ness of it, or the premise, but that even as I child I knew if Jerrica had just called the police there would have been no show. In the first episode:
1) the Misfits commit felony theft (stealing the Holograms’ instruments)
2) the Misfits commit defenestration (throwing said instruments out of their van)
3) the Misfits commit destruction of property (throwing said instruments out of their van)
4) the Misfits commit reckless endangerment (throwing said instruments out of their van on a road)
5) the Misfits commit attempted murder (throwing said instruments out of their van on a road at the following Holograms)
6) Scumbag is an accessory to burglary (he hires a thug to rob the halfway house)
7) Scumbag is an accessory to arson when the thug accidentally burns the house down.
That sounds more like a pilot episode of “Law and Order: Hollywood Beat” or something.
The Promise to Others:
For all that, the show was fairly successful as far as the standards of ’80s cartoons go. And that, of course, was enough for some greedy and uncreative movie executive to start eyeing the rights to a live-action movie. Let us return to the present. The time was right. There were four successful “Transformers” movies, two “G.I.Joe” movies, and yet another “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot. Why not play on the nostalgic purse-strings of little girls? With a proper budget and directing, this could have been a hugely fun, totally ’80s nostalgia/fantasy fest of radical big-hair awesomeness. Hollywood just had to embrace the guitar-shaped motorcycles.
The Sad, Sad Reality:
The result has been, indeed, truly, truly outrageous, but not for any good reasons. The making, marketing, and general handling of this movie has been the laziest, most misguided, short-sighted cash grab I have ever seen. If I were a fan of the show, this would have indeed put a hole in my soul. The production time was mere eye-blinks, the budget minuscule, the marketing practically non-existent, and the “creative” team not only gave zero [expletives] about this movie, they managed to give anti-[expletives] when they pro-actively called up the TV show’s show-runner and told her to go [expletive] herself because it would be an icy day in Hell before they consulted her about the movie.
All the ’80s-ness was stripped out of the movie leaving nothing but a “gritty” re-hash of the same “getting the band together” movie that’s been made a thousand times already combined with the grimdark origin story that no one really gives a damn about. Synergy was turned into a magic robot that was far less interesting and powerful than the supercomputer A.I. of the TV show, the Misfits were missing (except as a sequel teaser because someone really thought that was going to happen), no neon, no original songs, no point. Not surprisingly to anyone except the people who made the movie, it absolutely bombed at the box office. It bombed so hard the studio started to pull it back from wide release after only two weeks, which is pretty much unprecedented.
Did this show really cry out for a big-budget, live-action adaptation? No more so than Transformers or G.I. Joe. Did it fail worse that those movies in living up to anyone’s expectations? Well, yes, and no. Yes because the names are the same, and some story elements bear something of a resemblance to the TV show, but it’s just another shoddy adaptation with so much corporate mangling to make it “hip” and “relevant” to the modern audience it can barely be called an adaptation. And no, because it wasn’t even given a proper chance to succeed, not with the tiny budget, short production schedule, and utter lack of anything resembling care on the part of the “creative” team. Now I await the truly outrageous part, which is when a studio executive will trot out that tired excuse – “This is why we don’t make female-led movies; they don’t make any money!”