TV TATTLE

Netflix's delightful The Baby-Sitters Club is smartly updated for 2020, without sacrificing the books' warmth and optimism

  • Watching the Season 1 adaptation of Ann M. Martin's popular book series "was the most comforting, delightful stretch of viewing I’ve had in the last few months," says Kathryn VanArendonk, adding: "I was worried about an adaptation of The Baby-Sitters Club with the same skepticism of anyone who loves something and then learns it’s going to be remade. I worried about casting, and whether the series would fall into the TV trap of making the protagonists seem implausibly old, even when they’re supposed to be 13. The two-decade time jump concerned me; what does The Baby-Sitters Club look like now that all these kids have mobile phones? Mostly, I had trepidation about mood. There’s an almost paradoxical sentiment in it, something like heady, thrilling earnestness. What does that look like onscreen? It would be terrible for the show to be thoughtlessly sweet, but arch detachment would’ve been even worse. The cast won me over first. In her new TV form, club president Kristy Thomas (Sophie Grace) is authoritative, well intentioned, and a little selfish. Claudia Kishi (Momona Tamada) is optimistic, creative, and a misfit in her own family. Stacey McGill (Shay Rudolph) is sophisticated, self-conscious, and boy crazy. Mary-Anne Spier (Malia Baker) has been rewritten as the mixed-race Black daughter of her uptight white widower father (Marc Evan Jackson). The adult cast is also strong, especially Alicia Silverstone as Kristy’s mom, a first-episode casting reveal that made me gasp in delight."

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    • The Baby-Sitters Club is not only warm and effervescent, it's downright among the best shows Netflix has produced to date: "Creator Rachel Shukert (GLOW) and executive producer/director Lucia Aniello (Broad City) understood their charge: to sensitively update the series to modern culture while upholding the magic of the original characters and stories. They delivered," says Robyn Bahr. "Lacking any cheap kiddie sheen, The Baby-Sitters Club should appeal to elementary school kids and millennials alike, the new series balancing digestible junior high storylines with sophisticated (though thoroughly wholesome!) joke-telling. While gritty middle school is all the rage these days, I felt bereft when there were no more episodes left to wolf down, immediately longing for the show's comforting escape."
    • The Baby-Sitters Club stays true to the source material while being relevant to today: "The books are straightforward and heartfelt, telling stories of smart and ambitious girls on the precipice of growing up that take great care not to condescend to them (like some of the grown-ups in their lives do by default)," says Caroline Framke. "Maybe that’s why, halfway through the first episode of Netflix’s The Baby-Sitters Club adaptation, I realized I’d been steeling myself for the moment that this modern reboot of a children’s property would turn dark and sexy, as per increasingly typical Riverdale standards. But much to my pleasant surprise (and downright relief), Rachel Shukert’s update of Martin’s beloved books is, in fact, a show about young teenagers starring young teenagers that’s entirely appropriate for young teenagers. Such a concept should not be radical, and yet, it’s remarkable that the sweet sincerity of this Baby-Sitters Club so closely matches that of its source material while also bringing it into a recognizable 21st century."
    • The Baby-Sitters Club was never only about babysitting: "I’m about as far from the show’s intended demographic as a person can get, but The Baby-Sitters Club is yet another reminder of the lucky life of a critic, who gets to watch everything and discover the unexpected trove of kindness and spirit seen here," says Hank Stuever. "The women in my life — especially those friends who grew up in the 1980s and ’90s reading the 2oo-plus novels in the original book series conceived by Ann M. Martin — are way, way ahead of me on this: The Baby-Sitters Club, which has sold more than 180 million paperbacks and was previously adapted into a short-lived TV series and a 1995 movie, was never only about babysitting. It’s an entire ethic, impressively built on the tenet that we are, each of us, becoming a better and more responsible person every day. How the books and now this series are able to do this without seeming saccharine, preachy or otherwise Disneyfied is part of why The Baby-Sitters Club is such a watchable treat. Not only do things generally work out for these girls, it works out because they work at it."
    • The Baby-sitters Club didn't seem like a franchise that could survive these cataclysmic times: "So it’s a wonderful surprise that the new Baby-sitters Club...isn’t an anachronism so much as a tonic," says Judy Berman. "Helmed by first-generation fans Rachel Shukert (GLOW) and Lucia Aniello (Broad City), who honed their voices telling lighthearted stories about women who have each other’s backs, the show strikes a shrewd balance between earnestness and humor, freshness and nostalgia, fidelity to Martin’s beloved characters and awareness of how much has changed since her books dominated girl culture at the end of the 20th century."
    • The Baby-Sitters Club is perfect kids' TV that isn't smarmy or prescriptive in its sunniness: "The small miracle of Shukert’s series is how free it is in its earnest assessment of the liminal time of middle school, when many kids (not all, certainly) are stuck between the trappings of childhood and the wilds of adolescence—both its excitement and its creeping cynicism," says Richard Lawson. "The Baby-Sitters Club addresses that shift in a way that I’d imagine will be quite palatable to and processable by its intended young audience, while also nudging them forward into new understandings."
    • The show is a joyous celebration of friendship: "A playwright best known for writing some of the most outstanding episodes of GLOW, Shukert parlays a lot of GLOW‘s charms into The Baby-Sitters Club," says Meghan O'Keefe. "Namely, the ability to tell a heart-felt, humorous story that easily juggles — and more importantly, celebrates — the varied POVs that can exist in a female-focused ensemble. Both shows follow a group of ladies who band together to create a business they are proud of, but neither puts the gig at hand before the emotional state of the characters. (Even if those characters are, uh, putting the gig first.)"
    • The Baby-Sitters Club could have easily sailed on the nostalgia of a generation past but it skillfully brings together the old and the new: "It’s amazing to watch a series that generally clocks in at about 25 minutes and never makes you feel as though you don’t know these characters," says Kristen Lopez. "Part of that is because if you if you have familiarity with the book series it’s ingrained; but even if you’ve never picked up a copy of these books you learn and bond with these amazing young women. And, I’m not mincing words, every single actress in this series is so sincere, charming, and wonderful, whether alone or together. At times it’s like watching the book series come to life in the best way, with a cast that’s far more inclusive than the book covers would have you believe. Grace aside, Malia Baker as the shy Mary-Ann and Momona Tamada as Claudia will steal your heart."
    • Alicia Silverstone signed on having never read The Baby-Sitters Club books: "Mainly I was just really excited to read a script that was female-driven and that was super positive and modern, and based on a story that so many people love," she says. "The show makes my heart so happy when I watch it. And it's nice to watch it as a family because it's such feel-good content for our precious little ones. I think that's important. I don't have to worry if my son wants to watch this — and he loves the show, by the way."
    • Creator Rachel Shukert and executive producer Lucia Aniello say Ann M. Martin's book series was already ahead of its time: “So much of what Ann laid in the groundwork was already ahead of its time, so it really wasn't a huge amount of work for us,” says Aniello, which is why it's set in the modern day. "Doing a period piece for kids can work really well—something like Stranger Things—but it did feel like we wanted to make things feel relevant and fresh," she says.
    • What do you do about the landline phone?: “The logistics of it were the first piece that had to be solved,” says Shukert. “How would this club work now?”
    • Shukert decided to start with the first 10 books of the 131-book series because they were the most canon: “The books are such a wonderful blueprint,” she says. “The first eight to 10 books, I would say, set up the world and the club, and their relationships get cemented, (as do) the bigger stories of what’s going on with their parents and how that affects them. It’s laying the architecture, so it felt like that was a good jumping off point.”
    • Author Ann M. Martin, who consulted on the series and vetted scripts, wouldn’t mind if the new show represented everyone: “I wanted any kid who was reading the books or seeing the series now to be able to see himself or herself reflected in the characters,” she says.

    TOPICS: The Baby-Sitters Club, Netflix, Ann M. Martin, Lucia Aniello, Rachel Shukert, Teen TV




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