Jem (and the Holograms): Truly Outrageous 1980's Cartoon!
May 5, 2009
"Glamour and glitter, fashion and fame: JEM! Jem is truly outrageous, truly,truly,truly outrageous!"
If you can proudly sing that line in key and without a hint of irony as a knowing smile creeps upon your face, I dare say that you too must indeed be a fellow "Child of the 80's".
And as this true Child of the 80's can attest, there was likely no young female-focused cartoon series nearly as respected and beloved at that time as "Jem" was in all its "truly outrageous" glory. The likes of "She-Ra" , "Strawberry Shortcake" and "Rainbow Brite" came somewhat close, but neither held quite the same glamorous allure and vastly more mature perspective as "Jem" did throughout its all-too-brief three season run from 1986-1988.
So what exactly was it about "Jem" that was just so fascinating and special enough to fare beyond the typical expectations of most other 1980's cartoons similarly marketed to girls of the era?
Think of an MTV-style soap opera in pure cartoon form set amongst a 1980's LA popstar lifestyle. Think of elaborate music videos set against catchy little pop music ditties. Think of glamorous pop stars dealing with issues as varied as romantic conflict, identity crises, professional concerns, drug addiction, learning disabilities, etc. Think of the perfect pink-haired glamorous pop singer otherwise living a secret double life as a record executive.
Sounds a bit awkward and heavy-hitting for a typical cartoon marketed to young girls, doesn't it? But this oddly mature storyline mixed with an otherwise clever and exciting plot and stylish look for a cartoon was what kept me watching each "Jem" episode the way most adults of the era were every bit as hooked into the likes of similarly action-infused "Dallas","Miami Vice" and "Dynasty" episodes.((although I admittedly watched those adult shows too---what is it about the 80's that catered to such soapy TV melodrama?))
Every afternoon, I was all but fastened to any television available just so I could catch up on Jem's latest rock n' roll adventures. And what was not to love about such a popstar fantasy beautifully wrapped up in cartoon form and perfectly set against some rather catchy music to boot?
Just to summarize it all, "Jem" is the story of a smart young woman named Jerrica Benton whose father died and secretly left her an amazing computer he'd built that allowed her to project holograms via some stunning red ruby star earrings. Jerrica, her younger sister Kimber, and their two adoptive sisters Aja and Shana, all live together in the Starlight House, an orphanage for other young girls that her late mother had run while her father ran his own record label, Starlight Records. After her father died, the Starlight record label was taken over by another ruthless executive working under him, Eric Raymond. Eric was a shady businessman who was ruthlessly using Starlight's assets to push a simarly ruthless musical trio known as The Misfits. It's when Jerrica finally confronts Eric about his possession of Starlight Records that the gifts her father left her are finally revealed, and Jerrica secretly makes the holographic transformation to become glamorous pop-singer Jem, fronting a new band called Jem and the Holograms featuring Kimber as the keyboardist/songwriter and Aja/Shana on lead guitar and drums. Using Jem as her alter-ego and the band as a worthy opponant against the musical onslaught of The Misfits, Jerrica directly challenges Eric/The Misfits and their criminal behavior, and eventually wins back all her family's rights and earnings to Starlight Records, stepping into her father's former position as head of the label. Yet the rivalry between both bands((and eventually another band, The Stingers)) becomes the ongoing theme throughout the "Jem" episodes and is what anchors the heart of the series.
But as if that ongoing plot isn't enough drama for its regular young viewers to handle, there's the romantic sub-plot that also is a regular feature within most episodes:
Jerrica's longtime beau Rio is never clued into the real story behind the formation of Jem and the Holograms, and he therefore has no idea that Jerrica and Jem are indeed the same person! So imagine how awkward it gets when he starts to realize that he has extremely strong feelings for Jem as well, and the ongoing Jerrica-Rio-Jem love triangle becomes an awfully conveniant plot device to pull out in the meantime, when the Holograms versus the Misfits plot doesn't dominate each episode otherwise.
And while the ongoing dual plot lines may seem tedious, somehow the entire cartoon series all keeps it exciting and action-packed and completely fresh. Mix in all the glamour and glitter, and the series is instantly every young girl's ultimate adventure: Various episodes include everything from international travels and tours, fashion shows and competitions, to music videos and movie-making, and so much more.
Toss in the always catchy signature pop songs from each group, and every episode is jam-packed with musical fun---there are typically three or four "music videos" per episode, all featuring very colorful and rather brilliant visuals throughout as well. And while the early Jem and the Holograms jams were my preferred songs of the series((I can still sing most of the words to "The Mood I'm In", "I've Got My Eye on You" and "Deception" among other faves to this day)), the most interesting aspect of the Holograms versus the Misfits ongoing competition was that The Misfits, the actual "villains" of the show, were every bit as glam and catchy musically as Jem & Co, and to some folks, possibly even better than the actual heroines themselves! ((yes, there are actually fans of the series who much prefer the snazzier/snappier minor-key funkfests that the Misfits consistantly delivered))
Yes, I still can watch the series to this day and feel just as excited by the stylish action of it all as I was back when I was just a young girl who eagerly watched this series regularly. And for a gal who honestly gave up regular cartoon-watching at a fairly young age compared to most of my contemporaries, "Jem" was the only cartoon I could still watch and appreciate regularly as my earliest actual "guilty pleasure" per say.
Plus, was there any hardcore Jem fan who honestly didn't want to be one of those fascinating female characters featured?
I could care less about the accompanying dolls and books and other marketing ploys surrounding the series---I was strictly watching the show, admittedly dreaming of what it must be like to live a life nearly as thrilling and glamorous as that of busy Jerrica Benton and her ongoing Jem transformation. Part of me still dreams of sporting a fabulous mane of fresh pink hair, after all. ;-)
Oh, and those amazing star earrings of hers...I think I was mainly obsessed with simply owning a pair of those myself! Just the actual idea of wearing some funky ruby star earrings that could create holograms and turn me into someone else? It was a magically elusive dream that I escaped into so regularly that I even attempted to fashion myself my very own pair of similar earrings from my granny's discarded jewelry box and some paint((and yes, my creepy craft experiment went terribly awry, as one would expect)).
To look back at the innocent fabulousness of such an otherwise colorful and creative cartoon series is half the fun though, and "Jem" was like my very own starter soap opera of sorts, complete with the rockstar fantasies I reveled in at the time.
And while "Jem" sadly is no longer broadcast or re-run for a whole new generation of potential young female fans, I actually do hope that this smart and satisfying cartoon series eventually ends up on DVD in its entirety for future generations and former fans to enjoy yet more.
Three short seasons alone simply weren't enough for die-hard fans like myself, so I can only hope that "Jem" gets the current kudos it so truly deserves. Until then, I have my memories and my bootleg videos/pirate DVD's to occassionally pop in the next time I need that original rush of "glamour and glitter, fashion and fame" in my otherwise tame adult life.
Nevertheless, Jem certainly is and always will be truly outrageous to me!
You’ve probably never heard of Jem and the Holograms before, and that’s why I’m here, Lunchers. Jem and the Holograms was a cheesy 80s TV show that featured an all girl band that doubled as a group of costume-wearing, ever-vigilant crime stoppers. To fit with the wonderful world that was the 80s, they sported bright, big hair, shoulder pads and the show itself underlined a particular interest in fashion. Each 30-minute episode followed a serial plotline that featured original … more