The Baby-Sitters Club
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Based on the beloved book series by Ann M. Martin, this new Netflix adaptation manages to update the franchise in a way that feels modern and relevant, without losing any of the heartfelt authenticity that’s kept young readers engaged for more than 30 years. It doesn’t hurt that Martin herself served as an executive producer on the project, so book fans can be assured that the characters they love are in good hands.
Showrunner Rachel Shukert honors Martin’s legacy with stories that are engaging and layered with meaning. This endearing group of middle-school girls behave and talk like actual middle-school girls as they face challenges from mundane to monumental (is there any difference at that age?). All of it is handled with a delicate touch and a healthy dose of humor. Where Shukert and her team chose to deviate from the books the changes are thoughtful, with the intent of being more inclusive, more diverse, and more applicable to what kids are going through today.
Those coming to the material for the first time, whether as kids or adults or anywhere in between, can still relate to the characters and appreciate the cultural touchstones that are an integral part of the show’s appeal. From the club’s enterprising founder Kristy to shy, musical-theater loving Mary Anne to hip, aspiring artist Claudia to stylish and outwardly self-assured Stacey to social-justice warrior Dawn, there’s an abundance of strong role models for young girls (or anyone) to look up to.
What to Expect
With more than 200 published volumes, the writers had plenty of stories to choose from for the TV series. The first episode starts in the same way as the books, with Kristy turning her mother’s inability to find a babysitter for her younger brother into a business opportunity. With the exception of a few minor tweaks to address advancements in technology, the writers had to change surprisingly little about the premise. We’ve come so far that the landline phone the girls use to conduct business is now a quaint relic acquired on Etsy.
The episodes, running slightly less than a half an hour, offer differing perspectives as each one is narrated by a member of the club and focuses on what’s going on in her life at that moment. Thematically linked subplots also move the other storylines along. Although each girl gets her turn in the spotlight, it’s Kristy who provides the backbone of the season, as she comes to terms with her mom’s upcoming marriage and all the changes it will bring.
The conflicts range from simple miscommunications among friends to substantial and timeless struggles like negotiating parental boundaries, coping with loss, getting your first period, finding the freedom to express yourself, bullying, jealousy, loyalty, empathy, and more. There are also more of-the-moment references to the pain of family separation and the acceptance of transgender identity that are organic and inseparable from the world we live in. The show even uses the backdrop of a summer camp to make some valid points about socio-economic justice (no, really).
The not-so-subtle feminist aim of The Babysitter’s Club has always been to showcase the mettle of young girls by putting them through trials of character and seeing them come out the other side with newfound growth, maturity, and self-confidence. This adaptation remains wholeheartedly true to that goal and succeeds with no small amount of grace and heart.
With the original author’s enthusiastic seal of approval, this series takes what was good about The Babysitter’s Club and evolves it into an entertaining live-action retelling that feels both fresh and faithful to the original. It’s a fine spiritual, if not always literal, successor to the books, depicting an inclusive and optimistic view of the world at a time when it’s sorely needed.
Tweens are obviously the target demographic here, but there’s something for pretty much everyone in the family to enjoy. Fans of the book, both young and old, will especially appreciate the nostalgia factor and the joy of seeing their favorite characters brought to life.
Where to find it: Netflix