It’s no secret that I’m a big Baby-Sitters Club fan. I’ve read every book in the BSC canon, including the spinoffs. My very first chapter book was a BSC book — Dawn and the Older Boy. (I guess rural second grade teachers weren’t screening books for content.) I annoyed everyone during my spelling bee days by spelling words Karen Brewer-style.
So despite not watching much TV, I devoured all ten episodes of the Netflix original series when it dropped yesterday — four episodes while eating a Twix ice cream bar, then a break to meal prep and eat dinner, then the last six episodes before going to bed.
Y’all. I was a sobbing wreck through large parts of the show. The adaptation is SO GOOD and part of me wishes I were 13 now and experiencing the best friends you’ll ever have for the first time. Let’s talk about the show. Here’s the trailer for your enjoyment. MAJOR SPOILERS ABOUND BELOW THE TRAILER.
This is your final warning. Stop reading now if you care about spoilers.
Anyone still here? All right. You’ve been warned. My thoughts are in no particular order, fangirl-style.
The little details they kept were amazing. Kristy still has to write an essay about decorum, but this time for asking why Thomas Jefferson didn’t write “all people are created equal” instead of “all men are created equal”. She points out later that a boy wouldn’t have to write that essay. (She has a point.)
* The sitters have kept the best of their book character traits with the wishy-washy traits actually developed while being updated for a modern world. Even their less positive traits are portrayed in a way that lets us relate to them. Kristy is still a tomboy, but she also cares about equality and speaking up for herself and her friends and running a business. Claudia has changed the least, but she’s still as lovable as ever: she still feels like a misfit in her own family, with her loves of junk food and art and Mimi and funky outfits (yes!). Mary Anne is still shy, but she doesn’t cry at every little thing and DAMN does she speak up. (She’s my favorite of the show.) I also wonder if Mary Anne has an anxiety disorder, and if this was planned, I hope the show explores this in season two. Stacey is still fashionable and dealing with diabetes (more on this later), but she’s also good at business and marketing in addition to math-and she doesn’t have a perm. Dawn is actually an individual who is open-minded and cares about social justice issues in the TV show, as opposed to the wishy-washy “individual” of the books.
* The representation! Charlotte Johansenn has two moms, which takes a few episodes to fully pick up on. In fact, when the Johansenn art teacher was introduced, I thought the show simply changed her job. But then the next episode introduced Dr. Johansenn and I realized the amazing the show had made. Same in book four where Mary Anne baby-sits for Bailey, who she realizes is trans when Bailey shows Mary Anne her new clothes in a drawer (compared to the old clothes in the closet–and yes, I just realized what they did there). Mary Anne stands up to the doctors who keep misgendering Bailey. The best part is that all the positive representation is normal, where Dawn assures Mary Anne that Bailey wants to be who she is on the outside AND the inside.
* The actors are actually kids and not 17-year-olds playing 12-year-olds, which makes the stuff they go through feel much more realistic. Of course the school dance is the biggest deal in the world. They’re twelve.
* They have phones now! And wow does this add another dimension to the story, especially when Mary Anne gets in trouble and has to use the phone that can only call her dad and 911, and then has to figure out how to call Kristy on that phone.
* The parental relationships! Dawn and her mom are close, perhaps in part to Jeff not being in the series at all. It’s never mentioned whether Jeff stayed in California or if she even has a brother in the TV series; we’ll have to wait and see. I’m leaning toward the latter; if he stayed in California, he probably would have been mentioned on Dawn’s Facetime call because when else would she and Jeff talk? Kristy and her mom are also super close, and Liz Thomas is a gem. There’s also some strain between Mary Anne (who is cast as half-Black) and her white dad, and she always wore her hair in braids because that was the only style Alma (yes, they stuck to this name!) taught Richard before she died. Once Mary Anne lets her hair down, she starts wearing it in more styles on her own. We see Stacey’s parents the least, which makes sense since they’re new to town and don’t know the other parents as well, but even Stacey’s mom (has got it going on)
* I spent the first half of episode 9 hoping Mary Anne’s new friend would be Laine Cummings (Stacey’s former best friend) based on the hints and whooped out loud when she was. Laine’s apology to Stacey was kind of a non-apology. “Okay, but if you just TOLD me.” How was Stacey supposed to know Laine wasn’t behind it all?!
* Some of the adaptations are looser than others compared to the books, with the focus shifting away from the actual plot. In fact, Kristy’s Big Day is shifted from episode 6 to episode 8 (with the remainder of the first eight books in order). This makes sense for the TV series, with the wedding in the summer and all of the sitters going to camp after the wedding. Plus, some things don’t translate well to a TV show, such as the Phantom Caller (and then the sitters’ phantom callers turns out to be boys with crushes).
* Remember Stacey’s diabetes? Stacey has a blood sugar episode in the school cafeteria that someone films and puts online, catapulting the incident to the modern age and addressing online shaming and bullying. This, instead of wetting the bed she was sharing with Laine, is what brings her to Stoneybrook. Her diabetes treatment is also updated; she now has an insulin pump that her mom constantly tries to hide when they go clothes shopping, and Stacey hides her diabetes from her friends for several episodes. In fact, the other members don’t know until episode 3, compared to the end of the first book, and–like in the books–it’s no big deal.
* Speaking of food conditions, I like the way food allergies and non-omnivore diets were worked into the show. Dawn’s vegetarianism isn’t a big deal, although it definitely gets a mention in her first appearance with her green shake and salad. Her mom has food allergies, which comes up at Liz and Watson’s wedding.
* Kristy gets her period! It really is Kristy’s Big Day, and not just for the reason in the books. The other girls handle it so well, just handing Kristy a pad and explaining how to use it, and that’s that. I don’t recall menstruation ever being addressed in the main series (although bras definitely were), even though all the members are going through puberty. The odds of none of the eighth-graders starting their period through the entire series is pretty slim, and that doesn’t take into account the 20-year eternity of their eighth grade.
* Morbidda Destiny is actually a witch, but not the kind Karen Brewer thinks she is. She’s actually a spiritual healer, and she has a bigger role than in the original books that makes perfect sense. How did I not realize her last name and Sharon’s maiden name were the same? Oh, and she officiates Watson and Liz’s wedding, and yes, Karen shrieks about Morbidda Destiny being a witch and Esme embraces it. “We got a lot of witches here!” Snaps to that.
* Manzanar. This one directly contradicts the books where Mimi had a happy childhood, but it adds another dimension to Janine as well. Since Janine did learn to speak Japanese, she’s able to connect the dots when Claudia asks Mimi to draw her thoughts. It also introduces the WW2 Japanese internment camps to viewers who might not have known. Thanks to my cobbled-together history education, I knew of them and how terrible they were, but I didn’t know details or any camp names. I hope a lot of people also learned from this.
* While we’re talking about Karen, she’s going through a dark phase and she rightfully steals every scene she’s in. She’s smart and imaginative and I hope we get a Little Sister spinoff.
* The camp protest was delightful and I also hope Claudia and Dawn hang out more together in future episodes because they’re similarly chill and both passionate, just about different things.
* “But we won’t get the kiss.” MARY ANNE KISSES LOGAN FIRST. EVERYTHING IS PERFECT. And Logan is darling and hopefully not the pushy guy he becomes in the books.
In the end, the show isn’t just about baby-sitting. It’s about a group of friends growing up, finding themselves, and standing up for what’s right, and the show captures those even better than the books. There are so many lessons in this show that adults can take away too, like standing up for what’s right, being true to your friends, and being yourself. And I love it even more than Child Sushi loved the books.
Look for at least one more post on the BSC: a 100% speculative post on what we might see if the show gets the greenlight for a new season and how the next few books may be adapted.