The ’80s were a terrifying time. The music was obnoxious, men wore tight pants while women had shoulder pads, and everyone’s hair threatened to spontaneously combust from the amount of product encasing it. Embodying these ideas was Jem, a cartoon that by all rights shouldn’t exist, let alone be as popular as it was. With the cartoons mostly catering to boys — with your G.I. Joes and your Transformers — there was only the occasional girl counter programming. Adding to that, Jem was based on music, rather than selling toys, making it a true aberration.
Jem centered on the dual personalities of Jerrica Benton and her alter ego, Jem. She runs her late father’s company, Starlight Music. Using a computer called Synergy, basically a holographic projector, she created a mysterious alter ego for her and her band mates who perform as Jem and the Holograms. Her earrings activate the hologram, transforming her into Jem. Jerrica’s father’s former partner, Eric Raymond, was vying for control of Starlight, creating his own counter band, The Misfits (take that Danzig), and slandering the Holograms. All this while Jerrica was caught in a love triangle between her, her boyfriend, Rio Pacheco, and Jem, who Rio had the hots for. What a twist. Basically Hannah Montana, except I don’t think Jem became a coked-out whore… well, maybe.
The show ran for three years, from ’85 – ’88, with the main draw being the music. Every episode featured three songs and one music video, as MTV was incredibly popular at the time. With 65 episodes total, there was 151 songs and 187 music videos. Honestly, that blows my mind. To be fair, some of the music wasn’t half bad. The theme song, “Jem – Truly, Truly, Truly Outrageous,” being one of the most popular. Standing out above everything else was the character design. Everyone had multi-colored feathered hair, thick sheets of make-up, and wore the oddest clothes. Even main dude guy Rio had purple hair.
It’s pretty easy to sit here and make fun of the show now, but putting aside the anachronisms, there are many strengths — albeit with a few weaknesses. Female-centric shows are few and far between, let alone decent ones that don’t pollute children’s minds with false idolization (Bratz). This show even passes the Bechdel test. The biggest detractor is the animation. The animation can be fluid, like in the opening, but often times the corner cutting measures are really noticeable, with zoomed in shots of animation cells, the characters remaining motionless, and the cell continuing to move. Also, Jerrica, wow is that a terrible name.
Jem is a fun show, and still holds up well enough. There’s a movie in production set for release in 2015. The series is availabel on Netflix. If you catch your kids watching garbage like Barbie Life Dreamhouse, like mine do, make them watch this instead. Trust me, it’s better. Unless Ducktales becomes availabel, then watch that instead.
Surprised by how successful Jem was? Think there should be more shows like it? Comment below!
Tony writes for his own site, thecredhulk.com, about comics, video games, movies, TV and more, six days a week. You can follow his updates on Facebook or Twitter. Drop by and tell ’em hi.
I won’t make an outrageous joke… damn.